Former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels: ‘New mayor will be successful if not remembered’
As the Seattle City Council gets ready to choose the next mayor from within its own ranks as early as Monday, a former Seattle mayor is taking the long view on the past week’s history-making developments at City Hall.
Greg Nickels was first elected mayor in 2001. He served two terms, and then lost a bid for a third term – to Mike McGinn and Joe Malahan – in a primary battle in 2009. McGinn won that election and then lost in 2013 to Ed Murray.
Nickels believes that whoever succeeds Mayor Bruce Harrell – who, by provisions of the city charter became mayor last Sept. 13 when Ed Murray stepped down, and then announced that he would return to being president of the Seattle City Council – won’t be much more than an asterisk in local history.
“I don’t think they’re going to be seen by history as particularly influential, at least at this period,” Nickels said late Sunday. “They may come back and do something else that makes some history, but in this role, I think it will be successful if it isn’t one that’s remembered.”
Prior to Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez removing herself from consideration over the weekend, Nickels speculated on Gonzalez or Councilmember Tim Burgess being front-runners to finish what remains of Ed Murray’s term.
“I have no idea,” who the council will elect, Nickels said. “You’ve gotta put five votes together, and I don’t know who’s workin’ it, and how each of the members is looked upon by their colleagues.”
And what about Bruce Harrell’s short tenure as chief of the city’s executive branch, and, in particular, those executive orders he issued before announcing he’d return to the city council?
“If I had 48 hours to be mayor, I would probably issue a few executive orders,” Nickels said, chuckling. “He [Harrell] may never be in that position again, and they’re significant, they spoke to policy. But they’re not earth-shattering.”
Among the other living former mayors of Seattle – Wes Uhlman, Charley Royer, Norm Rice, Mike McGinn and Ed Murray – Greg Nickels seems to have the deepest interest in, and most extensive knowledge of, the city’s mayoral history. With this sense of the city’s earliest years, Nickels put today’s likely council action in perspective.
“It’s been worse in the past,” Nickels said. “If you remember, in the late 1890s, you had a situation where the elected mayor decided after three weeks to leave. His replacement decided to go to the Klondike and try and make his fortune. And the next fella, who actually did last for awhile, Thomas Humes – [it] took 65 ballots for him to be appointed.”
Nickels says that the quirks in the city charter that helped Harrell make his decision to return to the council – because he’d essentially be out of office completely by late November – don’t amount to serious flaws in the city’s succession process.
“It’s not perfect, there’s no perfect system,” Nickels said. “But it’ll work.”
As for his own history, legacy, and how he’s remembered nearly eight years after leaving office, 62-year-old Nickels is clearly proud of what he accomplished as mayor.
“I am enjoying very much watching come to fruition things that I started,” Nickels said. “Watching the light rail system expand – the expansion over the next 10 years will all be under Sound Transit 2, which I championed. The viaduct coming down. I stood up to the governor and the Legislature when they wanted to put another double-decked highway on our waterfront. The growth that’s occurring [is] under the policies that I put in place –happening a little faster than I would have liked – but I love living in the city, and to me, density is not something to be afraid of, it’s something to help shape the city. So I’m lovin’ it.”
Does Greg Nickels get the credit he feels he deserves?
“I think it was Harry Truman who first said you can get an awful lot accomplished if you don’t care who gets the credit,” Nickels said. “So, I know what I did, I look back on it with a great deal of pride. It was an incredible honor to be able to do that job for eight years.”
“I have nothing to gripe about,” Nickels said.