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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 13, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 07
SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: City Council member Tom Rasmussen
Section One
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: City Council member Tom Rasmussen

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Seattle City Council member Tom Rasmussen will be retiring from politics when his term expires in January, but when asked about his future plans he's all business. Instead of talking about what he'll do with his time off, he ticks off a list of projects he wants to accomplish before leaving office.

'I still have 11 months left in my term!' Rasmussen exclaims. 'I want to complete the significant work we've been doing on transportation.

'I also have legislation to create neighborhood conservation districts. If neighborhoods opt in - they don't have to, but if they choose to do it - the plan will help them control development. It doesn't prevent development, but it will guide it in a way that preserves the character of our neighborhoods that we love so much.

'I also want us to think about how to preserve open space as the city becomes more dense.'

These are all issues Rasmussen has left his mark on during his three terms on the City Council. Currently the chair of the City Council's transportation committee and a leading advocate for the city's Prop 1 transit funding measure, Rasmussen was previously chair of the parks committee and mastermind of the 2008 Prop 2 parks levy.

His tenure as transportation chair has not been without controversy. In particular, the balance between busses, light rail, cars, and bikes has set mass transit activists at odds with each other and with the City Council.

'Right now the work horse needs to be busses,' Rasmussen tells SGN.

'I support light rail, and I think we need to build it out - to Ballard, to White Center, further out into the county. But there are challenges to that. First, it's a regional system. It will take a long time to develop. And it's incredibly expensive. In the short term it has to be busses.

'The good news is that as a result of Prop 1 [the transit funding measure passed in November] we're buying additional busses and we'll have really frequent bus service.

'I also want to see us develop alternatives - Uber, Lyft, Pronto - and I support a quick permitting process. But I want to see those companies provide services to all neighborhoods.'

In three terms on the City Council Rasmussen has been involved in many projects. Asked which achievements he's most proud of, he grins, 'I'm Scandinavian. We're not supposed to be proud of ourselves.

'But the thing I think was important was introducing legislation to guide development in the Pike/Pine neighborhood.

'Eight years ago whole blocks were being bulldozed. Remember where Man Ray was?' Rasmussen asks, referring to a popular video bar that used to stand at 714 E. Pine St. 'They leveled half the block and turned it into a gravel parking lot.

'So I tried to create incentives to preserve 'character buildings' in the neighborhood - or at least parts of them - to keep what we like about our neighborhoods and still accommodate development.

'That's why now you see new development on top, above the old facades. So the neighborhood retains its distinctive character at street level.

'The other thing I'm proud of is that,' Rasmussen adds, pointing to a campaign sign in the corner of his office. It's a relic of the successful 2008 'Parks for All' campaign that Rasmussen led.

'It was very difficult,' Rasmussen remembers. 'Mayor [Greg] Nickels did not support it. He had the Pike Place Market levy he was supporting - which was also very important - and he thought this might compete. It was hard at first lining up endorsers [for the parks measure] because people thought they might offend the Mayor.'

Rasmussen has served with three Mayors in his time on the City Council, and in spite of his clash with Greg Nickels over the parks levy, he remembers Nickels fondly.

'[Nickels] was very forward thinking,' Rasmussen recalls. 'He took on big issues - tough issues. Remember the Mercer corridor? It was impossible before Nickels. We worked together well on that.

'He was also very good on human rights. He supported marriage equality long before that was the expected thing to do.'

Rasmussen had a sometimes-strained relationship with Nickels' successor, Mike McGinn, and he still expresses 'disappointment' with McGinn's tenure.

'[McGinn] said he would not fight the viaduct replacement, and then, once he was elected, he did. It was a violation of a campaign promise,' Rasmussen says.

'But my biggest disappointment was [McGinn] resisting the Department of Justice on police reform,' he adds. McGinn stalled a settlement with DOJ after their scathing report charging Seattle police with excessive and racially-biased use of force.

Mayor Ed Murray, on the other hand, gets high marks from Rasmussen.

'[Murray] understands the legislative process,' Rasmussen tells SGN. 'He consults with the City Council. He talks to people in the community. He has experience as a legislator and he really does want to get things done.'

Rasmussen clearly loves his job, especially the intricate policy decisions City Council members must make. Why would he retire from the Council?

'I know it sounds trite for a politician to say 'I want to spend more time with my family,' but I really do want to spend more time with my family,' he laughs. 'This job can be 12 hour days, seven days a week. It's not the most balanced life. I want to bike more, I want to exercise more, I want to work in my yard&

'It's also good to make room for new people,' Rasmussen adds.

There are now at least six 'new people' vying for Rasmussen's seat. While he hasn't endorsed a potential successor, he has definite ideas about what kind of person he'd like to see in the seat.

'Someone energetic,' he says, 'able to work with others. Someone who's responsive and cares about service to the community - in this office you have to be an advocate for individuals. And someone who's results-oriented.'

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