Collectors of good signs take note: At his swearing-in ceremony last Monday, new Mayor Greg Nickels shook the hand of every City Council member before and after his speech.
Double handshakes not withstanding, the relationship between Nickels and his legislative colleagues started out less as a honeymoon than a blind date gone awry. Back in December, as Mayor-elect, Nickels was understandably pissed at being forced to sit on the sidelines while the council cut his personal staff budget, despite assurances that the cuts were more a shot at the high salaries paid to outgoing Mayor Paul Schell’s staffers than a warning shot across Nickels’ bow.
Although Nickels’ public pique over the incident seemed dumb at the time, remember three things: Unlike the perpetually wavering Schell, he never backed down, he never changed his position (Paul liked to call it “clarifying his position”), and he kept making seemingly friendly overtures toward the council. On Jan. 2, his very first day as mayor, Nickels paid a friendly meet-and-greet visit to every council office. Sure it’s symbolic, but it’s exactly the kind of symbolism Schell didn’t understand (and Nickels’ mentor, former Mayor Norm Rice, did). Our system of government makes the mayor and council both natural adversaries and natural allies—depending on the issue of the day—and Nickels has accepted that fact from day one.
The new mayor has already carved out a major staff position for a council liaison, hiring Michael Mann, a former aide to Council member Richard McIver. He’s also gotten a boost from the council president transition from Margaret “My Way or the Highway” Pageler to Peter Steinbrueck. Frankly, Nickels’ ambitious agenda is going to take quite a selling job, and Steinbrueck is far more willing to be sold than Pageler, a good council member, but one with a well- deserved reputation for making up her mind early on issues and holding her position tenaciously.
“I want to ask for your help,” Nickels told the council in his inaugural speech. “We’re going to need to work hard together.” A bit boilerplate as far as the language, perhaps, but you can’t miss the ring of truth.