House Mouse

One thing The Stranger likes about Mayor Greg Nickels is his habit of promoting the youngsters. I'm not talking about supporting teen programs; I'm talking about trusting twentysomethings in the halls of power. Exhibit A: Nickels' former campaign manager and current community relations director (arguably, Nickels' public face), Marco Lowe. Lowe was 28 when he ran Nickels' mayoral campaign. The joke at Nickels' office is that Lowe skews the average age--upward. (One 21-year-old assistant worked part-time while finishing up at the University of Washington.)

But besides being young, Lowe is highly qualified. He's a seasoned campaigner, having run stuff like Governor Locke's 2000 bid.

So while I admire Nickels' eye for young talent, I'm concerned about his pick for the Seattle Office of Housing, early-thirtysomething Katie Hong. Hong is not the best pick to run the $35 million, 50-person agency; she has little experience with housing issues, or managing budgets or staffers. (Hong was a policy adviser for Nickels.)

Sure, she's bright--and there are impressive-sounding items on her résumé. She worked at the White House for a year. But judging from Hong's D.C. job description ("Fellowship year included weekly meetings with key policy decision makers..."), it sounds like she was an intern.

Hong's biggest gig--as a policy advisor for Gary Locke--focused on rural development. She wasn't running an agency or focusing on urban housing.

Again, by all accounts, Hong is smart. But come on. Her predecessor, Cynthia Parker, appointed by Mayor Paul Schell when the city created the Office of Housing in '98, had been the executive director of Anchorage Neighborhood Housing Services--an agency that implemented housing programs--since 1982. Parker was also the president of the National Neighborhood Housing Network and a deputy chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Damn! By bringing in a powerhouse with hyper-relevant experience, Mayor Schell told Seattle he took housing seriously. What is Nickels telling us by appointing a lightweight like Hong?

Hong's lack of experience invites accusations from housing advocates like John Fox that Hong is simply a "functionary of the mayor"--acting as a hatchet person for Nickels rather than "being passionate about her own housing agenda." And, according to a council staffer, housing advocates on the city council are frustrated. "It's not like there's a dearth of qualified housing experts out there," he points out. I guess the problem with those experts--Sue Taoka, Chuck Weinstock, and Paul Lambros come to mind--is that they weren't cultivated by Nickels.

Even though some low-income-housing developers didn't even think of Hong as a choice a few months back, they claim to support her now. I believe they don't want to rock the boat and jeopardize their access to the city's $85 million housing-levy cash line. Seattle City Council members, however, needn't be cowed. They have a responsibility to raise questions at Hong's January 22 confirmation hearing. And then they should reject her.

josh@thestranger.com