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The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

June 25, 2013 at 12:01 PM

KCTS 9 airs a conversation with five former Seattle mayors

As Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn battles to get through a mayoral primary this summer, Seattle public television station KCTS-9 is airing a conversation with five men who know what it’s like to succeed — and fail — at City Hall.

The Mayors” – a one-hour special, premieres at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Hosted by KCTS-9’s Enrique Cerna and The Seattle Times’ Joni Balter, the program is a casual, wide-ranging chat with Seattle’s five living ex-mayors: Wes Uhlman, Charles Royer, Norm Rice, Paul Schell and Greg Nickels.

While there are no big surprises, there are plenty of interesting moments as the five trade war stories and recall the stiffest challenges they faced over the past five decades. (Hint: The police department is frequently involved.)

All show a love for the job, as well as an appreciation for how fast it can go sour.

“It means you’ve got a lot of scars,” says Uhlman of being mayor. Elected in 1969, Uhlman was the city’s youngest mayor at 34 and served two tumultuous terms — surviving a recall election mounted by the firefighters’ union. He tried to run for governor but lost in a Democratic primary.

Rice adds: “I always say it’s the best job I ever had that I wouldn’t want to have the rest of my life.” Elected in 1989, Rice (nicknamed “Mayor Nice”) served two terms. Like Uhlman, he tried to vault to the governor’s office but lost in a primary.

Nickels and Schell were both tossed in mayoral primaries — something Nickels claims he’s gotten over, but Schell half-jokes: “I’m still mad about it.”

Schell, of course, lost to Nickels and then-City Attorney Mark Sidran in the 2001 primary after a single term marred by 1999’s WTO-conference violence and a deadly 2001 Mardi Gras riot. Schell bears literal scars from his four years in office — he was struck in the face by a bullhorn-wielding assailant.

Nickels managed two terms but was unceremoniously dumped by voters in the 2009 primary after a widely criticized city response to a major snowstorm.

In a segment relevant to McGinn’s first term, the ex-mayors all pointed to management of the police department — and especially hiring the right police chief — as the most crucial part of running the city.

“Your reputation and your future is on the end of every nightstick that is out there,” said Uhlman, who tried to clean up a police department battered by corruption probes in the 1970s.

Royer, the former TV journalist who served an unprecedented three terms as mayor starting in 1978, recalled advising McGinn early on in his term to focus carefully on the police chief decision. “Make sure you do this right,” Royer says he told McGinn.

After a national search, McGinn wound up staying inside the department and picked John Diaz as chief. The Seattle Police Department since has faced a Department of Justice investigation and consent decree over officers’ use of force. Diaz announced his retirement in April.

“It didn’t go very well,” said Royer, who has endorsed state Sen. Ed Murray in the 2013 mayor’s race. “But he has another chance.”

Watch clips from “The Mayors” below (click on the ‘menu icon’ to see additional clips):

 

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Comments | More in homepage, Local government, Politics Northwest | Topics: Charles Royer, greg nickels, Norm Rice

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