Is Grace Crunican heading back to Oregon?
Grace Crunican, the effective but controversial head of Seattle's Department of Transportation, is a finalist for becoming county administrator of Clackamas County in the Portland area. Sources expect her to get the job, returning to the state whence she was plucked by Mayor Nickels for the Seattle hot seat. Regardless, Mayor-elect McGinn has been quoted as saying he would replace Crunican.
While a lot of attention has been focused on McGinn's first round of appointments of twin deputy mayors and chief of staff, where he went light on City Hall experience and heavy on political outreach, it may be that his most important appointments are three others: Police chief (where the search process is just getting under way), transportation (Seattle's hottest topic), and the head of the department of finance (Dwight Dively's stronghold). Were the enormously experienced Dively not to be retained or choose to go elsewhere, that would be a huge signal to the bureaucracy of unsettling change.
Crunican gets strong points for her more-than-autos approach to transportation. She worked effectively with state transportation experts on crafting a systems-wide approach to downtown traffic. She's tougher than the usual passive-aggressive Seattle style. More than anyone inside government, she worked hard to make the case for the surface-only solution for the Viaduct, ultimately overruled by Gov. Gregoire and the tunnel coalition. Cary Moon, who led the effort for the no-tunnel, no-Viaduct solution, tells Publicola that McGinn should keep Crunican. She didn't score many points in her defensive reaction to the criticism of SDOT over the snowstorm. Still, it may be hard to find someone better for the highly exposed position.
McGinn's decision to spend the first month of his transition out on the campaign trail — gathering largely predictable opinions at town halls and charging up his troops for later use in supporting his policies — had some serious tradeoffs inside city hall. There's been little contact with department leaders, leaving them and their subordinates nervous about future directions. It also implies that the new mayor is not exactly on their side, available to help them in a tough time of cuts and poor morale. Nickels has been very much an "inside" mayor; McGinn looks most comfortable being an "outside" mayor, with deputy mayors on the same wave-length.
By vivid contrast, new county executive Dow Constantine quickly installed experienced top staff and sent powerful signals of reform and professionalism.