We’re not sure what, exactly, this says about Capitol Hill, but before he got into local politics, Thomas Whittemore, the City’s new East Neighborhood District Coordinator, studied monkeys. He majored in primatology at Harvard University and the University of Chicago.
“When I decided to cease my graduate career, I traveled for two years around the world,” said Whittemore. “While I was traveling and interacting with people, [I realized] I was much more interested in people than monkeys.”
Whittemore replaces Jose Cervantes who retired from the position this month. The City of Seattle’s Department of Neighorhoods decided to fill the opening position with somebody from within the department. Whittemore moves into the Capitol Hill office after serving as Acting Neighborhood District Coordinator for the Greater Duwamish and Central Districts.
“Part of my job as district coordinator is working with underrepresented populations, which is inspiring to me,” said Whittemore. “I hope to bring that passion to the East district, no matter who the underrepresented are. My role is to bring community issues forward, not as an advocate, but as facilitator.”
The Neighborhood District Coordinator acts as a liaison between the general public and city officials. Whittemore’s office is a resource for groups or individuals who want to plan local events, make changes in politics or get involved in different events or groups around the city. He can act as a Capitol Hill representative to anyone new to the neighborhood or ready to begin their career as a civil servant. He can also help find interpreters and arrange for public officials to attend important community meetings if needed.
You can contact Whittemore here: Thomas.Whittemore@seattle.gov
Whittemore told CHS he became so fascinated with politics that he started a career as a political cartoonist and was published in The Seattle Times and Seattle Weekly during the ‘90s. Whittemore and his wife lived on Capitol Hill from the mid-80s until they moved to Ballard in 1991, where he first got involved with local government as Ballard District Council President in 1997. He ran for City Council in 1999. Most interested in matters of political and social inclusion, he spent a lot of time volunteering with people with disabilities and the ACLU. He said he helped launch the Small Sparks Fund and participated in many other civic engagement programs around Seattle.
He noted that he’s excited to see the results of the 2010 Census, which will provide an even bigger window into the important issue on the Hill and plant the seeds for greater community involvement.
“All these things take time. Working with people with disabilities I learned that, and it’s good for me to understand that things don’t happen rapidly,” said Whittemore. “You have to do culturally relevant outreach and inform those who are supporting you in the community that these strategies are critical to proper engagement.”
Some important goals for neighborhood planning include making sure all meetings of public interest are held at accessible times or locations. He encourages groups to send out information in creative and grassroots ways that resonate with the community. He also hopes to connect more with immigrant and minority groups around the Hill.
“At the neighborhood service center, people walk in with all kinds of questions. They might ask about housing or health services, and we can give them resources,” said Whittemore. “I also do outreach with other local groups and organizations. I might [attend] a meeting they’re holding and help facilitate it and make sure they’re thinking about different issues involved.”
Capitol Hill residents can drop by Whittemore’s office, located in the upstairs office of the Capitol Hill Library, during office hours, or schedule an appointment with him to meet somewhere to talk. He said he’s excited to put his creative arts and civic leadership background to use on the Hill.
“There is so much going on around Capitol Hill, with changes from the light rail to the streetcar and beyond,” said Whittemore. “It’s important to hear what the neighborhoods feel about their future and my role is to support them.”