New member of council has strong neighborhood credentials
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle City Council's newest member
Council salary: $97,000
Political future: Clark will serve the rest of the year. The position will be up for election this fall. She'll have to win that election to serve the year remaining on Jim Compton's term. In 2007, Clark would have to run again to win a full, four-year term.
In the tug of war between Seattle neighborhoods and City Hall, neighborhoods are likely gaining an advocate in the City Council's newest member, Sally Clark.
Clark, who attends her first regular council meeting today, most recently worked as an executive at Lifelong AIDS Alliance. But she also carries the credentials to comfort community activists, who at times have felt dismissed by Mayor Greg Nickels and his aggressive development proposals.
Clark, 39, receives rave reviews for her work under Jim Diers, the charismatic former director of the city's Department of Neighborhoods. On the council, she will chair a newly created Neighborhoods and Economic Development Committee, which she says will occasionally meet outside City Hall to promote civic involvement.
"I don't think our productivity increases if we meet out in Greenwood, but it helps with access and transparency," Clark said.
Clark served as the city's top liaison to Southeast Seattle for three years. In that time, she distinguished herself as an advocate for community goals, such as new sidewalks, the Mapes Creek Walkway in Rainier Beach, and a new city park on Hitt's Hill, the site of a former fireworks factory.
"She did a great job identifying resources for neighborhoods and helping to make things happen," said Dawn Blanch, a Rainier Beach activist.
Clark wins additional praise for working with opposing camps in the debate over whether to run a new light-rail line along the street or underground through the city's Rainier Valley.
"We're pretty big Sally fans down here," says Darryl Smith, president of the Rainier Chamber of Commerce and a Columbia City activist. "It would've been easy to get dragged one way or another [in that debate]. But Sally showed an ability to listen to both sides and be a bridge between a lot of neighbors."
The council voted Jan. 27 to have Clark fill the vacancy created by Jim Compton, who resigned to teach and write in Romania and Egypt. Clark was selected from a field of 98 applicants.
Clark, who is white, was seen as somewhat of an underdog as council members expressed interested in using the appointment to add racial diversity to the council. The other five finalists were racial minorities.
During interviews for the job, Clark told the council she wants to help create jobs and more training opportunities for Seattleites who "will never work on genetic mapping or on the 7E7."
She wants to encourage development that preserves neighborhood character. And she wants to bolster pre-school, after-school and mentoring programs to help working families.
"There's no question she has a strong community focus," said Diers, adding that Clark is "energetic, smart, has a good sense of humor and works really well with people."
Clark grew up in Portland, her father a professor of periodontology and her mother a stay-at-home mom. She graduated from the University of Washington, where she was active in student journalism.
Clark was editor of Seattle Gay News before she became communications manager for the Chicken Soup Brigade, an agency that provided services to people with HIV/AIDS.
She then went to work as an aide to then-City Councilwoman Tina Podlodowski, where she focused on public safety, health and neighborhood planning.
"She listens more carefully to people who disagree with her than those who agree," Podlodowski said.
As Podlodowski neared the end of her City Hall tenure in 1999, Diers hired Clark. After Nickels won election in 2001, he fired Diers, and a year later Clark's Department of Neighborhoods position was eliminated in budget cuts.
Shortly after, neighborhood leaders griped that Nickels had trampled carefully crafted community plans in the Northgate area and the University District.
Clark finished a master's degree in public administration at the UW, writing her thesis on civic engagement. She worked briefly as an aide to Metropolitan King County Councilman Bob Ferguson before Podlodowski became executive director at Lifelong AIDS Alliance and brought Clark on board as director of community resources.
Clark says she intended to run for the City Council or Legislature one day. When Compton resigned last month, Clark jumped at the chance to win appointment to a rare vacant seat.
Although steeped in neighborhood activism, Clark is hardly a knee-jerk not-in-my-backyard type.
She supports more densely developed neighborhood business districts, saying, "We have to if we are going to keep our commitments around preserving open space outside our cities."
She's careful not to take a firm stand yet on many other issues, such as public investment in South Lake Union, subsidies for KeyArena, and how to pay for a $4 billion tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Some see Clark as a swing vote on the council who would shift the power balance toward either Jan Drago's pro-business philosophy or Nick Licata's more populist camp.
Clark, who lives near Seward Park with her partner, a labor lawyer, says she's doesn't see herself pigeon-holed. "I get along with both of them. I don't see myself fitting neatly into either camp."
Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or email@example.com
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