Murray to replace city transportation chief, several others
Seattle Director of Transportation Peter Hahn and three other department heads have resigned, and another retired, after getting word they won’t be part of Mayor-elect Ed Murray’s administration.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle Director of Transportation Peter Hahn resigned late Thursday after being informed by Mayor-elect Ed Murray that he wouldn’t be kept on in the new administration.
Murray began meeting with city department directors this week. By late Friday, Murray had announced that three other department heads would not be returning and another was retiring.
Budget Director Beth Goldberg, Intergovernmental Affairs Director Marco Lowe and Personnel Director David Stewart all were told that they would not be part of the new administration. Rick Hooper, the director of the Office of Housing, announced his retirement. Catherine Lester, interim director of Human Services, has been asked to stay on as Murray searches for a permanent director.
Goldberg was credited with guiding the city through a steep recession, rebuilding its rainy-day fund and making the budget more accessible to the public.
Lowe was one of outgoing Mayor Mike McGinn’s only holdovers from the Greg Nickels administration. Lowe ran Nickels’ 2002 campaign for mayor and then took a senior job in the administration as Nickels’ director of community relations. Before returning to Seattle to work for McGinn, Lowe was chief of staff for the New York City Department of Small Business Services.
McGinn thanked all the directors for their service to the city in a news release issued after Murray’s announcement.
Hahn, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) director, has been one of the highest-profile of McGinn’s department leaders, helping the mayor implement high-priority projects such as an updated Transit Plan and advancing planning efforts for high-capacity transit corridors.
McGinn noted that when it started snowing, Hahn set up a cot in his office so he could work around the clock overseeing plowing, salting and de-icing operations.
“He’s done great work rebuilding public trust in SDOT’s commitment to the basics,” the mayor said.
Richard Sheridan, SDOT spokesman, said Hahn was leaving Friday for a planned vacation and would be out of the office for the next week, but that he had notified staff Thursday he would not be serving in the new administration.
City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, chair of the council Transportation Committee, praised Hahn as a hands-on administrator and a conscientious public servant. “He was a tremendous SDOT director. He cared deeply about having a well-functioning department.”
But Rasmussen speculated that Murray, a former state Senate transportation chair, wants to make his own mark on the department.
During the mayoral campaign, Murray said he wanted an integrated transportation system in which all the different elements, including roads, buses and light rail, would work well together. In pre-election polling, Seattle residents said congestion was one of their biggest frustrations.
“Murray wants each mode to complement each other and not compete. Let’s talk about moving people and goods and look at the data to tell us how the modes should be prioritized,” Murray spokesman Jeff Reading said Friday.
Hahn might also have been handicapped by his close association with McGinn. Hahn defended McGinn’s opposition to the waterfront tunnel and his aggressive challenge of the state’s environmental assessment of the project, saying the city had a right to know how the project would affect its streets and traffic.
Hahn, 68, took over the department from Grace Crunican, who was out of town on vacation during part of a bad snowstorm in 2008 and later said of the paralyzed streets: “I don’t drive a snow plow.”
Rasmussen said, “Peter was the opposite. Peter would shovel your driveway if that’s what it took.”
Under Hahn’s leadership, SDOT improved its capacity to respond to snowstorms, switching to a salt solution that would be effective at lower temperatures and adding new sensors and a snow-prediction system developed in partnership with the University of Washington.
Under Hahn, SDOT completed the Spokane Street Viaduct project with savings that could be directed to other maintenance work. He oversaw the conversion of Mercer to a two-way thoroughfare, and his department updated the transit master plan and completed bike and pedestrian master plans. The department also has managed planning and the start of construction for the $290 million seawall project.
McGinn might have made Hahn’s job tougher. The outgoing mayor made transportation one of his highest priorities, but he opposed several major projects already well under way, including the deep-bore tunnel and a widened 520 bridge, which put him at odds with other regional leaders and made it hard to win support for his own initiatives. Voters soundly approved going forward with the tunnel in 2011 and rejected a $60 car-tab measure to fund transportation projects, including planning for light rail, championed by McGinn.
Times staff reporter Emily Heffter contributed to this report.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @lthompsontimes