I’ve received offers like this before. I’ve always said no. I’m a journalist and a writer. I’m not looking to make a major life switch and become a long-serving aide to a mayor or a trusted adviser to a member of Congress.
Quietly, though, I’ve always felt like I understood one of the reasons that a lot journalists walk the path from doggedly covering and criticizing politicians to, eventually, working for them. If you get into the journalism business hoping to do good, tell compelling stories, and right specific wrongs, well, working for politicians can be another way of accomplishing those same things.
But as mentioned, I’ve always said no. I’m pretty sure I’m in the right career. I’m not looking for a new one. I believe in journalism and I have a lot more writing to do.
On Sunday, however, I got a different kind of offer.
It was a government job working for a politician, yes, but it would be a very brief government job and I’d be working for a politician who’s in a very unique situation.
The pitch: Council Member Tim Burgess is likely going to become Seattle’s mayor during this unusual period in Seattle government ushered in by Ed Murray’s resignation. (As it turned out: true! Burgess is now the mayor, Seattle’s third in one week's time.) Whoever Seattle voters end up picking to be their next mayor—either Cary Moon or Jenny Durkan—will be sworn in for a four-year term on November 28. But until that swearing in, the pitch went, would I want to help Mayor Burgess craft speeches and targeted policy proposals as he attempts to steer the city on a steadier course?
My counter-pitch: If I do this, I’ll be writing about the experience afterward. Everyone will have to know that going in. And I’ll be coming back to The Stranger with a story. Will that work for you?
The response: Yep.
So I’ve accepted what may be my least undercover assignment ever. For the next ten weeks, I’ll be working for Mayor Burgess. While that’s my job, that’ll be my job. Period. I intend to do it well. Along the way, I hope to do some good, play a small role in Seattle's story at a compelling moment, and hopefully help the Burgess administration move some wrongs in the right direction.
After November 28, I’ll be right back here at The Stranger to write about what I experienced on the other side. (And, for one hour each week, I’ll be slipping back from behind the local government veil to host the nationally-focused Blabbermouth podcast.)
In one way or another I’ve been writing about politics and government ever since I started working as a journalist here in Seattle. I’ve often wondered—and tried to ferret out—what it’s actually like on the inside. I’m excited to now find out firsthand, and I’m equally excited to return with a piece of experiential journalism that I hope will be eye-opening.
Pray for me—to your non-denominational egalitarian sorta-spiritual orientation, of course! Or just wish me luck! I’m going in. See you back here after November 28.