Three Ways Paul Schell Changed Seattle

Paul Schell, Seattle’s 50th mayor, has left behind the city he loved. The much-maligned political leader passed away Sunday, July 27, at age 76. Fairly or not, Seattleites will always remember Schell as the mayor who botched the WTO meetings, or slept through the Mardi Gras fiasco, or bore the brunt of Omari Garrett’s bullhorn. But Schell also left his mark as a developer and visionary. On that note, here’s a look at three things Schell changed about Seattle—whether he meant to or not.

Libraries and infrastructure Any list of Schell’s accomplishments has to start with brick and mortar. The former mayor gets credit for implementing neighborhood development plans and for our fancy downtown library. Before becoming mayor, Schell had a heavy hand in the redevelopment of Pike Place, and he played a similar role as Port Commissioner. “Someday, somebody’s going to turn around and look at all those buildings ... and say, ‘Wow, this was a really good time in terms of the public infrastructure,’ ” Tom Byers, who served as a deputy mayor under Schell, recently told Seattle Weekly.
The power of PR Since taking office in January, Mayor Ed Murray has scheduled roughly 38 press conferences, according to his press secretary. And that’s no accident. Much like his predecessor Mike McGinn, and Greg Nickels before that, he knows how important it is to establish a narrative of vision and accomplishment with the public. It’s part of being a good politician—and in many ways Schell’s failings made this crystal-clear. “Paul, I think, thought if you just got the work done, the rest would take care of itself,” Byers offered. “[Schell] was not a politician that came in with a mind-set of looking after his image.” In other words, the back-patting mayoral press conferences we’re forced to sit through today are, in some ways, Schell’s doing.
Protests As history books will note, Schell’s administration came off the rails during the WTO protests of 1999—largely remembered for Seattle cops cordoning off downtown like a war zone and using tear gas on hippies in turtle costumes. The chaos was a PR disaster that reverberated for years—yet led to improvements in the way police respond to protests today, including the now-annual May Day bottle-throwing and trash-burning. As Byers says of the WTO riots, the Schell administration was caught “very off-guard” by the brouhaha. That’s not something that’s likely to happen again.

mdriscoll@seattleweekly.com

Art Credit: “Institution” by Thibault Geffroy and “Lecturer” by Lissette Arias from The Noun Project

 
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