The City Hall bike rack was packed Saturday as Mayor (and bicycle advocate) Mike McGinn delivered his inaugural address during an open house. The event and speech shared a message of policy change and self-expression.
Seattle "is a promise that people can come here and be themselves," McGinn told a large crowd that sprawled up the stairs and across the second-floor balcony of the city's flagship government building. He praised voters for approving Referendum 71, which allowed all Washington couples to get domestic partnerships regardless of sexual orientation, and for re-approving the Seattle Housing Levy, which uses property taxes to fund low-income housing.
Walking in the doors of City Hall Saturday, it was clear things were going to be different. Jugglers performed on the stairway and a man on stilts strutted around the first floor. There was live music, and children were dancing. The enthusiastic children's music group Recess Monkey played directly before the mayor's speech; children (and some adults) danced and played along with Recess Monkey's songs about kid things like sharks and bikes. At one point, bassist Jack Forman lead a parade of children doing the invisible monkey bars up the stairs and across the second-floor walkway. Celebrating the difference in Seattle was a clear message of the event.
But Mayor McGinn's message was not all fun and games. He presented his speech as a report on what his team has learned during the transition phase, and how the team plans to move forward. The team has held several forums since the election, and McGinn said its members have consistently stressed focusing on "the basics": a safe place to raise children, meaningful work and a place to live.
He also made clear that environmentalism would be counted among his list of basic priorities.
"[We must] leave a place for future generations," he said, "that is as beautiful and bounteous as it has been for us." In addition to the larger issue of global warming, he talked about toxins in the Puget Sound and the declining snowpack in the Cascades. "We have a very scary environmental problem coming at us," said the former Sierra Club leader.
He also announced a new plan to curb youth violence and help troubled families. The Youth and Family Initiative will be lead by former Mayor Norm Rice and Estella Ortega, Executive Director of El Centro de la Raza. The group will hold a series of public forums starting Feb. 22.
When addressing transportation, the new mayor talked about moving away from the automobile. After all, cars and insurance are expensive, and that cost "leaves a lot of people out," he said. He talked about expanding light rail and moving further on the city's 10-year, $240 million Bicycle Master Plan, launched in 2007.
Visitors of the open house were given a chance to tour the mayor's office and shake his hand. Many offices were sparsely decorated and clearly still in transition. The new staff hand-drew a flowchart of the office hierarchy on a white board. A team of young AmeriCorps workers in red jackets tried to keep the tours running smoothly.
After shaking his hand, attendees were invited to write a message on a white board in his office, an opportunity several were eager to take. The new mayor was enthusiastic, sharp and smiling large as he shook our hands shortly before delivering his speech. Even here, he kept up with what gained him so much popularity during the election. Spying this reporter's helmet attached to his backpack, he said, "I see you biked here. That's good to see."