What have Nick Licata and Tom Rasmussen ever done for Capitol Hill?

Longtime Seattle City Council members Tom Rasmussen and Nick Licata both announced — here and here — last week that they will not seek reelection this fall. As of October, Licata was the Council’s most beloved member, while voters felt much more ‘meh’ toward Rasmussen. Licata says he wants to concentrate on building a national network of progressive city leaders, while Rasmussen says he wants to concentrate on policy rather than campaigning during the coming year.

But before they bow out, CHS asked both councilors: What did you ever do for the Hill?

Inside the Sunset Electric (Image: CHS)

Inside the Sunset Electric (Image: CHS)

“This was graffiti covered,” says Rasmussen, pointing at the Sunset Electric building. The top five stories are an exoskeleton of shimmering glass and metal balanced upon two bottom stories of quaint, old brick. “It was going to be bulldozed,” he says. “It was going to be torn down by the developer.”

But the building — which now resembles a titanic computer chip perched atop a frontier supply store — still stands, a physical manifestation of Capitol Hill’s future balanced on the shoulders of its past. This is due, Rasmussen says, to the legislation he championed to give developers a way to add to the Hill, rather than replace it. The result: a fast-growing brick-and-steel jungle which “preserves the character of the neighborhood,” rather than an asphalt savanna which erases it. Pointing out another old/new building on the northeast corner of the Madison/Union/12th intersection, Rasmussen says, “Extra floor on top, beautiful brick; I think it’s just inspiring.”

“I think that Capitol Hill is going to lose someone who is super engaged in the neighborhood,” says local business magnate and longtime ally Dave Meinert. “[Rasmussen is] a really smart guy” who has “been super involved in Capitol Hill… everything from garbage to pedestrian traffic issues.”

When we meet to talk about what he’s done for the Hill during his eleven years in office, Rasmussen takes me on a walking tour of the Pike/Pine area, pointing out landmarks he’s helped save and reminiscing about living here forty years ago.

“The Seventies was extremely exciting,” he says of the Hill’s gay heyday, “because it was the beginning of feeling really liberated.” Living with his then-partner on Harvard Ave E, Rasmussen says the rush of visiting the neighborhood’s thriving bar scene was tempered by the fear of exposure.

“When I went out at first into the bars, I was terrified that I would run into someone I know when I was coming out of a gay bar. I was like, ‘My god, what if I come out of the bar and I run into my mother?” Rasmussen says. “It was pretty scary.”

Today, Rasmussen is about as out as you can get, living with his 24-year partner in West Seattle and making LGBT equality a policy staple.

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In his announcement, Rasmussen outlined his priorities for his remaining time on the Council.

Council member Licata inside Hugo House for the launch of the Capitol Hill Arts District in 2014 (Image: CHS)

Council member Licata inside Hugo House for the launch of the Capitol Hill Arts District in 2014 (Image: CHS)

Seattle City Council’s most-popular and longest-standing member, Nick Licata, is basically an old hippie.

Make of this what you will.

Sporting a snow-white soul patch and braille business cards, the former neighborhood organizer has held his post since 1998. During that time he’s staked out a position as a true-green progressive who knows how to play the political game, writing things like “Every Politician Should Live In a Commune” while also coauthoring a blistering city report on the 1999 WTO protests:

We find that city government failed its citizens through careless and naïve planning, poor communication of its plans and procedures, confused and indecisive police leadership, and imposition of civil emergency measures in questionable ways. As authorities lost control of the streets they resorted to methods that sometimes compromised the civil rights of citizens and often provoked further disturbance.

During his first term Licata coauthored a report that lambasted the city’s club-flailing response to 1999’s World Trade Organization protests.

Meinert again: “[Licata is] very left, very progressive but also a budget hawk. I don’t know if conservative on spending is the right word, but he’s very smart about budgeting…I think not having Nick on Council is going to be a big loss.”

Right now, Licata says, he’s concentrated on enforcement of white-collar laws. In addition to putting together the City’s new Office of Labor Standards (which will deal with things like wage theft), he’s working on creating a registry of rental properties that would enable the city to monitor landlords and collect demographic data. If successful, he says, it would be the “first time in the city’s history that we’ll be able to register all the rental units…Before, if someone had a complaint they’d have to file a complaint themselves”—which doesn’t make for particularly sharp-toothed rental regulations.

Green space, community space, and, yes, sometimes troubled space, Cal Anderson is a gem (Image: CHS)

Green space, community space, and, yes, sometimes troubled space, Cal Anderson is a gem (Image: CHS)

On the Hill, he says, he was one of the drivers behind establishing Cal Anderson Park in the early Aughts, pushing back against budget-based objections from city departments. “Initially, [Seattle Public Utilities] wanted to put a cover on it that was perhaps not even sod,” Licata says. “I negotiated with [the Department of] Parks. The community wanted a water feature there, and lighting, and making it an attractive park… We finally got the Parks Department and SPU to agree to an expenditure that was perhaps twice” their original figure. Since then, the park has gone from a condom-littered “shithole” (per The Stranger) to one of the best city parks in the country (per Forbes magazine).

Licata’s influence has mosty recently been felt on the Hill via his work to establish it as the city’s first Arts District (a designation which basically lets developers build more if they include arts spaces). “We want to create a model here that can be duplicated across the country,” he said at the District’s official launch in November.

After he finishes up this year, Licata says, he’ll be building a national network between progressive city leaders, using cities’ increasing influence (more than half of all humanity now lives in urban areas) to pioneer national policy.

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In his announcement, Licata vowed to spread the gospel of ‘cities as laboratories of democracy.’

With the exit of Licata and Rasmussen, significant forces in shaping the Capitol Hill we know today are stepping aside as the council shifts to new district-based representation. It is time — we can hope — for new leaders to emerge.

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10 thoughts on “What have Nick Licata and Tom Rasmussen ever done for Capitol Hill?

  1. If you’re wondering “What have Nick Licata and Tom Rasmussen ever done for Capitol Hill?”, then why are you asking someone from Burien?

  2. I think Tom Rasmussen has been an excellent and effective councilperson and am sorry he is leaving. In addition to the things mentioned in this article, I believe he was instrumental in getting DPD….and more recently the full council….to make much-needed changes in the regulations governing microhousing.

    • His influence on microhousing in specific and housing in general is exactly why I’m rejoicing he is leaving. He helped make housing in Seattle more expensive by limiting certain, more affordable housing types and by generally being a slow-growth proponent, which is another way of saying cost increase advocate.

      • Limiting more affordable housing types? Really? Just look around….there are apodments everywhere on Capitol Hill. And the upcoming development above the light rail station will have lots of affordable housing.

        You seem certain that housing costs are directly determined by how much new development is occurring. I think it’s a lot more complicated than that.

  3. Both Rasmussen and Licata have done outstanding work in their time on Council. Not that I’ve always agreed w/ them on every issue – I haven’t. But they both have solid reason to be proud of their public service careers. This article does a great job of pointing that out and thanks, CHS blog, for doing that.

    I know that – in certain circles – there’s a fevered excitement about a “throw the bums out” year about the upcoming District elections. I do worry about loss of wisdom, experience and accomplishment that both Licata & Rasmussen have brought to the table. And I applaud them both for the work that they’ve done specifically for our neighborhood. Tom was the champion of the Pike/Pine Overlay District at Council. Though it’s not a perfect tool, it goes miles towards maintaining character and history in the corridor, and it was created by and for members of the Capitol Hill community. Nick’s advocacy for the Arts, specifically the Capitol Hill Arts District, is no less noteworthy.

    I wish them both success in their next endeavors.