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One of the three word clouds on display during last night's town hall.


There were bikes locked up to the railings outside Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center last night, and over 100 people inside, many wearing puffy jackets or ball caps or headscarves—it was a crowd of regular folks, and it was cold outside. The mayor-elect sat in a chair onstage in a tie and jacket, but he is a relentlessly casual person: He had one foot on its side under his chair and obvious helmet hair. He'd biked.

Kip Tokuda, a member of Mike McGinn's transition staff who facilitated the meeting, mentioned at the outset McGinn is committed to hearing from everyone. "It makes things a little challenging at times because he really is into hearing from everyone," he said. Tokuda stood in front of two screens, one a PowerPoint presentation that was guiding him through the presentation and another that displayed a realtime feed of Twitter posts capturing what was going on at the forum (#newseattle). Tokuda was a funny choice to explain the new technology they were using—including Twitter and the Ideas for Seattle website—because, by his own description, he's not a technology guy: At one point he used "internet" as a verb, and to poke fun at him, the person manning the Twitter feed on the screen above his head wrote, "We look forward to interneting you!"

"I don't Twitter," Tokuda admitted. "I don't even know what it is. I thought it's a bird. It's not." He went on to say, "If you have Twitter, you can get Twittered. You can Twitter."

McGinn, sitting a couple feet away, spoke up, correcting him: "You can tweet!"

And then microphones circulated through the auditorium and we heard from everyone—and, yeah, sometimes that was a little challenging. (The McGinn transition has been circulating three questions that they are building all their hearing-from-everyone around, and making word clouds out of answers; the more times they've heard a word, the bigger it is. The three word clouds so far: here, here, and here.)

It was a diffuse, all-over-the-place airing of thoughts, pretty easy to tune in and out of, though the mayor-elect didn't seem like he was tuning anything out. Discussed: jobs, power lines that were supposed to be buried but never were, racism ("Most of the whites don't want to respect us because I'm black"), the fees for the permits associated with having community festivals in parks (this speaker referred to it as "corruption in the parks department"), culture (this speaker had choice words for the parks department too, saying "Get Seafair and the parks department off our neck" and, a minute later, "The park don't belong to them—it belongs to us!"), homelessness ("We have empty buildings—put them in there"), single motherhood, the "average person" not getting enough of a lift, broadband internet as a social-justice issue, public health, light rail, how long it takes to buy an ORCA card.

One resident of Nickelsville stood up and said, "Thank you for listening—your predecessor wouldn't even do that," and then went on to assert that Nickels shut off the elevators at City Hall to prevent Nickelsville residents from being able to get to his office to schedule a meeting with him. (So did they shut off the elevators? "That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all day. Do you for one second believe this assertion?" Nickels spokesman Alex Fryer responded by email this afternoon. "No one here has ever turned off the elevators. Thanks for the laugh.")

At one point, presumably because he wanted to ground the meeting in some substance, McGinn got up and talked about how he'd just been briefed on the budget projections for 2011, and he explained the situation as simply as he could: The city used $30 million from the rainy-day fund to balance the budget for 2010, leaving only $10 million left in the rainy-day fund—not much of a rainy-day fund for a city with a $900 million budget. And then he mentioned that the county was in worse shape and the state is facing a $2.6 billion hole. And then he said that in order to face this challenge we're going to have to ask more of city employees (to do more with the resources we have) and ask more of the community. It was a brief, blunt, optimistic dose of here's-what's-going-on, and the crowd responded well to it.

Then a lady in a headscarf got up and starting saying all kind of incomprehensible stuff, beginning with her anger that she'd just read in the newspaper that "Your deputy mayor comes from the largest developer in the city of Seattle"—Vulcan—and how that "doesn't instill a lot of confidence" that the administration will be looking out for the non-wealthy and then devolving into a rant about how she wasn't allowed to sit where she wanted to sit when she came in and how this made her worry that "your administration is going to try to control people" and that they were trying to "manipulate the media" into thinking there were more people here and that reminded her of George W. Bush and so on and so forth. (She was asked to sit toward the front because volunteers wanted latecomers to be able to find seats easily in back, a volunteer explained later.)

But you're going to get one or two of those people in any crowd. Which is why making yourself accessible like this is exhausting and time-consuming and sometimes thankless, and why it's admirable that McGinn and his team are doing it anyway. (As for the Vulcan charge: One of McGinn's two deputy mayors is Phil Fujii, the current community relations manager for Vulcan, but Fujii also has 24 years of experience in Seattle government, having previous worked as legislative assistant for former Seattle City Councilmember Cheryl Chow and serving as Neighborhood Development Manager in the Department of Neighborhoods. Asked after the meeting how he felt about the crazy lady's rant, he shrugged it off and pointed to his city experience.)

At the end, McGinn got up and said his email address twice—and someone called out for him to say it again, so he said it again (Mike.McGinn@seattle.gov). Then he said, "Our challenge now—amongst many challenges—is to take the information we've heard, and give you feedback." Then in the middle of his next sentence he got interrupted by a lady in a purple robe and black leather hat sitting in the front, who wanted him to "put caps on salaries" so more people can get jobs, "And city council pay too!" she said, claiming too many people get bonuses that they don't need, after all they already have jobs, and she also had another idea—

McGinn cut her off. "You're not the first to mention that," he said. "I'm not trying to put you off." He looked at her, smiling, in earnest. "We've heard that. We've heard that. And you'll be hearing from us on that." And then he brought the meeting to a close, and encouraged anyone who had more to say to approach him personally, and he and his deputies were mobbed. According to Marc Mazique, a Stranger reader who stuck around to talk to McGinn (and wrote us a letter to the editor this morning), McGinn left on his bike, too: "He asked which direction my friends—who were also on bikes—were heading. After determining they were headed in opposite directions, he bid us a good evening and rode off."

The third and last of this series of town halls is tonight at Rainier Beach High School, in the performing arts center. (There were more than 300 people at the mayor-elect's town hall in Northgate two nights ago, according to reports.) If you can't go but want to share your ideas—or see the ideas others have shared, or vote on them—go here.