Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride announces she won't seek reelection

Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride sits on her living room couch at her home in the Moss Bay neighborhood. McBride has spent more than a decade on the Kirkland City Council but will not seek reelection in the fall. - Carrie Rodriguez/Kirkland Reporter
Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride sits on her living room couch at her home in the Moss Bay neighborhood. McBride has spent more than a decade on the Kirkland City Council but will not seek reelection in the fall.
— image credit: Carrie Rodriguez/Kirkland Reporter

Kirkland Mayor Joan McBride announced this week that she will not run for reelection on the Kirkland City Council after her December term expiration and that she will instead retire after 21 years of public service.

“I am never going to quit Kirkland when it’s down, ever,” said McBride of the past years. “Now, we have an amazing council … Leave when you’re batting well, leave when you’re at the top of the cake. Yes, we did it.”

McBride, 61, is most proud of the ethics policy and code of conduct that were enacted during her time as mayor.

“I am really proud that we are a city that has an ethical standard that we can point to and say we all agree to this,” said McBride, who has served on the council since 1998 and was elected as mayor in 2010. “I am also extremely proud of the way we handle our business meetings now. Our meetings are without rancor, without attacks on staff, endless round debate that’s gone on. Every meeting we work through our agenda, we debate and then we make a decision. We do exactly what we’re supposed to. We’re professional, we’re efficient and we are collegial. I am really proud of that.”

Among the projects, McBride states that she would have felt that she had failed as an elected official had the South Kirkland Park & Ride Transit Oriented Development not gone through because it “hits everything our region cares about.”

Annexation, AAA credit ratings, clean audits, the purchase of Kirkland’s section of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, and the passage of the park and road maintenance levies are all among her biggest highlights as mayor.

But her focus on Kirkland’s Totem Lake neighborhood took her as far as flying to Los Angeles, Calif. to speak with key property owners on her own dime with Councilwoman Amy Walen.

“We can’t ignore our primary business district,” she said. “They are large property owners.”

But with accomplishments and highlights also come challenging tasks. As the economy took a downturn, McBride said planning for annexation during their “salad days” was difficult, but assures that it was worth it.

“The folks in the annexation area enjoy a much better level of public safety. They have a voice in their city, and let me tell you, they’re using it too.”

Although McBride wouldn’t comment on the Potala Village controversy because it’s in litigation, she did say Kirkland staff and council members extended themselves to try and hear all sides for many months.

“Whether anyone sees that as the results were good (or) the results were bad, at least our arms were open and our ears were attuned to everyone’s concerns,” McBride said.

A Kirklander since 9 years old, McBride spent her grade school years at the former Central Elementary, Kirkland Junior High and Lake Washington High School. She graduated from Evergreen State College after studying women’s studies and poetry (she’s an up and coming poet on the side). But she credits her ability to say “no” to a barmaid job she worked at after college.

“I had just turned 21 and I was such a sweet and nice girl,” McBride said with a smirk. “I was taught a young lady says yes as often as she can, even if she’s asked to do things or people invade her space. But I learned about personal space and saying ‘no’ and meaning it.”

McBride spent much of her time as a full-time mother after college, but joining the PTA and volunteering with her Holy Family Catholic Church led her to choose a path toward politics.

After lobbying for the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC) for her church, she took the initiative to speak to Congressional Rep. Maria Cantwell.

“I had been training for weeks and I was so excited, I knew she’d support it, but this was my time to talk to her and give her reasons to be more supportive, blah blah blah,” she laughs. “I go to her office, I’ve got 15 minutes I realize … I start to talk and she blows me off just like that.”

Understanding she couldn’t be mad, she thought “why don’t I just be the person that takes the vote?”

Lobbying for the Lakeview PTA to secure certain measures in a state pedestrian crosswalk bill also helped her connect the idea of land use with children safety, quality of life and neighborhoods.

McBride then joined the Houghton Community Council and served two terms as chair. It was during this position that she holds her only regret: Voting to reject the expansion request from the Lake Washington School District offices, which were located in Houghton at the time.

“I had reservations at the time and I’ve forgiven myself because it really wasn’t our final decision … but a more experienced council member, and I was brand new, would have had an idea of what Kirkland needs in order to have a strong regional voice.”

Although, she does note it was also a good thing because Emerson High School (formerly BEST High School) came from the school district’s move to Redmond.

In 1998, McBride took office as a council member on the Kirkland City Council and four years later, as deputy mayor, which she would serve for 10 years before becoming mayor.

“Especially after I got on the city council, (I thought) ‘gosh, what better way to teach my daughter but to also teach my son, we can make a difference in our neighborhood. We’re responsible for the quality of life,’” she said. “They had seen me  primarily as a mother for 14 years. They hadn’t experienced me in any other way. And it was good for them to learn about advocacy and that housewives and mothers are powerful.”

Former Councilman Santos Contreras likens McBride’s growth to U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s.

“It was really fun to watch her grow and develop,” said Contreras, who served on the  city council with her. “I thought of her as the ‘most improved player.’”

When she was elected mayor, she was really happy and ready for the job.

“I was happy and I was really pleased that someone who went to school in Kirkland and had been a bit, shall I say – a wallflower – to put it kindly, ended up as mayor. At my 40th high school reunion, they were surprised!” she laughs.

Deputy Mayor Doreen Marchione said McBride has always loved her job and rarely misses her duties ranging from ribbon cuttings to meetings with regional leaders.

Even though McBride said she will miss being a part of the city fabric in an intimate and knowledgeable way, she expects redefining herself as a retired Kirkland mayor will be an adventure and hopes to travel to Paris, France. She won’t, however, miss reading those long 200-500 page council packets and staring at the computer for extended periods of time.

This year she looks forward to seeing work on the Cross Kirkland Corridor, finding money for the 132nd interchange, and a flourishing Totem Lake neighborhood – including its forgotten lake.

“There is actually a Totem Lake in Kirkland,” she says of the lake that’s owned by a “quasi governmental organization.” “I would love to see the transfer of that lake to Kirkland and I would love to see us acquire some property around there so that we can build a park.”

Totem Lake is the only Kirkland neighborhood without a park, and McBride says having a park will build that “sense of place.”

As for the next mayor, McBride simply advises to stay true to the promises made as council members and have some fun.

“If you do your job right, you do all the research, you make your decision and then you go home and you can go to sleep because your conscience is clear,” she said. “Kirkland is a progressive and welcoming town and that means welcoming people from all walks of life, to businesses, and opinions might be different, but progressively, we move forward and get better with every step along the way.”

McBride said she plans on staying involved with the city in some capacity after retirement but the future is open and it is “yet to be seen.”


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