Monday, August 2, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Hud Job Awaits Her In Other Washington

A conversation with Sharon Maeda

Job: President of Spectra Communications Inc., Seattle; begins Sept. 1 as deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Washington, D.C. Age: 48 Family: Divorced; no children Residence: Mount Baker Hobbies: Cooking, hiking, listening to jazz, cultural activities Quote: "I'm very fast at what I do. There are judgment calls I've made wrong, but I correct them in time so not many people know I made the wrong decision."

1962: Sharon Maeda goes to Washington, D.C., as a Girls Nation delegate. For a photo op, she is briefly named "director of the National Park Service," sitting at the director's desk surrounded by 11 white men.

1993: Sharon Maeda goes to Washington as deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This time the title is real.

So are its challenges. Maeda will be charged with developing the communications strategy to change HUD's image of deteriorating, crack-infested high-rises and bureaucratic mismanagement.

With a background in teaching, public radio and media relations, Maeda admits she knows very little about housing other than that it's necessary. And that, she points out, really is the root of it anyway.

So how did this job happen? City councilwomen Martha Choe and Sue Donaldson put Maeda's name on a list.

They didn't tell her, which, it turned out, probably was a good idea. Maeda says she would have told them she wasn't interested. After all, Maeda's Spectra Communications company was finally at the point of being able to pick and choose diverse projects: a radio series on the future of Japan and how American and Japanese people view each other; a video documentary; management of the Nippon Kan Theatre.

But the attitude and politics of HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros convinced her to take the job when it was offered.

Since she was that young Girls Nation delegate, Maeda has searched for work that could best accomplish her objectives of realizing and exploring cultural diversity.

She started with politics, a dream aborted by Robert Kennedy's assassination in 1968.

Then she taught art to Renton middle school students - until she concluded that nothing had more power over their attitudes than images in media.

"I found there was virtually nothing at the time that was racially inclusive," Maeda said.

Maeda began working at public television and radio stations, eventually becoming executive director of the Pacifica Foundation, which operated listener-supported radio stations in several states. She left that job five years ago to come home to Seattle and a new company, Spectra, which does management consulting, promotions and public relations. Her clients have included Asian Counseling and Referral Service, the Central Area Motivation Program and several state and city governmental departments.

Now, she'll go from making all of her own decisions as head of a small operation to a cog in an infamous, large government agency.

Spectra won't be closed down entirely; other members of Maeda's "project team" will handle a few continuing projects from California. Spectra will take no new clients or projects, but Maeda plans to be back someday running it, given the nature of political appointments.

"I've never wanted to work in a bureaucracy," she said. "But one of my friends said, `We are the government.' "

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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