Tim Burgess, Seattle City Councilman: 5 things to know

by: Casey McNerthney Updated:

With Seattle Mayor Ed Murray resigning his position, City Council President Bruce Harrell became mayor Wednesday -- and there's speculation that Councilman Tim Burgess or Councilwoman Lorena González may take over the role until a new mayor is elected. 

Harrell, who is expected to take the oath of office in the late afternoon, has five calendar days to decide whether to work the remainder of the mayor's term. But if Harrell does that, he couldn't go back for the remainder of his council term.

If Harrell declines to stay in the interim mayor role, the council would appoint someone else, possibly Councilman Burgess, who is retiring this year, or González, who is running for reelection in November and is expected to win reelection. In the primary, González took 64 percent of the vote in a race with seven candidates. Read what to know about González here.

Here's a quick background on Burgess: 

1.  He ran for Seattle mayor previously:  Burgess briefly entered the mayoral race in November 2012, being the first to enter the 2013 race that Ed Murray eventually won over incumbent Mike McGinn.  “All across Seattle, people have said they want bolder thinking, more inclusive and more effective leadership from City Hall to bring people together and get things done,” Burgess said in his announcement statement.  Seattlepi.com columnist Joel Connolly, who included that quote in his coverage, wrote in 2012 that the line “was a not-very-subtle poke at the contentious, divisive administration of incumbent Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. Burgess was elected to the City Council in 2007, beating incumbent David Della with 63 percent of the vote. He’s also served as City Council President. Burgess received an “Outstanding” rating from the Municipal League of King County and was reelected in 2011. He announced his retirement in December 2016, a move that led the Seattle Times editorial board to write that “Seattle sorely needs a successor of his caliber.” 

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2. He used to work as a reporter: Burgess was a radio reporter for KJR. He covered the local Black Panthers, including Larry Gossett, who is now a King County Councilman.  “There were a lot of bombings and shootings in the city, a lot of civil disorder, and then I covered the [1970s police] corruption trials,” Burgess told Publicola in 2013. “And then Wes Uhlman was elected mayor. He was a young state legislator who ran on a reform plank: ‘I’m going to clean up city hall.’ I was very enamored with that and wanted to be part of that. So I quit KJR and joined the police department.” At one point on the City Council, Burgess was one of three former journalists along with Sally Clark and Jean Godden, who all helped achieve landmark status for the P-I Globe. He also was a radio reporter in the 1970s at the same time as Norm Rice, who later became a City Councilman and the only African-American mayor of Seattle. 

3. Burgess also worked as a Seattle police officer: He was on patrol in West Seattle and also worked as a public information officer for Chief Robert Hanson, who was nominated as chief by Mayor Wes Uhlman in September 1974 after serving as acting chief since that March. (Hanson was the last police chief to come from Seattle.) “I had a pretty sheltered life up to that point, and being a police officer on the street is not a sheltered life,” Burgess told Publicola. There was a spiritual issue there, too, and I really felt motivated and interested in global poverty issues. So I quit the police department [in 1978] and went to work for a humanitarian organization, and spent the next seven years doing antipoverty work around the world. In 1985, I started my communications consulting firm [Seattle, Burgess & Associates] to serve nonprofit organizations and help them communicate their messages. And I ran that for 20 years.” Burgess sold his consulting firm in 2006, a year before being elected to the City Council for the first time. Another interesting note: His first date with his wife of nearly four decades, Joleen, was to a murder scene. She was a P-I editor at the time and the two planned for a regular date until the police call came. 

4. He’s a Seattle native – something rare in current-day Seattle: Burgess went to Lincoln High School, which is now an interim school site in Wallingford. He also went to the University of Washington, but dropped out eight credits short of a degree. “Dad sold office supplies door-to-door downtown, not always successfully,” Burgess wrote on his campaign website. “Mom worked in the Meany School cafeteria, and we kids would walk from our elementary school to Meany where the cafeteria workers would feed us leftovers -- in case there wasn't enough at home for dinner. We had medical care because Dr. Denham treated us for free. And when I was 12, we had to move because Mom and Dad couldn’t make the mortgage payments on our house on Capitol Hill.” Burgess and his wife raised their three daughters in Seattle, and they attended Seattle Public Schools. 

5. He has faith: In 2012, Burgess told reporter Eli Sanders that he prays daily and goes to Bethany Presbyterian Church on top of Queen Anne Hill every Sunday.  "My faith is absolutely anchored to forgiveness and grace,” Burgess told Sanders. “Because I've experienced that myself. Totally opposite of what I was raised in." Sanders attended church with him for the story and wrote that he “heard nothing that would cause any Seattle liberal the slightest bit of concern. Just a lot of talk about feeding the poor, bridging divides, opening up hearts and minds.” On the council, Burgess was the lead architect of the Seattle Preschool Program that will eventually offer high-quality preschool to all of the city's three- and four-year olds.

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