Sunday, January 6, 2008

Cascadian Mayors

Over half of the world's population resides in cities and this number continues to increase. Many cities are known not only for their large populations, but their high densities of wealth, culture, and diversity. As anyone from a small town knows, there is no experience like going to the city where niche markets flourish; they tend to be the last strongholds for small shops not yet strangled by the ever increasing chainstores. But these places, with so many different groups of ,can certainly be a challenge to oversee. The job of mayor is usually one of constant criticism and slow progress. But important nonetheless. Sometimes, when a mayor is successful in motivating these huge bodies of people, incredible things are achieved. Today I want to take a look at some of the major Cascadian mayors, their histories, achievements, and future agendas. As we continue to fight the federal government for more regional control mayors will become increasingly significant in political spheres. So, let's get to know some of our region's big-wigs.

Sam Sullivan

City: Vancouver
Hometown: Vancouver
Occupation: Non-Profit Organizer
In Office Since: 2006

Probably the most notable thing about Mayor Sullivan is that he has been a quadrapelegic since a skiing accident at age 19. Instead of looking at the accident as a hinderance, Sullivan used it for inspiration to acquire a BA in Business and subsequently start a number of non-profits for disabled people. He was recruited by the political elites and soon won a seat in city council. He won the mayor's chair in hard fought contest in 2005 against Jim Green.

Soon after becoming mayor Sullivan introduced EcoDensity (a term pantented by Sullivan himself). The intiative was designed to increase density in Vancouver through affordable housing, better public transportation, and other methods so that suburban sprawl would not destory the density of the lower mainland. As the Olympics come upon Vancouver Sullivan developed Project Civil City intended to reduce homelessness, panhandling, and open drug use by 50% by 2010. Many of criticized this policy for its lack of substantial help, saying that it is just displacing the impoverished and troubled.

Sullivan is also known for his academic achievments and is the first Vancouver mayor to learn Cantonese as well as Punjabi. There are large Chinese and North Indian populations in the Vancouver area.

Greg Nickels

City: Seattle
Hometown: Chicago/Seattle
Occupation: Politics
In Office Since: 2002

Although born in Chicago, Nickels was raised in Seattle from a young age. He graduated from the University of Washington with a Law degree and quickly became legislative assistant to Councilmember and future mayor, Norm Rice. He was elected to City Council in 1987 where he served until his mayoral stint in 2001. He beat incumbent Paul Schell who was flailing from his mishandling of the 1999 WTO riots.

The two biggest issues for Nickels have been the environment and transportation. He is nationally known for starting the US Mayors Climate Action Agreement which asked US Mayors to adopt the Kyoto Protocol even while the federal government did not. His allegience to public transportation led to the failed monorail scheme in the early part of the century, which wasted millions of taxpayers money for nothing. But, on the flip side, he did manage to start construction on a light rail system from Sea-Tac airport to downtown Seattle, projected to be complete by 2010. He hopes to increase its area by extending through some of the North Seattle districts as well. Another of Nickels' accomplishments includes giving equal rights to Seattle public employees in same-sex relationships.

In recent years Nickels has been criticized for his relationship with Seattle Police Department. He has stood fully behind the SPD in the face of numerous scandals and accounts of police brutality and has even pledged to add over 100 officers to Seattle streets over the next few years.

Tom Potter

City: Portland
Hometown: Bend, Or
Occupation: Police Officer/Chief
In Office Since: 2005

Potter is best known for his role at Police Chief. He worked as an Officer for over 20 years and was Chief for 4. During this time he gained a national repuation for his hard work in building trust between the Police Department and citizens. He was the first Portland officer to join a Neighborhood Association and helped develop a set of trading cards so that children could better recognize their public servants. As Chief he managed to reduce crime while the city of Portland was growing quickly. In addition he took a strong stance against prejuidice and discrimination. He dissuaded a number of African-American officers from filing a lawsuit against the city by starting a "Bias Crimes" unit to investigate hate crimes. He was also the first officer to march in uniform at the gay PRIDE parade in Portland. He was elected mayor in 2004 by an overwhelming majority.

Stemming from his experience in the police department, Potter's mayoral goals have focused on reconnecting city government to its citizens. He initiated Vision PDX which aims to build a 30-year strategic plan for Portland by listening to community and neighborhood input from all areas of Portland. Potter also aims to increase diversity in Portland's public workforce and help open communication for stronger shared goals.

Last year Potter announced that he would not be running for a second term even though his apporval rating remains high. He has not said what he intends on doing in the future.

Gavin Newsom

City: San Francisco
Hometown: San Francisco
Occupation: Restauranteur
In Office Since: 2004

Newsom has had an interesting career in an interesting city. He first grew to prominence after starting a small wine shop that eventually turned into a milti-million dollar company with five restaurants, a Napa Valley winery, a hotel, and two retail stores. In 1996 he was appointed by Mayor Willie Brown to a number of small governmental comissions. He gained public attention by advocating major reform for the city's beleaguered regional rail system, MUNI. He decided to run in 2003 for mayor as a Democrat against Matt Gonzalez of the Green Party. Many people believed Newsom, as a businessman, would be too sympathetic to big business. But with a number of national endorsements he was elected and took office in 2004.

Shortly after assuming office Newsom gained national attention for allowing same-sex marriages in the city of San Francisco. It was subsequently challenged by federal courts but remains a prominent issue in the city and has bolstered the criticism of President Bush. To add to his radicalism, in 2007 Newsom took a very liberal stance on illegal immigration, stating that he would do everything he could to discourage raids in the city. In 2007 he had a sexual scandal with an aide's wife as well as going into treatment for alcoholism but nonetheless, he was reelected for second term.

The 2007 San Francisco mayoral election was one of the most unqiue races in Cascadian history. There were 12 candidates including a nudist activist, a homeless cab driver, Josh Wolf, and the eccentric artist, "Chicken John" Rinaldi.

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