Four-term Redmond mayor tried to "lead from the heart"
As she ends four terms and 16 years as Redmond's mayor, Rosemarie Ives says she always tried to "lead from the heart."
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
To tick off the final weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds of her last term in office, someone sent Redmond Mayor Rosemarie Ives a countdown clock.
After 16 years as mayor, Ives needed no reminder her days are numbered.
The closer she gets to her zero hour — Dec. 31 — the more freely her tears seem to flow. Ives even cried when she sat down to write her final letter for the city's magazine.
"In my heart," she told residents, "I will always be your mayor."
Ives' softer side is not what most people will remember. For four terms as mayor, she's been a tough advocate for a city whipsawed by change.
Microsoft and other technology companies flourished so quickly the city had to halt building permits to give its infrastructure a chance to catch up. Redmond now has 80,000 jobs — and 50,000 residents. Parts of Highway 520, which used to dead-end in Redmond at a produce stand, carry some 44,000 vehicles every day. People once shopped at a little grocery called Munson's, marking their own prices with grease pen. Now there's a 56,000-square-foot Whole Foods.
And along the way, Ives said, she always tried to "lead from the heart." But she was also poised to defend Redmond against any potential threat, always "weighing and measuring, is this something you're going to fall on your sword over?"
As Redmond's four-term mayor, Ives has done more to shape the place than almost any other person in its century-long history. Now she's having a hard time letting go. She fears that without her vise grip on growth, development could spiral out of control.
She worries the city could send buildings in some places as high as 135 feet, and she doesn't want her city to end up like Bellevue, with a shiny skyline to rival Seattle's.
"I don't think that's Redmond," Ives said in a recent interview. "People here want low scale."
Mall started it all
Ives' imprints can be found all over the city, from the candlelit luminaria that line the Sammamish River each December to the red brick of the Old Schoolhouse Community Center.
But it was the mall that started it all.
Ideas for a shopping center on what was then a golf course were already being kicked around when Ives and her husband, Jon, moved here from California in 1980. The plans didn't seem to fit the pastoral small town that had attracted the couple to Redmond instead of such places as Mercer Island or Medina.
So in 1983, she was appointed to the Planning Commission, and five years later she upset an incumbent to win a seat on the City Council.
Then in 1991, Ives unseated Mayor Doreen Marchione, a well-known, heavily endorsed incumbent. Ives called herself a "green" candidate and campaigned hard against Marchione's visions for rapid growth in the city.
And when she took over as mayor, she became a headstrong leader.
Ives clashed with the council over the yearslong planning for the mall. She opposed an enclosed mall, instead envisioning something akin to redevelopments of historic sites in Boston.
She wanted tenants to be local, independent businesses, so that the center wouldn't seem like "Anywhere, U.S.A."
Redmond Town Center, which opened in 1997, is pretty much the development Ives imagined, she says.
Creating teen center
Ives didn't back down easily from a project she believes in, and she especially loves an underdog idea.
When Redmond High School students complained to her that police were clearing them out of the local McDonald's parking lot, Ives empathized. Her son was about their age at the time.
"I get it," she remembers telling them. "You want a place where you can legally loiter."
Some City Council members cringed, but Ives supported allowing teens to organize all-ages rock shows at a decommissioned firehouse the city owned.
Voters in 1992 had rejected a $7.9 million bond issue to build a teen and community center, so Ives cobbled together a shoestring budget for The Old Firehouse Teen Center, which has become a model for other youth-driven programs around the nation.
She also backed a controversial plan to designate a "tagging wall" where teens still paint graffiti-style murals.
A native New Englander, Ives has a passion for preserving history. So in the late 1990s, when Ives learned of a plan to demolish Redmond Elementary School, she warned the Lake Washington School District superintendent that "the ghosts of Redmond El will haunt me if we tear it down."
The city ended up taking over the building and renovating it into a community center, which opened in 2000.
Ives said her approach is ask for a lot, "and if you get 50 percent, you're doing good."
Not all her efforts have panned out. Only two council members were on board when Ives in 2003 threw her support behind a plan to study a magnetic monorail to serve the Eastside.
Fought for 4th term
Ives says it's simply time to move on after four terms. But the Ives era nearly ended in 2003 after three terms. After voters rejected a proposal to change Redmond's form of government to a council/city-manager style, which would have strictly curtailed the mayor's power, Ives rallied for another go-round, saying it was not a good time for a leadership change.
Ives claims she has heard developers were "ecstatic" when they learned she would not seek a fifth term. To carry on her slow-growth approach, she campaigned vigorously for longtime council member and ally Jim Robinson.
Robinson lost to John Marchione, son of the woman Ives defeated in her first run for mayor.
At least now, Ives figures, Marchione will have the votes he needs to get things done.
"I did not have a council that was terribly supportive," she added.
This week, as she gets ready to head out the City Hall doors, Ives is vague about what's she'll do next. Half-jokingly, she says she's looking for a job — one with more "alignment" than her time as mayor.
If Ives is facing an uncertain future, there's no mistaking that she knows full well what she is leaving behind.
"To many people in Redmond, I'm the only mayor they've ever known. I'm always going to be the mayor," she said. "I think what's really exciting is I won't have the headaches anymore."
Amy Roe: 206-464-3347 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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