The truce between Mayor Mike McGinn and City Attorney Pete Holmes came suddenly last Friday after weeks of intense sparring over negotiations with a court-appointed monitor looking at police reforms. What happened?
Monitor Merick Bobb explained yesterday in a briefing before city council members. "People of good will worked hard to bring about a rapprochement," Bobb said. "I'm speaking specifically of Connie Rice, who is a dear friend of mine and a friend of the mayor."Rice, sitting in the front row of council chambers yesterday, is a civil rights attorney "who is almost legendary," as Ron Ward, a local lawyer who is serving as an assistant monitor, put it to Seattle Weekly. Ward added that Rice functioned as the "heart and soul" of the effort to reform the Los Angeles police department, which also fell under the spotlight of the federal Department of Justice. McGinn has brought Rice in to serve as his adviser while Seattle goes through the process.
Rice didn't manage to get McGinn and Holmes in the same room while she acted as envoy, she told reporters after the council briefing. Perhaps that's a telling reflection of the bad feeling that has developed between the two men. But she insisted that "it didn't take a lot of convincing" to get the mayor and the city attorney to agree to work together.
Even so, it seemed evident yesterday that Rice is a master diplomat. First, she declined to take a side on the question that had McGinn and Holmes ripping into each other: Who represents the city. "They both represent the city," she said. Then she downplayed the squabble as normal to the early days of reform, qualifying as a mere "hiccup" compared to the fractious divisions that plagued Los Angeles.
"In L.A., we were in court, suing, with the different unions," she said. Here, "we're not suing."
For those listening closely, Rice extended her diplomacy even further, reaching beyond the politicians to the police department itself. Speaking to the cameras, she said she has asked police officers what successful reform would look like to them. "If I get shot I want the community to call 911," she says one officer told her. Another said he wanted "poor, black families not to be afraid" to call for help. In other words, "trust" is what they want, she said, not "getting out of the [Department of Justice] decree."
It's a hopeful message, echoes of which could also be heard in Bobb's remarks to council. LAPD had embraced reform, he said, and he had "no doubt" that SPD could as well. "Indeed," he said, "the situation here is not as dire as it was in L.A.--by far."
The trick will be for everybody to remember that as more "hiccups" inevitably arise, as one did later in the day. Unions representing both rank and file police officers and their supervisors filed a complaint in court seeking protection of their contract rights as reform goes forward. Rice: Can you work your magic?