Richard Jeffrey McIver, a Seattle city councilman from 1997 to 2009, was descended from African American settlers who came to the Northwest in the nineteenth century. He was born in Seattle on June 14, 1941, to William McIver II (1911-1978) and Mildred Artis McIver (1915-1988) and briefly attended Horace Mann Elementary School in Seattle's Central Area before moving with his family to Alaska. Upon their return to Seattle 10 years later, McIver enrolled at Garfield High School in 1957. At the age of 20 he went to work for the Seattle Planning Commission and subsequently held positions at other city agencies before moving east, where he worked in both the private and public sectors. He later returned to the Northwest and earned a bachelor's degree from Fairhaven College at Western Washington University in 1976. After again leaving the area for several years, McIver came back to stay in 1992. In January 1997 he was selected to finish the Seattle City Council term of John Manning (b. 1955), who resigned due to personal problems. McIver won reelection three times and was deeply involved in issues ranging from transportation to housing and economic development. Faced with ill health, he declined to run again in 2009, but went on to serve as interim head of the Rainier Valley Community Development Fund, which he had helped create and considered his greatest public legacy. McIver died on March 10, 2013, at age 71, survived by his wife, Marlaina Kiner-McIver; daughter, Marianne (Mimi); and grandson Michael.
Richard McIver's forebears were among Seattle's early black settlers, and he was in the fifth generation of the family to call the city home. His father, William McIver II, and his mother, born Mildred Anita Artis, were married in the city on March 23, 1937. Their first son, William McIver III, was born in 1940. The following year, on June 14, 1941, Richard Jeffrey McIver came into the world.
William McIver was a mechanic and ran his own garage at 23rd Avenue and Cherry Street in Seattle's Central District. Young Richard started first grade at Horace Mann Elementary School, but when he was 6 years old the family moved to Kodiak, Alaska, where his father worked as a civilian heavy-equipment mechanic for the U.S. Navy. After 10 years in the north, the family returned to Seattle in 1957 and Richard, now 16, enrolled at Garfield High School.
Although he supported his family by working as a mechanic, William McIver was determined that his two sons would go to college. To make sure that they weren't tempted to follow in his footsteps, he forbade them to work on automobiles, including their own. It was effective, to a degree. His oldest son, William, studied engineering at the University of Washington. Richard started college right after high school, but did not get far -- he "purposely flunked out" so he could go to work and marry his high school sweetheart ("McIver Picked for City Council ... ").
McIver's first job in the public sector came in 1960 when he went to work as a staffer for the Seattle Planning Commission. His mother was also employed by the City; she would work for the mayor's office throughout the 1960s and later was an aide to city councilmember and future Seattle mayor Norm Rice (b. 1943). One of her coworkers in Rice's office was a young Greg Nickels (b. 1955), who would himself be elected mayor in 2001.
McIver also worked briefly as a buyer for Seattle's Bon Marche department store, but finding public service more to his liking he went back to work for the City in the Office of Urban Renewal. When the City Planning Commission staff and the Urban Renewal Program were folded into the new the Department of Community Development in 1969, McIver became its financial director. He also, in 1970, headed the City's Leschi Neighborhood Development project.
During two stretches away from the Northwest, McIver ran his own management consulting firm, Comprehensive Planning & Development; worked for the National League of Cities in Washington, D.C.; was director of the Community & Economic Development Assistance Center at A. L. Nellum & Associates; and was field director and project manager for the Rehabilitation Advisory Services at the National League of Cities. His first marriage ended in divorce, and on April 13, 1974, he married Marlaina Kiner, an attorney with a distinguished career of her own, including, locally, service with the Seattle Human Rights Commission and as general counsel to the Seattle Housing Authority.
In the mid-1970s Richard McIver decided to complete his interrupted education and enrolled at Fairhaven College at Western Washington University in Bellingham. He graduated in 1976 with an interdisciplinary bachelor's degree in community development, with majors in urban planning and finance. The McIvers then left the Northwest again, but in 1992 they returned to stay. Between then and 1997, McIver was head of the Washington Association for Community Economic Development, served as development director for the Tacoma Housing Authority, and sat on the Seattle Planning Commission.
A Reluctant Politician
In 1995, Seattle Police Department Sergeant John Manning won the Seattle City Council seat occupied by Sherry Harris (b. 1956). Four years earlier Harris had ousted Sam Smith (1922-1995), who in 1968 had become the council's first black member. Both Manning and Harris were also African American, and it was informally accepted by many that the seat that had been Smith's was the "black" seat on the council. When Manning resigned in 1997 after being charged with domestic violence, a decision on an interim replacement fell to the other eight council members.
The opportunity to serve on the city council without having to raise money or face the voters proved irresistible to many. When the council held its first selection hearing, 107 hopefuls paraded through. It was definitely a mixed bag. One aspirant described himself as "unremarkable" and his previous experience as "possibly irrelevant" ("It Takes All Kinds ... "). There was a plethora of self-described "planners" -- traffic planners, city planners, financial planners, land use planners, and more -- leading one reporter to ask rhetorically, "Doesn't anybody do anything anymore?" He went on to write:
"They weren't all planners, of course. Just as many were lawyers. There were also consultants and neighborhood activists and marketeers; architects, businesswomen and men, and a remarkable number of Little League coaches. There were two whole systems analysts (whatever that is), three Queen Anne Community Council presidents, at least one lonely and probably masochistic Republican" ("It Takes All Kinds ... ").
Among the hopefuls was Richard McIver, already a member of the Seattle Planning Commission and director of the nonprofit Washington Association for Community Economic Development. As he later described it, he was at first a reluctant candidate:
"I really did not want to be an elected official. I always felt that I could be more effective influencing politicians better than being one ... . After thinking about the opportunity for a while, I decided to wait until the last minute to submit my name for consideration" ("Councilman Richard McIver Cumulates ... ").
After the first cut the council was left with 12 candidates, of whom only two, McIver and Bruce Bentley, president of the Rainier Chamber of Commerce, were African American. A second vote reduced the finalists to five, including both Bentley and McIver. Councilmember Cheryl Chow (1946-2013) formally nominated McIver, saying "His sincerity, his understanding of people, business and public service [is] most impressive. He also happens to be an African American" ("City Council Votes but Fails ... ").
The council struggled with the decision. On the next ballot, on January 14, 1997, McIver led the pack with three votes, while Bentley garnered two. The three other finalists received one vote each. But on January 16, 1997, McIver finally won the seat by a vote of 7-1 and soon learned that he enjoyed being a politician: "It's a kick. ... I don't think I could've ever perceived how fun this would be" ("McIver: Leadership ... ").
New Job, Big Challenges
As heir to Manning's position as chair of the council's transportation committee, McIver became point-man on a host of critical transportation issues, an area in which he had little if any experience. He told the press that he would rely heavily on the transportation committee staff and planned to "hit the ground running," despite his lack of expertise: "I mean that most humbly ... I am not a transportation technocrat." But he was a quick study and a long-time policy wonk, admitting to reporters that he had no real hobbies and that his reading preferences ran to "dry economic development stuff" and HUD manuals. "I'm kind of dull, actually," he said ("McIver Picked For City Council ... "). After less than a month on the council, McIver also was named to replace fellow councilmember Martha Choe (b. 1955) on the board of the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (RTA), a three-county agency (King, Snohomish, and Pierce) established to tackle the region's long-term traffic issues. He was now truly neck-deep in the region's transportation swamp.
Another challenge facing McIver was a very early election. The council had to select a temporary replacement for Manning, but the law required a special election to fill the final two years of his term. The primary was just eight months away, leaving McIver little time to both learn his new job and prepare a campaign, if he chose to run. And if he ran and won he would have to face the voters again just two years later.
McIver also had to deal quickly with a major problem that had cropped up, or rather slid down, just two weeks before he was appointed to replace Manning. On January 2, 1997, a mudslide damaged support columns for the western reach of the Magnolia Bridge in Interbay. Original estimates were that the span would remain closed until near summer's end. Despite heavy spring rains, repairs were completed months early and under budget. The bridge reopened to traffic on May 8, 1997, and McIver had passed his first big test. He told reporters:
"We pulled out all the stops to repair the bridge as quickly as possible. Working with the city's transportation department, we cut the red tape and the costs -- in the process developing what I think is a very successful, contract model for emergency repairs" ("Magnolia Bridge Reopens ... ").
McIver also began to tackle other tough transportation issues, not the least of which was finding money to make extensive repairs to Seattle streets and to other bridges damaged during winter storms. But all-in-all his first few months in office went well, and The Seattle Times reported in May 1997 that McIver "already has numerous fans among colleagues and staff" ("New Faces, New Blood ...").
In April 1997 Cheryl Chow announced plans to try something rather novel -- running for the remaining two years of Manning's (now McIver's) term at Position 3 on the council rather than seeking reelection to a four-year term in her Position 8. This also would presumably pit her against McIver, which could prove awkward since she had championed him to replace Manning just months earlier.
McIver was ambivalent about his own plans; he was buried in transportation matters and climbing a steep learning curve. As he explained to the press:
"I won't say I'm overwhelmed, but I am extremely 'whelmed.' I am almost too busy working on transportation issues, our bridges and roads, to think about this. But I am going to run. I'm just not sure for which position" ("Cheryl Chow to Run ... ").
In June, Chow announced that she would instead run for mayor, and McIver saw a chance to earn a full four-year term. He jumped at it and filed for Chow's Position 8 seat. Peter Steinbrueck, who had earlier entered the mayoral race, withdrew from that and announced that he would instead run for the remaining two years of the Position 3 seat.
Two of the three participants in this game of musical chairs won in November. Steinbrueck defeated Thomas Goldstein for the right to serve the remaining two years of Manning's (now McIver's) term. McIver trounced Kerman Kermoade for Chow's old seat, winning 78 percent of the vote. Only Chow, who had set off the scramble, lost; she placed fifth in the primary and was out of the mayoral race. Paul Schell (1937-2014) defeated Charlie Chong (1926-2007) in that contest and tapped McIver to lead his transition team.
During the campaign McIver listed three legislative priorities: neighborhood development, in which he had extensive expertise; welfare reform; and transportation development, including light rail. These reflected a balance between issues long close to his heart and those he inherited from John Manning. But whether he wanted it or not, it was to be transportation that would take up much of his time.
The Transportation Problem
McIver rapidly earned credibility and influence on the city council, and within nine months of taking office he was being recognized, among other things, as a strong voice for the disadvantaged. As The Seattle Times noted shortly before the September 1997 primary:
"In the brief time he's been in office, McIver has taken some difficult votes. Despite objections from the View Ridge neighborhood, he supported passage of a Sand Point redevelopment plan that locates low-income housing on the former Navy base. And in June, he joined Councilman Charlie Chong in voting against an ordinance that allows the city to ban people from parks for such things as drinking alcohol or making excessive noise" ("Council Candidates Picked Their Fights ... ").
But transportation issues demanded much of his attention. Dealing with the Magnolia Bridge repairs and the epidemic of potholes caused by harsh winter weather were tactical, finger-in-the-dike operations. What remained undone was a strategic approach to the city's choking traffic congestion. There were as many different ideas as there were problems, and none were universally popular. One of these ideas, and one that would bedevil transportation politics for years, was approved by the voters in the same 1997 election that gave McIver his first four-year term.
The history of attempts to address transportation problems in the central Puget Sound area is long, convoluted, and defies clear explanation. Since virtually every proposal to improve matters involved huge outlays of money, voters were often loath to approve them. But the interconnectedness of the population centers and the growth of suburbs demanded a regional approach, and in May 1996, voters in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties did say yes to a proposed $3.9 billion rapid-transit system, a mix of light rail, commuter rail on existing tracks, and new express bus routes.
Things got more complicated when, in November 1997, Seattle voters approved an initiative that called for (but did not fund) a 40-mile extension of the city's existing 1.3-mile-long monorail, a 35-year-old legacy of the 1962 World's Fair. As a new councilmember, McIver had to give due consideration to the voice of the voters, but as a board member of the RTA he was expected to work for regional solutions. He came out against making the monorail an integral part of a transportation solution, pressing instead for the regional plan, but he had to tread carefully.
The monorail saga played out over most of a decade and a total of five rounds at the ballot box. Sufficient money was never raised, most of the city council and the mayor's office were at best lukewarm to the idea, the public finally tired of the subject, and in November 2005 Seattle voters decisively rejected a final monorail initiative -- the fifth -- bringing to an end the eight-year effort.
On March 3, 1998, Mayor Schell released a Transportation Strategic Plan that had been started when Norm Rice was mayor and John Manning led the council's transportation committee. It painted a bleak picture. There was a $240 million backlog in road maintenance alone, enough to consume the City's entire transportation budget for years to come. Another dismal finding of the study, but one well-known to every driver:
"Traffic is overwhelming our streets, both in Seattle and our entire region. Pollution and congestion are taking an increasingly severe toll on the environment, neighborhoods, the economy and our daily lives" (Roadblocks to Moving Traffic ... ").
McIver, typically, looked for the silver lining:
"Those people who are transportation junkies know the full picture, but the other 90 percent of us didn't or don't. This will help us focus" (Roadblocks to Moving Traffic ... ").
A little less than three years later, on January 30, 2001, Mayor Schell, flanked by McIver and King County Executive Ron Sims (b. 1948), released to the public the outlines of a plan to improve the city's public transit system, part of a wider effort to get people out of their cars and into the region's growing fleet of buses. While deemed a good start by some, it drew plenty of critics as well, and Seattle's infamous "process over progress" tradition was soon in full swing.
Although transportation issues, including the tortuous monorail fight, took up much of McIver's first years in office, his real expertise was in housing and finance, and he had a lot to learn. It was a heavy load, and McIver, a long-time cigarette smoker who paid scant attention to diet, suffered a heart attack in his office on November 18, 1998, less than year into his first full term. After a brief hospitalization and an angioplasty, he was back at his desk. There would be another health scare 18 months later when he had surgery for prostate cancer, but McIver again made a speedy recovery and soon returned to work.
McIver usually managed to seem laid back, but looks could be deceiving. He studied each issue as it arose, was known to ask polite but probing questions of witnesses, and often reached conclusions at odds with most of his colleagues. With typical good humor he warned others to not be misled by his easygoing demeanor, saying "Don't mistake cool for fool" ("Former Seattle Councilmember ..."). In 1998 he fought a losing battle to bring the Olympic Games to Seattle, becoming in the end the only member of the city council to support the bid. In 2001 he was one of only two councilmembers to oppose the City's purchase of expensive public toilets. The measure passed, Mayor Schell vetoed it, and the council overrode the veto. McIver and Schell were vindicated in 2008 when the experiment in public potties came to an embarrassing end: The toilets were unceremoniously removed, flushing away a $5 million investment.
In between the Olympics and the toilets, McIver did lose his cool on one occasion, but with good reason. During the tumultuous demonstrations protesting the World Trade Organization (WTO) 1999 meeting in Seattle, McIver was on his way to a reception for the state congressional delegation. Police refused to let him drive through a checkpoint at 6th Avenue and Spring Street, even after he had identified himself as a member of the city council. He tried an alternate route but was stopped again. This time the police "removed him from his car, threw his business card to the ground, pulled his hands behind his back and began to handcuff him" ("Councilman Says ... ."). McIver, and others, were outraged, and he harshly criticized his treatment:
"All they were interested in was that I was a black man who wasn't doing what they wanted. I've been treated like a nigger before, and that's what this is like ... .
"If I'm a 58-year-old reasonable moderate conservative black man, what do you do if you are 25-year-old black man trying to make a point. I guess you just go to jail. That's what scares me" ("Councilman Says... .").
Four More Years
Largely due to his opposition to the monorail, McIver drew four opponents in his 2001 reelection bid. Grant Cogswell, co-author of the 1997 monorail initiative, made it through the primary and the two went on to wage a spirited but largely polite campaign. On election day McIver and Cogswell had a drink together. McIver then gave his opponent, who didn't drive, a ride to the polls, where, it must be assumed, Cogswell voted for Cogswell. Afterward, they picked up Cogswell's girlfriend and McIver drove them both to his opponent's election-night party before going on to his own. It was a tighter battle than his 1997 race, but McIver won, 73,118 to 60,309. In 2012 a movie, titled Grassroots and loosely based on the campaign, was released, with Cedric the Entertainer (Cedric Kyles, b. 1964) playing McIver.
When the city council reconvened in January 2002, McIver, after five years, was able to get out from under the transportation yoke. He had done admirably as committee head, but his real expertise lay elsewhere. Richard Conlin took over the transportation portfolio, and McIver was appointed to head the council's Housing, Human Services, and Community Development Committee, a post much more in line with his previous career. He immediately got to work on housing issues, and in September 2002 Seattle voters approved Proposition 1, which allocated $86 million for low-income housing, home buyer assistance, and shelter for the homeless. It was less than McIver and the new mayor, Greg Nickels, wanted, but much more than opponents thought reasonable.
Over the next four years McIver dealt with a number of contentious issues, old and new, that came before the city council, including seemingly endless arguments about civilian monitoring of the police force, further battles over the expansion of the monorail, a nasty fight over a zoning change for a North Seattle strip club, and, although unrelated, legislation tightening limits on strip-club lap dances. There were sweeter moments, too. On May 1, 2003, McIver was awarded the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award by the Western Washington University Alumni Association, and in November of that year work finally began on the long-delayed light-rail link between Westlake Center and Sea-Tac.
The Home Stretch
As the 2005 election approached, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, reviewing probable city council candidates, had this to say about McIver:
"Regarded as more workhorse than show horse on the council, McIver also serves on the board of the Sound Transit light rail project. He speaks up for racial minorities, on issues such as racial profiling by police, hiring on public works projects and night-club noise ordinances.
"With a look that leans to the professorial and with a raspy, low-key speaking style, McIver is no dynamo in public. But he can be acerbic, or witty, or both" ("Three's a Crowd in Race for Seattle City Council").
McIver garnered the endorsements of both the P-I and The Seattle Times and beat back a spirited challenge by Dwight Pelz, winning just more than 53 percent of the vote. Entering what would become his last term on the council, McIver, now head of the budget and finance committee, again faced a full slate of knotty issues, including the fate of the waterfront viaduct; tax increases to fund road, bridge, and sidewalk repairs; funding for parks; and the Seattle Supersonics' defection to Oklahoma.
Personal and health problems were looming as well. McIver was arrested for domestic assault in October 2007, but charges were subsequently dropped. In May 2008 he was accused by the City's ethics watchdog agency of violating Seattle ethics rules by allegedly helping a friend win a no-bid, $42,000 consulting contract with the City. Although it was ruled that he had not intended to circumvent the rules, the agency fined him $1,000. McIver drew more controversy by initially paying the fine from a City legal-defense fund. He maintained that he had acted within the law, which many agreed was ambiguous, but he subsequently used personal funds for payment.
While the ethics probe was playing out, McIver was hospitalized in July 2008 for surgery to remove part of his colon, and two weeks later was hospitalized again when his recovery faltered. He had worked long and hard for his constituents, and he was admittedly worn out, saying "I want to go home and sit down" ("Former Seattle Councilmember ... ").
His Proudest Achievement
A 1990s Environmental Impact Statement prepared for a proposed surface-rail link from downtown Seattle to the airport warned that building it would cause major, unmitigated disruptions to several South Seattle business districts, ranging from Mount Baker in the north to the Boeing Access Road in the south. Many of the impacted businesses were minority-owned, and a grassroots community group, Save Our Valley, filed suit in federal court to force the Regional Transit Authority to consider non-surface routes. Seeking an alternative to litigation, on February 9, 1999, the five-member RTA board, of which McIver was a member, proposed that a $50-million "community investment fund" be established, "driven by the community and controlled by the community ... ." ("Rainier Valley Helps Itself").
In November 1999, Sound Transit (a new name for the RTA adopted in September 1999) approved a surface route for the light-rail system and selected its station locations. The resolution again called for $50 million to be set aside to mitigate the project's impacts in southeast Seattle, funded primarily by King County and the City of Seattle. Federal money would make up a large part of overall light-rail funding, and the Federal Transit Administration later made the establishment of the community investment fund a condition of receiving that assistance.
McIver would have a chance to make good on the promise. In April 2002 the city council voted unanimously (with one member, Nick Licata, absent) to approve establishment of the $50-million fund. The City would provide the lion's share, $42.8 million, most of it coming from City Light revenues. The remaining $7.2 million would come from King County. Under the plan's provisions, businesses displaced by the light-rail system each could get up to $150,000 in grants and $1.3 million in interest-free loans. Businesses that were on the route and were impacted but did not have to relocate were eligible for grants of up to $30,000 and loans of up to $1 million. A portion of the fund would go into a permanent bank account and be used to make loans that would be approved by members of the affected communities. That money would be used for such things as transit-oriented development, day-care centers, and an apprenticeship program to train Rainier Valley residents to work on light-rail construction jobs. To administer the program, a board of South Seattle residents incorporated the Rainier Valley Community Development Fund in September 2002 as a community-based, non-profit organization.
McIver's contributions did not end with his efforts to establish and fund the program. After leaving the city council in 2009, he took on the role of the fund's interim director, serving until ill health forced his retirement. In a subsequent interview, McIver made clear that he considered the Rainier Valley program his greatest achievement on the council:
"I am most proud of the Rainier Valley Community Development Fund (RVCDF) ... . The ... project made it very difficult for displaced businesses to stay in business, and unfortunately most of the businesses were minority businesses. The only place that these business[es] could find a new location to continue operation was in the Rainier Valley. Therefore, I felt that it was important to put something in place to make sure they had financial resources to maintain their businesses" ("Councilman Richard McIver Cumulates ... ").
Richard McIver Remembered
After leaving the city council, McIver suffered from an escalating series of health problems, and he passed away on March 10, 2013, at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle. He was survived by his wife, Marlaina Kiner-McIver; daughter, Marianne (Mimi), from his first marriage; and grandson Michael.
When news of McIver's death came, friends and colleagues recalled him with great fondness and respect. The city council released a statement saying:
"Richard committed his life to improving the lot of others. His community development career, including his years as a member of the Seattle City Council, was grounded in a quest for equity of opportunity, justice, and elevating quality of life for people in need ... .
"[He] employed terrific dignity, a wicked sense of humor and a sharp ear for equivocation in pursuit of a better city for all. We will miss him greatly" ("Seattle City Council Statement").
Said councilmember Jean Godden (b. 1931), who considered McIver a mentor, "He was extremely generous with his wisdom, and he was sort of our moral compass." Godden remembered McIver, during council deliberations on neighborhood rejuvenation, cautioning his colleagues to focus on areas that had not yet been even "juvenated" ("Former Seattle Councilmember ... ").
As Godden suggested, Richard McIver never lost sight of whom he worked for. Upon his retirement from the city council in 2009, his colleagues feted him at a roast. When asked what he would do now that he was retired, he responded:
"Nothing! I'd come down and sit beside Mr. Locke (a citizen who attends all city hall meetings) and I'd become the Council's boss as a taxpayer" ("Respecting and Roasting ... ").
The Seattle Times, which had not always given McIver the easiest time, mourned, "Seattle has lost a quiet leader and fierce advocate. It has lost a piece of its institutional memory" ("Editorial").