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Former Seattle Mayor on how city can ‘celebrate small steps’ as it reopens

A pedestrian walks past artwork painted on plywood covering a Seattle business closed during the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

As coronavirus cases continue to drop, large cities like Seattle are beginning to consider what they might be able to do to reopen.

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Speaking to KIRO Nights, former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels detailed how the city might look at the process to reopen, and how it will need to lean on the input of both health officials and the community as a whole.

“We should be talking with public health folks first and foremost to figure out what can be opened relatively early,” said Nickels. “Neighborhood businesses probably can open more quickly, so I would be working with both the business community and the public health community to figure out what that looks like, what order things should go in, [and] how long we should wait in between the reopening of different sectors.”

Using that combination of feedback will be integral to ensuring that people are safe, and that Seattle businesses feel as though they have a voice in the decision-making.

“It’s key that the mayor be ready with a plan that is well thought-out, [and] well bought-into by key parts of our community,” he described. “That is going to be the test of whether we’re successful in recovering quickly, or whether it’s going to be a very long, drawn out process.”

It will also be important to ensure that the public feels safe when the city eventually does reopen, and confident that proper precautions have been taken.

If people aren’t confident they can leave their homes, Nickels points out, then the whole plan begins to break down.

“How do we celebrate small steps?” he posited. “It’s very important that people feel good, that they’re safe, that it’s OK again to participate in the community, and where the lines are, beyond which you probably shouldn’t participate.”

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With all that in place, it then comes down to Mayor Jenny Durkan, and her ability to assuage the anxiety of the public.

According to Nickels, that’s something that goes far beyond a mayor exercising his or her legal authority.

“The mayor is our leader, and whether she has the power to do something or not, she has the moral suasion,” Nickels pointed out. “She has the bully pulpit to be able to bring the community together and move us forward in a common direction.”

“It wouldn’t necessarily be her legal powers that would be key, but it would be more her moral leadership, and her voice speaking to the concerns of Seattle residents,” he added.

Listen to KIRO Nights weeknights from 7 – 10 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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