Peter Callaghan: Did we take the Needle or did Seattle take our mayor?

Staff WriterJanuary 30, 2014 

Yes, that’s Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland during Tuesday night’s State of the Union broadcast on “PBS NewsHour.” No, they didn’t arrange to move the Space Needle to Tacoma.


Who wouldn’t be pleased to see that Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland was one of four midsize-city mayors from across the nation asked by PBS to comment on Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

Tacoma seems to never get its due as it is too far from Seattle to gain much warmth from the region’s economic engine but too close to develop an independent reputation nationally.

So Strickland getting to speak about the speech — along with mayors from Mesa, Ariz., Oklahoma City and Hartford, Conn. — was pretty cool.

Not that she told us about it ahead of time. We found out from the Hartford Courant. Mayor Pedro Segarra told his hometown paper, but maybe Strickland is too modest. Or maybe it’s something else.

Anyway, I chose PBS via KCTS to watch the president’s speech (though Joe TV’s broadcast finished a close second) so that I could be ready to watch our mayor and because their commentary is somewhat less obnoxious. It turned out to be Washington state women politicians night, what with Eastern Washington’s Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers delivering the official Republican response.

But when the PBS anchors finally got to the mayors, I almost missed Strickland. It took a bit to compute that it was the Tacoma mayor when behind her was a giant color photograph of the Seattle skyline, complete with the Space Needle.

The Space Needle? Where was the Tacoma Dome? The Narrows Bridge? Mount Rainier? Bob’s Java Jive? The only reason America could figure out she isn’t actually the mayor of Seattle is because everyone knows Seattle doesn’t elect women mayors.

I get that PBS had to have Strickland go to Seattle for a live feed because satellites haven’t reached Tacoma yet. Perhaps if there was a PBS affiliate in Tacoma she could have gone there. (Wait, there is? Who knew?)

But did they really have to pose her in front of the Seattle skyline? It’s not like it was a window in the studio or something. It’s just a slide. They could have dialed up Paris, France, or Pierre, S.D., or even, you know, Tacoma, Wash. – such is the magic of television.

I guess they felt compelled to let the world know where the feed was coming from. But the word “Seattle” that preceded “Mayor Marilyn Strickland” accomplished that. It’s not like it is a federal law that TV stations must display the most-cliched symbols of the host city whenever broadcasting live. Segarra sat in front of a simple frosted panel, not ... oh, wait, what is the symbol of Hartford?

I’m sure Strickland represented us well but I had trouble concentrating on her words, fixated as I was with how PBS and KCTS could display a photo of Seattle behind the mayor of Tacoma. Would they have put a cable car behind the mayor of Oakland or the Empire State Building behind New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie?

But when you’re in New York or Washington, D.C., it’s pretty much all Seattle out here. I’m a bit surprised they didn’t say McMorris Rodgers was from Kettle Falls “just east of Seattle.”

It was also a bit off-putting that Stickland was identified as the “Democratic” mayor of Tacoma. She may be a Democrat. And she’s definitely from Tacoma. But we have a nonpartisan government here in the provinces, as do many cities formed under the council-manager form of government. Of course that doesn’t fit into the “divided America” narrative of most political coverage where everyone is either a Republican or a Democrat — or a Republican or a Democrat who says they’re independent which we all know to be a lie.

Perhaps we should count our blessings. At least they didn’t show our mayor down at Pike Place Market trying to catch a salmon.

Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657 peter.callaghan@ @CallaghanPeter

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