Monthly Archives: May 2008

Memorial Day memories

American flagOver the holiday, I had a chance to reflect on what Memorial Day means to me.

The day always reminds me of my father and grandfather, who both enlisted in the military – they did not wait to get drafted – and how their choices changed and continue to inspire our family.

First my grandfather. When he enlisted at age 16, his name was Samuel Danuel Simms. But when military officials finished doing the paperwork, they’d listed him as Samuel Daniel Sims. So it was my grandfather’s induction into the army back then that changed our whole family name. I am not actually a one ‘m’ Sims. All of my cousins who still have the family name are Simms with two m’s. My grandfather’s descendants are the only one ‘m’ Sims and have been so since World War I.

Now my father was college educated, very literate and originally had no plans to go into the military. He was just out of Lincoln University, which was tied to Princeton. If you were not one of the quota of black students allowed admittance to Princeton, you were sent to Lincoln University on scholarship. My father was one of them.

He went to see his mother after graduation and she said, “James, you look so good in your uniform.” He was not wearing a uniform. In fact, there wasn’t even a war yet! But six months later my grandmother died and one year later, my father enlisted in the Army-Air Force and indeed was in uniform. He always thought that was so poignant that she visualized him in uniform before her death and he always wore it with pride.

He joined the military because any enemy of America was an enemy of my father’s. He had tremendous loyalty to the country, even though he wanted change, wanted the services to be integrated, to provide promotional opportunities and wanted the different divisions of the Army and Air Force to begin to allow African Americans to fly, to be tank commanders, and not just always be the dishwashers. He lived long enough to see that come to pass with men like the Tuskegee Airmen, who flew in World War II.

My father ended up being a military police officer. He told of going down to Texas to bring back a deserter. But, when he tried to board a train back to Spokane, they said he couldn’t ride with the whites and his prisoner, who was white, couldn’t ride with the blacks. My father told the train conductor, “Then I shall shoot him now, because he is a deserter and I am obligated to return him because he has deserted his country in a time of war.” So the prisoner had to ride with my father in the Black coaches back to Spokane. I always thought it was interesting that my father, who had enlisted to serve his country, fought this unique, racial battle in Texas over bringing back someone who had deserted his country in a time of war.

Still, he was very, very proud of his service, of his country. And it was important to him that America be fully equipped and ready to take on its enemies. He always felt it was important to have a strong national defense and that military served a noble role. He always talked about how soldiers rebuilt America through the GI Bill and America became great.

Even though he was socially liberal, had very strong religious values, and at times didn’t always agree with the military, he still felt it was important to respect and recognize the personnel who served, who joined, and who were drafted, because he believed our strong and effective military was part of what made this a great country.

My father has since passed away but he took great pride in his service in WWII and even after he left the military, most people who were African American in Spokane called him Sergeant, because he was always the person who took care of everybody else: finding people housing and finding employment for people and different kinds of jobs. He was respected for what he did, and more importantly, for who he was and how he lived.

So Memorial Day always reminds me of father, my grandfather, and others who served and died and how much we owe those who protect the freedoms we hold so dear. On Memorial Day, we honored service people who have died. I hope you will support those who continue to serve throughout the year too.


Sound Transit Golden Spike Event

Yesterday marked a major milestone for Sound Transit. The agency now has more than 14 miles of continuous light rail tracks in place. I joined three King County Councilmembers and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, current Chair of the Sound Transit Board, on the elevated guideway above the Link Light Rail Operations and Maintenance Facility in SODO. We all took a turn using a track fastening machine to bolt down the final light rail track segments between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport.

It was wonderful to stand on the guideway, several stories above where we began this process on the ground a few years ago, and see the culmination of so much hard work – 6.5 million labor hours since the ground breaking – from the men and women doing the literal heavy lifting, painting, wiring, plumbing and more needed to build this line.

I remember when people were writing off the line, saying it couldn’t be done. But we have persevered and are months away from giving residents another transportation choice in our region. And with gas prices continuing to climb, it won’t be a moment too soon.

People who travel in Seattle’s Rainier Valley will start seeing trains roll through this summer as Sound Transit engineers start rail testing that segment. Trains are slated to open for passengers in July 2009. You can learn more on the Sound Transit website.

Coping with climate change

Touring Brightwater

I’m not interested in any more stories about Polar Bears. Those stories are just incremental measures of the climate change that we all know is coming. One reporter I spoke with this week called people who want to still debate whether climate change is real “members of the flat earth society. I say the scientists have it right.

Now, we need to figure out how to live with the change that is happening no matter how much we reduce greenhouse gases. That’s the real story.How are ordinary people going to cope with floods, record heat, water shortages, shorelines washed away and even new diseases that will thrive where they couldn’t before? It’s my job to make sure our community is resilient to climate change.

In the coming years there will be winners and losers in the world and the winners will live where governments have looked at how to best cope with the inevitable change. I am determined to make sure we are winners. Our safety, health and economy for the next 50 years depend on the work we do today that will protect us in the future.

I’m thinking and talking about this a lot this week as we host a meeting of nine metropolitan leaders who are all doing the work to provide resiliency and sharing this work to build a model for the rest of the world to use. The work is being led by the Center for Clean Air Policy, a think tank in Washington, D.C., and partially funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. It’s important work, and I’m thankful to have the support of both organizations. Learn more on their Web sites. Or watch a video about the event.

Buying green saves greenbacks

I’m glad to share the news that our ‘green’ purchasing program is saving taxpayers big bucks.  Nearly $1 million in 2007. Recycled paper, recycled toner cartridges and hybrid cars are all part of our green bottom line.


Check out the 2007 Environmental Purchasing Program Report, at

We use lots of recycled paper

Eastside Rail Corridor: backstory’s done. Your turn to write the ending.

It’s official. The Port of Seattle Commissioners voted to approve the deal to purchase the Eastside Rail Corridor and preserve it in public ownership forever. You can read more about it here.

Monday, I joined Port Commissioner Tay Yoshitani, Port President John Creighton and the other Port Commissioners in Bellevue beneath the Wilburton Trestle along the rail corridor to thank them for their work on this effort. I also extended thanks to U.S. Senator Patty Murray for her support over the past couple years, Burlington Northern – Santa Fe CEO Matt Rose, King County’s Council and the community. It was wondeful to celebrate the historic moment.
We first started looking at this idea in 2006. After many discussions, changes, negotiations, and ideas from stakeholders, the King County Council unanimously approved the deal last week, followed by the Port. We had a signing ceremony in a fitting location along the corridor: beneath the Wilburton Trestle in Bellevue.

Now it’s your turn to weigh in. Plans are being made right now for a public process to gather the community’s thoughts on what the corridor should look like, how it will be used and what should be considered when making decisions about it for the future. The Port will manage the public
process so watch their site and local news media for updates over the next year.

Good news for Taylor Mountain Forest

If you drive to Taylor Mountain Forest, there’s a new parking area that opens May 12. Once you’re on foot, check out the new trails and bridges over salmon-bearing streams and wetlands. It’s an 1,845-acre forested playground that people will be able to enjoy today and 50 years from now. As a county official, part of my job is being a good steward of taxpayer money. That includes preserving and enhancing open space and forests in our region. It’s another way of investing for the future.

Get a map and more on the King County Parks Web site.

Eastside rail corridor

Milepost 16, KirklandSometimes the wheels of progress turn slowly, but they do turn. This week the King County Council closed the loop on an idea that I first started gathering input on in the fall of 2005: how to preserve what would come to be known as the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC) in public ownership for future generations to enjoy.

This past weekend, the importance of the corridor was brought home to me again when a friend and I spent several hours biking the Cedar River Trail – another former rail corridor. We rode to the Renton Airport, then took the trail upriver to the Maple Valley area. Along the way, we passed people walking, biking, and pushing their kids in strollers as they enjoyed the morning.

Some people had clearly driven to the trail to take a walk, while others stepped right out their back door to stroll with a cup of coffee and enjoy their neighbors.

The Cedar River Trail connects to the Eastside Rail Corridor and they both offer amazing views of wildlife, forests and precious wetlands. The ERC also runs through six major economic centers on the eastside of Lake Washington, almost like a string of pearls on a chain. By keeping the corridor in public ownership, we are keeping open the possibility that true multi-use transportation, trail and rail, may one day link those pearls.

This project exemplifies the work we try to do in the county; bringing communities together, making it easy for people to have healthier lifestyles, preserving green space and wetlands and providing alternative ways of commuting.

In the end, just one vote away from preserving this land, we all feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment and look forward to the next journey.