MAYOR PAUL SCHELL took office with a ceremony that was light, informal, and rather insubstantial—a template for the early days of his first term. Onlookers


The debutant

Our new mayor unveils a wonkish, well-balanced staff, an upbeat agenda—and his first trial balloon.

MAYOR PAUL SCHELL took office with a ceremony that was light, informal, and rather insubstantial—a template for the early days of his first term. Onlookers chuckled when City Council president Jan Drago, in her introduction, gave Schell's brother the Rev. Joel Schlactenhaufen what he needed least—an extra syllable in his last name. Schell's own remarks were brief and uncontroversial. "Our challenge in the future," he intoned, "is not to rest on our laurels, but invest in our community."

But the "risk taking" Schell referred to later in his speech won't be happening right away; his staff is under orders to keep things positive—what one observer calls "The Barney Agenda." At a January 6 press conference, the mayor's crew unveiled a list of goals for the first six months of his administration. Some were small-scale and tangible, others vague and far-reaching; all were relentlessly positive. On the likely side of the ledger: tripling the annual Neighborhood Matching Fund allocation, restoring the West Seattle water taxi, and resodding a few asphalt-covered school yards. The sketchier concepts include "identifying a strategy to ensure that the RTA [transit plan] will serve Seattle's neighborhoods" and "achieving significant progress in strengthening the city's partnership with community-based organizations to deliver social services."

More telling was the introduction of the mayor's executive staff, which demonstrated Schell's mastery of the political balancing act. His deputy mayors are "Mr. Inside" Tom Byers, a former aide to Mayor Charles Royer and a leader of the Seattle Commons effort, and "Ms. Outside" Maud Smith Daudon, the chief financial officer of the Port of Seattle and a virtual unknown in local politics. They will work with four special assistants, each selected to represent a coveted constituency.

The mayor pumped up his union support with the selection of Laurie Brown, former representative for Local 17, the technical engineers' union that represents some 2,400 city employees. He beefed up his staff expertise on housing and finance with the selection of Denna Cline, formerly of the Alaska Housing Finance Corp. and Standard & Poor's Rating Group. Practical politics got a nod with the choice of Lisa Fitzhugh, formerly of the public affairs consulting agency Pyramid Communications. And existing city employees, a group Schell needs to court from day one, are represented by Theresa Fujiwara, formerly of Mayor Norm Rice's Office of Intergovernmental Relations.

LIKE HIS PREDECESSORS, Schell couldn't resist reshaping his office's policy planning functions. The Office of Management and Planning will cede its financial functions to the Executive Services Department and become the mayor's Policy Office. Two holdovers from the administration of Mayor Norm Rice will guide the reformed divisions: Lizanne Lyons is Schell's choice for policy director, while Dwight Dively will keep his job as executive services director. Clifford Traisman, a former aide to council member Martha Choe, will head the Office of Intergovernmental Relations. Lyons and Traisman are the only two mayoral choices that must be confirmed by the council.

Despite their extensive records, the mayor's picks tended toward the wonkish rather than the political. One Democratic Party leader, watching as a television camera panned across the faces of the Schell Team, quipped, "I don't know any of these folks—which is probably a good thing." One face is, however, widely known: public television commentator Barry Mitzman, hired as a consultant for Channel 28, the city's cable station. Another public television regular, True Colors co-host Vivian Phillips, will take over as communications director in March.

Housing still heads Schell's first-term agenda, although he's modified his plans for a January housing summit. He now proposes small-group meetings of housing experts to create policy alternatives, which can then be inspected by the public at a meeting in March. "The more I used the word 'summit,' the more people's expectations became that they were going to come into a room with a blank piece of paper," says Schell. Instead, he hopes to show the public proposals, which, if they garner support, can be quickly implemented.

A MORE IMMINENT TEST will be whether Schell can reach down one floor and draw new council members Nick Licata, Peter Steinbrueck, and Richard Conlin into the process. Licata notes that Schell's instincts in modifying the proposed housing summit are probably correct. "I think a lot of that would have been a rehashing" of various housing issues, he says. Licata prefers to see the mayor provide direction on housing issues, "just as long as we move forward quickly."

The housing discussion at the press conference provided one major indication that Schell represents a change from the cautious, closed-mouthed Rice, who was hardly known for launching trial balloons. While explaining that boosting housing construction depends heavily on the private sector, Schell casually noted, "I'd like to see banks make a billion-dollar commitment." (He quickly qualified the statement, saying he wasn't sure if $1 billion was the right number.)

Although Schell has made few obvious mistakes during the transition period, political observers are split over whether or not the mayor will enjoy a long honeymoon with press and public. Supporters laud his decisiveness and ability to work well with other politicians; critics cite his tendency to make too many promises and his lack of rapport with the general public. And his winning debut notwithstanding, he won't long be allowed the luxury of shrugging off important issues, as candidate Schell was with his lackadaisical support for the $90 million street bond issue, or Mayor-elect Schell was regarding the city's reported $23 million overpayment for the Pacific Place parking garage.

It will take time to see whether Schell's limited restructuring of city government will improve its operation. Schell has also restructured the city departments into five "clusters"—public safety, utilities, arts and culture, human services, and community development (the first two overseen by Deputy Mayor Daudon, the latter three by Byers). Although Schell likes to stress the team aspect of his leadership style, sharp-eyed council member Steinbrueck noted that the reorganization reduces the number of people with direct access to the mayor: "It does create more of a hierarchy in some ways rather than less, although [Schell] humbly puts his name at the bottom of the chart."

Still, the 11th-floor reaction to Schell's appointments has been generally positive. Licata praises the selection of Byers and Mitzman and predicts that Schell's choice of a labor official (Brown) as special assistant will aid in labor/management communication. "Everyone starts with a clean slate," adds Licata. "We'll see if we can create something that's common to all of us."

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