There was pomp.
And there was certainly circumstance.
Tuesday night inside Tacoma City Council Chambers our two newest elected leaders — 34-year-old Keith Blocker and 38-year-old Conor McCarthy — were ceremonially sworn in to serve.
The proceedings — in front of what Councilman Marty Campbell would later describe to me as “a pretty robust turnout. … More than we usually see (for a swearing-in ceremony)” — was reflective of how each new councilman arrived at the moment.
For McCarthy, the son of Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy and recently retired county superior judge John McCarthy, that meant taking the oath from his judicially robed dad with his wife, children and high-profile mom by his side.
For Blocker, the oath of office also was delivered by a familiar face. Tacoma’s first black Mayor Harold Moss, a mentor who referred to Blocker as a son, beamed while swearing in the first black man elected to the council since he left.
Both new councilmen received a roaring standing ovation to mark the occasion. So did the returning councilmen also sworn in Tuesday night: Ryan Mello (who, as expected, would later be elected deputy mayor) and Anders Ibsen.
But there’s no question that the moment belonged to Blocker and McCarthy.
I think Keith is going to speak his mind and he’s going to speak his truth, and I think we’re going to be able to count on that.
Councilwoman Victoria Woodards
As is customary, each was given a chance to say a few words once they found their seat and settled in. Each rose to the moment differently.
Blocker has been described by Councilwoman Victoria Woodards as a “gentle, quiet giant” who will “speak his mind and speak his truth.” And his first public remarks from his spot on the dais would seem to confirm this.
Blocker’s words weren’t flashy, and he didn’t exude the type of confidence we often associate with polished politicians. It’s early, of course, but for now these qualities remain part of Blocker’s humble charm. He is called to serve this community, he promised, and the job voters bestowed on him gives him a chance to take that calling to “a new level.”
McCarthy, meanwhile, delivered the kind of passionate, prepared remarks you’d expect from an attorney who grew up in a house full of elected officials. Rapping his knuckles on the dais in front of him, McCarthy told the packed chambers that his “heart beats” for our city.
The festive atmosphere Tuesday evening was fitting. This was, after all, a celebration — and not much more. After the crowd filed out and the council turned to regularly scheduled business, the proceeding moved smoothly and the mayor’s closing gavel came quickly.
Spoiler for our newcomers: Future council meetings won’t be this easy. There are important issues and potential decisions looming, and the ride from here promises to only get bumpier (though, hopefully, not as potholed).
There’s the Click Cable TV system, and what to do with it — which means reviewing the “all-in” business plan the council last month directed Tacoma Public Utilities to develop. That plan is expected by April, and this new council will be tasked with vetting it and signing off on a path forward.
“The trick with that,” Mello tells me, “is going to be getting a business plan that hits the mark and meets our policy objectives.”
“More important is making sure we have TPU leadership that actually want to see it succeed,” he continues, alluding to the frustration some on the council feel over how TPU leaders have handled the Click situation so far.
The trick with that is going to be getting a (Click) business plan that hits the mark and meets our policy objectives.. … More important is making sure we have TPU leadership that actually want to see it succeed.
Councilman Ryan Mello
There’s also the mental health and human services crisis throughout the county, which shows up in our jails, emergency rooms, and — in many cases — on the streets of Tacoma. Finding a way to collaborate with a county government that, shall we say, hasn’t always seemed up to the task of dealing with it will require diligence and finesse.
There’s that proposed methanol plant down on the Tideflats and, as Mayor Marilyn Strickland says, the collective impact of all the energy-related businesses at or planned for the Port of Tacoma. That list includes Puget Sound Energy’s proposed liquefied natural gas fueling station.
There’s Sound Transit 3, what the regional transit ballot measure will look like, and as Campbell emphasizes, “making sure it complements our long-term transit planning.”
There’s addressing the rate of property crimes in Tacoma, which means finalizing a plan of action out of the often-hyped Property Crimes Task Force. Expect a push to get more detectives on the street and an emphasis on forensics.
There’s plastic bags, and what to do with them.
There’s living-wage jobs, and how to attract more of them.
Oh, and did I mention that 2016 is the year the city will develop its next two-year budget?
Blocker and McCarthy have their work cut out for them. They would be wise to follow the “24-hour” rule preached by NFL coaches like Pete Carroll.
Celebrate for a day.
Then get back to work.