Each generation of leaders stands on the shoulders of those who went before them. Some want to change everything, others take time to appreciate what it took to get here. Still others exhibit a rare selfless leadership that always puts the public good first no matter the political consequences.
As we start a new year, city councils and school boards throughout the county will reconvene in January by greeting new members, as another generation steps into leadership roles.
Redmond and Renton will greet new mayors as the depatures of John Marchione and Denis Law will leave holes that will take time to replace in their respective cities and in suburban leadership. Marchione’s own mother is one who went before and served in the same role with talent and integrity several years ago.
These officials and many others served with distinction even on the occasions when you disagreed with them. They placed service and vision before reelection.
And my thanks to Kirkland? Even though he had not served in public office for several years, former Kirkland City Council member and Mayor Bob Neir, who passed away recently, is what all the next generation of leaders should strive to be.
Even though most readers outside Kirkland won’t recognize his name, his impact on regional transportation, particularly South King County, was huge. We stood on his shoulders for a decade as he put a regional vision ahead of local politics — and commuter rail in the Auburn-Kent valley to start the regional transit system.
His strategy of starting with a “pilot project” in the valley allowed later leaders to unite toward light rail from Seattle to Tacoma along the I-5 corridor, rather than pit two parts of South King County against each other. Over 30 years ago, Neir chaired the Metro Transit committee. Metro was the regional transit agency prior to Sound Transit.
Rather than let Seattle, as the employment hub, determine the future of regional transit, or give in to pressure from Eastside cities as they were blooming into their own economic center, Neir looked far into the future. He sided with the mayors of Renton, Tukwila, Kent and Auburn, along with King County Council member Gary Grant, who presented a low-cost alternative to start the system by using existing valley rail lines to start commuter rail that would deliver residents up and down the valley from Seattle to Tacoma.
Neir could have been a hero to the Eastside and run for higher office. But he chose a long-term vision, putting service above self, and we all received the benefit. Residents of South King County should thank those who are leaving office for their commitment to public service, and measure our new and returning leaders against a humble public servant from Kirkland, who put the region ahead of himself and his city.
We sometimes long for leadership. Neir’s actions are what leadership looks like. And we all won.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.