Tim Burgess

Seattle’s mayoral musical chairs is over, and the person occupying the seat is Tim Burgess.

This afternoon the Seattle City Council voted 5 to 1  to install Councilmember Tim Burgess as mayor. Burgess’s opening occurred after Mayor Murray resigned Tuesday and Council President Bruce Harrell declined his first right to keep the position, opting to turn the position over to one of his colleagues on the council. That made Burgess the third mayor of Seattle in one week.

Burgess needed five votes to become mayor and got them with only Councilmember Kshama Sawant opposing him. The Seattle Ethics Commission recommended Burgess not vote on his own appointment given his inherent conflict of interest. The position comes with not just power but also a big pay check. The position of Mayor of Seattle comes with a base compensation of $175,000 a year. Pro-rated to 71 days–which is how long Burgess will serve–that’s just over $34,000. Seattle City Councilmembers make $117,000 per year.

The Seattle City Charter dictates that the mayoral transition after the November election, which normally takes place on January 1, will take place on November 28 in this case, City Attorney Pete Holmes said. That means either Cary Moon or Jenny Durkan will be mayor sooner than otherwise expected. Either would be the second woman to be mayor of Seattle, with Bertha Knight Landes, who served from 1926 to 1928, the first.

The five councilmembers who voted for Burgess said nice things about him in commentary before voting. Burgess was painted as a mentor and all around nice guy of high integrity.

Then, Councilmember Sawant took the mic and reminded everyone of some of Burgess’ flaws in her estimation, highlighting his positions on homelessness and police accountability.

Councilmember Burgess, a former police officer himself, advocated for investing $160 million (and then later $149 million) to build a decked-out state-of-the-art facility for Seattle Police Department’s North Precinct. That effort ended up petering out amid pushback from an alliance called Block The Bunker, uniting Black Live Matters, fiscal hawks, and many other groups. The city council delayed the plan, and Mayor Murray paused rather than see the plan killed. One of things to watch is if Burgess seeks to bring the North Precinct proposal back from the dead in his ten weeks as mayor.

Councilmember Sawant also dinged Burgess for his panhandling bill that imposed a $50 fine for the offense. The anti-homeless measure was mercifully vetoed by Mayor Mike McGinn after it passed council back in 2010.

Mayor Burgess is being sworn in now. The Seattle City Council didn’t indicate how or when it would select a temporary replacement for Burgess’s council seat, but it is required to do so within 10 days, I believe. Heidi Groover reported that former Councilmember Nick Licata plans to apply for the interim seat.

Mayor Murray Delays North Precinct Project

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Doug Trumm is publisher of The Urbanist. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington in 2019. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.