Greg Nickels, former Mayor of Seattle

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Greg Nickels
Mayor of Seattle
By Andrew Stevens, Deputy Editor

28 January 2008: Seattle’s Mayor Greg Nickels was elected in 2001. Since then he has taken a lead on US mayors’ efforts to commit cities to fighting global warming and has committed his administration to outlawing discrimination against same-sex couples. Re-elected in 2005, he and the city council have been entangled in the monorail controversy, which saw millions of dollars spent on a failed scheme.

Update November 2009: In 2009 Nickels failed to be elected in the city’s primary election for mayor and will stand down from office in January 2010. More

31 March 2010: Profile of Seattle Mayor McGinn

Greg Nickels was born in Chicago in 1955. His family moved to Seattle in 1961 and he was schooled at Seattle Prep, then attending the University of Washington. Nickels began his political career in 1979 as an adviser to city councillor Norm Rice, who went on to become the city’s first and only Afro-American mayor in 1989. Nickels himself secured election to the King County Council in 1987 and was re-elected on three subsequent occasions.

Nickels was serving on King County Council when he sought the mayoralty against incumbent Paul Schell in 2001. Schell was blamed for the fiasco that was the 1999 World Trade Organisation gathering, at which massive rioting saw lasting damage to the city’s economy. The event was held up as poorly planned and of little actual benefit to the city. Nickels and another opponent beat the incumbent in the first round of voting in the city’s non-partisan election, surprising many. Nickels was re-elected in November 2005 by a large margin.

Mayor Nickels fronted the much-vaunted US Conference of Mayors declaration of a US Mayors Climate Protection Agreement in 2005, a commitment of 188 US mayors to the goals of the Kyoto Protocol dispensed with by the Bush administration. 208 mayors have now signed up to the agreement. Nickels chairs the conference's advisory board and also sits on the board of trustees and is a former chair of its transportation committee.  He is also Vice President of the National Conference of Democratic Mayors.  In 2004 he signed an executive order to give equal rights at work to Seattle public employees in same-sex marriages, as well as outlawing discrimination to same-sex couples in public housing and the provision of goods and services.

The city’s monorail and Space Needle hold iconic status as legacy features of its 1962 World Fair.  A recent project to build a large-scale monorail network for Seattle ground to a halt in 2005 when the city council withheld planning consent, effectively killing off the project, though the vehicle tax levied by the city after voters’ consent in 2002 will continue to be paid to cover its debts. Seattle also shot to global prominence in the early 1990s during the ascendancy of its Grunge scene, which was centred around bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam, reflecting the primacy of culture there also.

Seattle is a charter city, with responsibilities denoted under the city charter, as opposed to other cities in Washington State which operated under the Mayor-Council Manager system. The nine city councillors are elected on at large basis. The city also operates an array of public utilities compared to other US cities which rely on private sector provision. Seattle Public Utilities provides water and refuse collection while Seattle City Light is responsible for electricity supply. Both are agencies of the city. This is perhaps a reflection of the city’s politics, which are firmly left of centre by national standards.

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