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Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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May 27, 2008 4:37 PM

Our team loses a good one

Posted by David Postman

KING 5's Robert Mak is leaving TV to be Mayor Greg Nickel's new communications director. Mak is one of the best journalists of any sort in Washington state, and one of the very few TV reporters who continue to follow politics closely.

His award-winning work on KING 5 will be missed. He's also a nice guy and I'll miss hanging out with him at news events as I've done for years. But it seems like he's already fitting in at City Hall:

"Mayor Nickels has led a successful agenda addressing climate change, improving transportation, and fostering healthy neighborhoods," said Mak. "With the Mayor committed to supporting better schools and creating more economic opportunities for all, this is an exciting time to join the City of Seattle."

UPDATE: I see from Jim Brunner's story that Mak will be making $160,000 a year.

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Posted by Josef

5:38 PM, May 27, 2008

This is just a stunning loss to the people of this state who have came to trust the Mak Attack just as much as the Seahawks to go to the playoffs under Mike Holmgren. Oh no!

Posted by Turbine

5:40 PM, May 27, 2008

Wow, I guess the Mayor needed to rent some credibility. Too bad Mak sold out. Shell we start calling him Sandeep the Second?

Posted by JimD

5:47 PM, May 27, 2008

Hey, come on now. The guy is one of the best, and if his heart's into working for the Mayor, more power to him.
KING has an unprecedented local history of truly excellent journalism - even after the family sold it to Belo.
Robert Mak knows the city, it's issues and history like the back of his hand.

Congratulations Robert Mak, and best of success on your new assignment!
Jim Detwiler

Posted by Methow Ken

10:25 PM, May 27, 2008

Would you grant that Eric Earling made a valid point this evening on the ''Mak move'' and similar, over on at: ??

Posted by Hinton

1:10 AM, May 28, 2008

So, David... since local media seems to be the bench for democrat media types, when can we expect you to bail on the Times and land on Obama's or Pelz's direct payroll?

Posted by Tyra

8:09 AM, May 28, 2008

Congratulations to Robert. But who is left in local television news with any real depth in politics? Argh! I remember a few years ago a friend of mine was being interviewed for a political story and he made mention of former Gov. (and US Senator) Dan Evans. When he finished, the TV reporter asked him who Dan Evans is. Alas, with Robert's departure, Seattle TV can turn off the lights when it comes to reporters with any sense of history and depth.

Posted by bleacher bum

8:38 AM, May 28, 2008

160k? how the heck did govt salaries for spokespeople get so high? gee i wonder what mccumber is making.

Posted by Postman

8:53 AM, May 28, 2008

Ken, I'm not at all surprised that a reporter from Seattle went to work for a Democrat. Are there Republicans in Seattle to work for?

But yes, there's no doubt that some reporters leave their jobs to work for Democratic politicians. But when you look at the mainstream press in Seattle, I can only come up with a few that have done so recently. Alex Fryer and Marty McComber from the Times went to work for Nickels. Sandeep has Darcy as a client. Dave Ammons went to work for a Republican.

Posted by km

8:54 AM, May 28, 2008

KING fans and political junkies, like me, will miss Robert Max's work on Up Front. It's proven to be a balanced and reliable resource. KING will be hard pressed to find someone of similar quality. The jump from newsman to public relations/news manager, however generous the pay scale, seems like an unusual switch. I'll miss him, but I wish him luck.

Posted by Quasi Modal

9:23 AM, May 28, 2008

"Mayor Nickels has led a successful agenda addressing climate change, improving transportation, and fostering healthy neighborhoods," said Mak.

Already what’s coming out of Mak’s mouth stinks like it came from someplace else.

Greg Nickels’ undertakings in the areas of transportation planning and execution have been failures, one and all. That’s what happens when you surround yourself with yes-men in a challenging arena.

Greg Nickels was the finance chair of ST all through the 1990's. Costs skyrocketed after the ST measure was approved. The projects’ scopes were reduced. The accounting systems he installed are proving a disaster – “black box” is the descriptor floating around. The bleeding of tax dollars can’t be staunched. Not a shadow of the services we should be receiving now have been delivered. As a ST boardmember, Nickels has exercised no meaningful oversight. In the past three years the costs of Phase I soared by billions. All those promises to voters by Nickels and other ST-backers? None kept.

Greg Nickels was largely responsible for the Seattle Monorail Authority debacle. He pushed really hard for it, and it is no exaggeration to say that the measure would not have passed by 800 votes in 2002 were it not for his efforts. He made sure the city loaned millions to that inept outfit, and gave it the transitway agreement after he knew the term of the taxing would be decades longer than voters were told by his buddies Weeks, Carr and Horn. GN knew for years the revenues were 30% below expectations, but he kept his mouth shut despite the obvious impacts on the people he was supposed to be serving. He should have warned his constituents, and taken steps against that entity years earlier than he did. For four months after the 50+ year financing plan finally was disclosed Nickels still backed the Authority. He could have madhe didn't inform anyone for over two years that the taxes would have to extend out at least twice as long as Weeks/Horn and Carr said.

Following the earthquake in 2001 we all learned how vulnerable the SR 99 Viaduct was. Nickels has failed since then to move that project forward appropriately. All he did was create a bunch of ill-will with every politician (from his own party) in Olympia by insisting on a gilded tunnel to make some property owners/developers downtown even richer. This tunnel would be in a tidal zone rich with Native American artifacts. The costs would be out of this world (although they’d be a drop in the bucket compared to what ST pisses through). Then GN calls for an advisory vote on two “options” that everyone hated and rejected decisively. Is progress on the Viaduct about to be made? No way, because Nickels can’t push forward appropriate transportation measures.

For years there've been conflicts over how to rebuild the SR 520 bridge. What's Nickel's done to move that ball forward, and advance the interests of all the residents of Seattle? Nothing. He's ignored the problem. Some mediators called in by the state kind of have resolved some things, but the tolls haven’t been set and no firm decisions have been made. That issue as well is just dangling in the wind.

There’s a good argument to be made that Greg Nickels was the individual most responsible for the design and structure of the debacle known as Prop. 1 Roads and Transit last year. That mess was buried in a landslide of “no” votes. The people of Seattle would have been hosed by it – buckets of money would have flowed from Seattle taxpayers to pave vast swaths of east King County. And Nickels signed off on it, and backed the mess. That’s despite the fact that it contained basically nothing for the west side of the city DESPITE the collapse a couple of years earlier of the monorail project which would have provided service to the people and businesses of that part of the city.

The stretch of I-5 through Seattle needs repairs and repaving in a big way. That’s a $3 billion dollar responsibility of Seattle, because Nickels didn’t address it soon enough or forcefully enough. How does he plan on paying for that? Maybe Mak will tell us . . ..

Greg Nickels’ ineptitude is evident as well when we consider how he couldn't budget properly the whole time he’s been Mayor for the city’s road repairs and bridge repairs. He was forced to go to voters with his hat out seeking a property tax increase to pay for basic road and bridge repairs. We passed "Bridging the Gap" in 2006 as a reward to Nickels for his substandard planning and budgeting for basic city services. Those new taxes will be in place for years. AFTER the vote Nickels diverts a pile of that money just to provide amenities for a big donor of his: Vulcan Inc. This is the Nickels’ Way – divert the money after the vote.

Now he has started braying for a multi-billion dollar new tax grab, called ST 2.2 or something. “Now Is The Time” he says. The actual terms of the measure haven’t even been disclosed, despite how the vote would be in five months. ST (headed by Board Chair Greg Nickels) says it is still taking the public’s temperature (maybe that accounts for that discomfort you’re feeling). Like Nickels knows how to read data from the public – anyone think he learned anything from the SR 99 Viaduct advisory vote where both options were rejected? Whatever ST2.2 ends up looking like, it’ll be another intergenerational tax grab where the deliverables shrink and the tax impacts balloon. That’s is the only way Nickels knows how to roll. His record is perfect on those scores.

The SLU streetcar? It was paid for mostly by a LID and not too much general taxing – that’s an improvement. However, a bunch of Metro money had to be diverted to it for the operations subsidies, so the balance of the county's bus service suffered (and will continue to suffer). For what? A largely-useless system that Nickels begat to provide more amenities to Vulcan, Inc.

Greg Nickels is an abject failure as a leader ESPECIALLY in the transportation arena. He has set our region back decades. Now he’s got Mak as a flack. It won’t help.

Posted by Methow Ken

9:28 AM, May 28, 2008

David came back on my question:

''Ken, I'm not at all surprised that a reporter from Seattle went to work for a Democrat. Are there Republicans in Seattle to work for?''

O.K.: [_sigh_] Point well taken.
Ditto with your mention of Dave Ammons; confess that still-recent event escaped my memory while writing my above.

But that makes Tyra's comment even more pertinent; i.e.:

''But who is left in local television news with any real depth in politics?'

Posted by Bothsides

12:11 PM, May 28, 2008


All excellent points, but hey, the libs in Seattle will keep voting again and again for this guy, even with his nut job ideas like taxing plastic grocery bags and telling people to "just take vacation" when I-5 had to be closed for repairs. Maybe GN can't see all the traffic out his office window, you know, where I-5 goes from 5 lanes to 2, man we have some winners in office......

Posted by JimD

2:11 PM, May 28, 2008

FOUR actual travel lanes, to two - but I digress...
The decision to land-lock I-5 to two through lanes in each direction (plus the express lanes, SR-99 and 405 alternatives) was made decades ago, in part to satisfy those who wanted the freeway lid on the cheap to reduce public expenditure. Sound familiar?

Posted by markh

10:22 PM, May 29, 2008

"the libs in Seattle will keep voting again and again for this guy"

Bothsides - it isn't so much "the libs" as it is where the PAC money comes from. The Mayor has a great relationship with the brain trust of this region. Face it: Gates, Allen, MSFT, the Gates Foundation, the construction unions working in SLU and in the Rainier Valley - that's where the jobs are.

Cities love jobs. Ergo, you've got to love what these players are doing to drive the engine of our economy. Sure, they fund the PAC's, and sure the Mayor wants that support. There's nothing wrong with that - it's how the world works. And that goes for the conservatives as well as "the libs."

Posted by Turbine

6:56 AM, May 30, 2008

It seems in Fridays TIMES article by Mr. Brunner that Nick Licata was "concerned" about the amount Mak will be making and he was promptly rebuked by Tim Ciese saying essentially "We don't complain about Nick or the Council's staff or compensation, so don't complain about ours". Is anyone watching out for the interest of the taxpayers in all of this? The press is simply rolling over because it is "one of their own" getting the payday. Ciese went on to say that the Mayor can justify the salary because his need for a Communications director of this price range is necessary because of his high profile on issues like Global Warming. So the taxpayers are experiencing real damage from man made (the Mayor) Global Warming.. at least $160,000 dollars worth, no doubt about it.

Posted by JimD

9:31 AM, May 30, 2008

What's the deal about 160k?
This is big time, professional service and responsibility, folks.
That kind of salary is not at all unreasonable.
Maybe those who think it's too much simply wish the maor employed a sub-standard person to diminish his effectiveness?
Man...that's low. Seattle depends on jobs and tourism and federal dollars....a whole host of intangibles that must be SOLD against competing cities.
This is no time to put political interests above the best interests of Seattle - like hiring an ineffective hack as the Mayor's mouthpiece.
In addition, I suspect Mak isn't realizing that much of a pay increase over his position at KING.
Good talent isn't cheap.
Seattle is a world class city and deserves world class representation on the world stage.

Posted by Turbine

9:45 AM, May 30, 2008

The Mayor was getting the same coverage and services from Mak for free when he was at KING 5, why put him on the payroll and have him lose all credibility?

Posted by upchuck

12:11 PM, May 31, 2008

while i also found mak's work on king5 to be fair, smart, and relevant and done with some local and historical perspective, i don't know where you guys get off thinking that there is any news value at all to tv news... every story i've seen him done has never been news to anyone who pays the slightest attentnion to the world around them. i only got excited about his stories becasue some important issue finally made it to the tv-land, usually weeks or months after it was news, and dumbed down so much that the actual issues were hard to discern. yes better than ambulance chasing, storm reporting and cats in trees, but not worth all the gushing i've seen on here. as far as his new job, i think lots of people would be capable of blowing sunshine up nickel's a** for 160k a year.

Posted by Turbine

6:19 PM, May 31, 2008

Just the fact that the $160 K a year is a 60% increase over the previous Communications Directors Salary should be enough to raise a few eyebrows among the Tax Paying public. And exactly why did it take Tim Cise an 8 month search to hire Mak away from King 5? How much did the "Search" Cost? Did they use an executive search firm?

Posted by JimD

12:27 PM, Jun 01, 2008

Mr Mak's new job includes additional responsibilities not delegated to his predecessor, or performed with the skill and judgement expected from Mak for the 160k he's commanding.
I certainly HOPE they used executive head hunters and took as long as necessary to select the best candidate.

Upchuck -- Mak didn't decide which stories got to air, or necessarily had control of their final cut or when they aired.
It's typical for reports of Mak's caliber to be in constant war with producers who'd rather do live-remote breaking news (that sells) over complex, esoteric local issues (that don't).
I agree with your point to a degree, but think we need to acknowledge how the final product broadcast product is ultimately determined by bean counters, not reporters.
It should also be noted that Mak could have enjoyed a more "successful" TV career hanging out of helicopters covering fires, bank heists and lost puppies.
His commitment to local issues over stardom speaks to his integrity.
Similarly (and like so much local talent) was national network caliber if not for his preference to live and work in our beloved pacific northwest.
In short, he brings a lot more to the mayor's office than what we saw on TV.

Posted by Turbine

2:34 PM, Jun 01, 2008

Paying someone who has never held a similar office 60% more than the previous 2 Communications Directors and justifying it by adding the title Senior Policy Advisor is a joke. Mak will make more than Ron Sims Communications director and the Gregoire's Communications Director and he has never worked a day in Government ...well I guess that means Policy Advice has nothing to do with experience at the City of Seattle. It probably also means that the Mayor realized he needs an "insider" with the local media to get by his opponents in the next election. I guess the Mayor is simply getting a head start on the public financing of campaigns by hiring Mak.

Posted by Bothsides

5:56 AM, Jun 03, 2008

I believe Mak's salary at KING 5 was considerably less, good for Mr. Mak. I'm just sick of these government jobs that pay through the nose all the while the people in, them tell us how much more they can make in the private sector, I don't see a big exodus of folks leaving the gov payrolls for the "private sector" so tell me how that works. $160K is paid by you and me, that seems excessive. And JimD, sure, his job is important, but as far as trade and selling this city, what do we pay the mayor for!

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