Seattle City Council to lose another veteran council member in Rasmussen
Longtime Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen said he won’t seek re-election, the second council member to announce this week that he’s stepping down at the end of the year. Nick Licata is the other.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Whether he was touring Pioneer Square in a wheelchair to understand barriers to the disabled or checking out new electronic bus-schedule displays on Third Avenue, Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen has wanted the city to work for its residents.
On Friday, Rasmussen, 68, a three-term council member, announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election this fall. He became the second incumbent this week to decide not to enter the fray of district elections under which all the sitting members must run for their seats in 2015, seven of nine by geographic area.
Councilmember Nick Licata, who has been on the council since 1998, announced Tuesday that he was stepping down at the end of the year.
The decision surprised fellow council members who noted that Rasmussen enjoys high name recognition in his home district of West Seattle and was a top fundraiser when he ran for re-election in 2011.
Rasmussen said he was confident that despite three announced challengers for his seat, he could be successful. But he said he wanted to focus on city issues for the remaining 11 months and not be distracted by a campaign.
And he said that in stepping away from office, he could trade long hours at City Hall for more time with his elderly mother and his partner, Clayton Lewis.
“I love my job. I love the people I work with, but I want to start a new chapter with a more balanced life,” Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen, who chaired the council’s Transportation Committee the past six years, said he would focus in the coming months on delivering the more reliable and frequent bus service promised city voters who approved additional Metro funding in November.
Rasmussen frequently rides his bike or takes the bus to work.
He said he also would work with Mayor Ed Murray to craft a new Bridging the Gap levy for road repair and other transportation projects and predicted that it would add projects to improve pedestrian and bicycle mobility. That measure likely will be on the November ballot.
Rasmussen, a former Yakima County prosecuting attorney, got his start in city politics as an aide to former City Councilmember Jeanette Williams. He served as deputy director of Senior Services of Seattle-King County and as director of the Mayor’s Office for Senior Citizens under Norm Rice.
Murray praised Rasmussen for his lengthy public service, including his advocacy for seniors, human services, parks and “innovative transportation solutions.” He said Rasmussen also was a partner in the state and local efforts to secure civil rights and marriage equality for the LGBT community.
“Seattle is losing a major champion on the council,” Murray said in a statement.
Councilmember Sally Clark said Rasmussen’s office is a “mini-constituent services machine” that frequently and effectively responds to calls for help from residents. She also noted that despite his thoughtful and courteous manner, he could ask pointed questions and stick with an issue over time.
She recalled Rasmussen grilling city transportation officials after a failed response to a snowstorm under Mayor Greg Nickels.
“What did we do? Why did we make those decisions? How would we do better in the future? He wanted accountability,” Clark said.
Karen Sisson, former director of the West Seattle Senior Center, said Rasmussen was instrumental in raising the profile of senior centers and advocating for funding.
“This is a huge blow. We’re losing a huge advocate for the senior community,” she said.
Council President Tim Burgess said the council will miss both Rasmussen and Licata’s depth of knowledge and long-term perspective.
“They’ve both worked hard and have been focused on making the city a better place,” Burgess said, adding that with the coming district elections, the council will need to ensure that members “remain focused on the city as a whole.”
Information in this article, originally published Jan. 23, 2015, was corrected Jan. 29, 2015. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Tom Rasmussen was the Seattle City Council’s first openly gay member.