Photo by Kevin P. Casey
"What have I done wrong?" deputy mayor Tim Ceis says, wondering aloud about the reason for the interview—and grinning that>"/>
Photo by Kevin P. Casey
"What have I done wrong?" deputy mayor Tim Ceis says, wondering aloud about the reason for the interview—and grinning that Cheshire-cat smile. His faux-defensive posture belies an almost boyish contentment in knowing his role as the bad guy. "The mayor makes policy choices," says the man nicknamed "The Shark," "and my job is to implement them."
Though Ceis says the moniker is "played out" at City Hall, he still has a few shark pictures in his office, reminding all who enter who's at the top of the food chain. And some say the ocean predator is a fitting symbol of how Ceis operates, something that was evident during Mayor Greg Nickels' first few months in office when he and his deputy made it clear that the departments work for the mayor, not the City Council.
"Did we change the culture? I hope we did," Ceis says. "There are politics everywhere. It wasn't appropriate that our people be apolitical. You can't get things done."
Both longtime West Seattle residents, Ceis and Nickels met in the 1980s as members of the 34th District Democrats. Ceis, who had been running his family's construction business, agreed to manage Nickels' campaign for the King County Council. Nickels won and Ceis was hooked.
He went on to work as deputy budget director for former King County Executive Gary Locke, and went to Olympia when Locke became governor to work as a senior policy aide, before returning to the county to serve as Ron Sims' chief of staff.
He says his previous career was good preparation for the world of politics. "Construction is the only business that's tougher," he says. "It's about the bottom line. Jobs are always in contention. Customers are unhappy. People are suing. It's tougher to survive there."
But Ceis and Nickels haven't won 'em all. Recently, they saw the Sonics depart for Oklahoma City, and last year's standoff with the state over what to do with the Alaskan Way viaduct was another public loss. The mayor wanted a tunnel, but the governor and the legislature (and ultimately the voters) said no. "That probably qualifies as my biggest disappointment," Ceis says. "We worked so hard."
He argues that he's actually an easygoing, "laid-back" guy. (And really, what's considered bare-knuckled here would be considered simple political prowess in most places.) He considers his greatest victory improving the nuts and bolts of how the city is managed, from the budget to personnel.
"I come from the perspective that conflict is OK. How you manage conflict to get a positive result, that's what politics is. Does that mean consensus? No. Does that mean unanimity? No. It means you have five votes [a majority] on City Council," Ceis says, that Cheshire grin taking shape again. "I enjoy the process."—Aimee Curl