It's been a year of superlatives–highest minimum wage! First Super Bowl championship! Biggest transportation boondoggle!–and behind each high point (and low ebb) are people turning the wheels of power or agitating at the grassroots. Ten years into Seattle magazine's Most Influential list, we present our picks for the movers and shakers of the year. Love 'em or hate 'em, these 51 people (plus a machine, an ordinance and hundreds of thousands of screaming fans) are making the city what it is in 2014.
The EvangelistNick HanauerBillionaire Nick Hanauer is throwing his mighty resources at two of the gnarliest issues of the day.Venture capitalist cum political activist Nick HanauerPHOTO CREDIT: HAYLEY YOUNG
Our person of the year isn’t a household name, and he’s often confused with his brother, Sounders general manager Adrian Hanauer, but the 54-year-old straight-talking, risk-tolerant Burning Man regular is changing our city whether you recognize his name or not.
“Right now we are in the era of Nick Hanauer,” Chris Vance, former chairman of the state Republican Party, told The Seattle Times last summer.
Hanauer’s curriculum vitae is his platform. A Seattle-raised entrepreneur and venture capitalist, he was the first nonfamily investor in Amazon.com and founded aQuantive Inc., an Internet advertising company that he sold to Microsoft in 2007 for $6.4 billion. Even as he lists all his accomplishments and material rewards, Hanauer is quick to point out that he owes much of his success to chance. He likes to say, born in another country or another time, he might be “some dude by the side of a dirt road selling fruit.”
A self-described “plutocrat,” Hanauer breaks from type to reject the rich-protecting policies of trickle-down economics.
He argues that concentrating wealth and power in fewer hands leads to police states or revolutions—a position he took in his 2012 TED talk, which initially was deemed too political for release. Two years later, his Politico “pitchforks” article on the same topic went viral and made him a legitimate if unlikely national voice on income inequality.
Hanauer calls for a “middle-out movement,” which invests in the middle class, with money, in part, from a tax on high-income earners (a statewide initiative to that effect was defeated in 2010), and through policies that include increasing the minimum wage. An early—he might say the first—evangelist for the $15-an-hour minimum wage, Hanauer served on the mayor’s committee that settled on that historic figure.
He's been a force in politics for more than a decade. Hanauer cofounded the League of Education Voters in 2001 and the progressive True Patriot Network in 2007; and he supports environmental groups and the arts, and donated big money to the successful 2012 charter schools initiative. But this fall finds him out on a very expensive limb.
In a state with minimal gun regulation, where gun control measures consistently fail in the Legislature, including last year’s defeat of universal background checks, Hanauer has bankrolled the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility. The state’s first-ever well-funded gun control group, which aims to be a bulwark against the hugely powerful National Rifle Association. The alliance is behind this fall’s Initiative 594, which would require background checks for guns sold at gun shows or online. Only six states currently have this provision.
Millions of dollars are pouring into the pro side, from Hanauer and his fellow one-percenters, including Bill and Melinda Gates and Steve Ballmer. At press time, polls found a majority of state voters support I-594. If there was ever a chance that a gun control measure might succeed in this state, this is it—which would put Hanauer at the center of two historic measures in a single year.
And that is no accident.
The FirebrandKshama SawantSeattle City Council memberPHOTO CREDIT: HAYLEY YOUNG
Few expected Kshama Sawant, a 41-year-old economics instructor at Seattle Central Community College, to get elected—the last bona fide Socialist on the City Council was more than 100 years ago. But she seemed to take full advantage of the energy and organization around the 15 Now campaign and incumbent fatigue when she defeated longtime council member Richard Conlin, who, to many voters, had come to embody Seattle progressivism at its most timid. For a rookie, Sawant quickly seized the moment and flaunted her influence. She helped set the agenda for the $15-an-hour minimum-wage movement and held Mayor Ed Murray’s and the City Council’s feet to the fire to act on the proposal or face a Sawant-backed voter initiative—one that surely would have won and been far less finessed than the final agreement. Her socialism also gave some definition to a growing divide on the council between establishment liberals and their more lefty colleagues, such as Nick Licata and Mike O’Brien, who seem to cater less to the business community. While all members of the City Council will be up for election in 2015 as the new hybrid district system is implemented, Sawant has provided a template that could help attract activist candidates and move the council further to the left. Whether Sawant herself lasts for the long term is an open question—some predict her confrontational style will burn through her political capital—but her influence this year has been immediate.
The OctopusJeff BezosCEO, AmazonPHOTO CREDIT: KRISTOFFER TRIPPLAAR/SIPA/AP IMAGES
These days you can’t compile a Seattle’s Most Influential People list without including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. He was our Person of the Year in 2013, and a contender for that spot again this year, and will probably make the list for many years to come. The company’s extended growth spurt continues to fuel a local economic boom and transform the culture and landscape of our neighborhoods. 2014 Bezos high points include the announcement that his company, Kent-based Blue Origin, will partner with Boeing and Lockheed Martin to develop a new engine for rockets used to launch satellites and a $20 million donation to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the largest in Hutch history. But the year in Bezos was not without hiccups: Amazon was called out by the Seattle City Council for retaliating against security guards trying to form a union, mocked for the lame Fire phone launch and criticized for squeezing book-loving customers in a price war with Hachette Book Group.
Rookie Of The YearEd MurrayMayor of SeattlePHOTO CREDIT: HAYLEY YOUNG
When he was elected as mayor last November, Ed Murray, 59, came to City Hall with experience and baggage, both of which could be summed up in one word: Olympia. Would Murray’s insider experience as a state senator be an asset in Seattle? Would his devotion to incrementalism actually accomplish anything? The first six months of Murray’s administration gave a resounding answer to those questions: yes. Some observers credit Murray with the best start in memory for a rookie mayor: He nailed down a controversial ride-sharing agreement, used his muscle to pass a Park District levy that cleared the way for other potential levy funding, appointed a new police chief to clean up the Seattle Police Department, and brokered a deal with business and labor to implement a $15-an-hour minimum wage. He’s also been quick to respond to those minor crises (not salting the streets, banning beach fires) that can so quickly damage a mayor’s favorability. When Seattle Public Utilities ordered the shutdown of showers at Alki this summer under the claim that bathers were polluting Puget Sound with their suntan oil, Murray quickly intervened to to reopen the showers, mitigate the problem and make sure city department heads were, well, using their heads. The bottom line is that Murray’s political and negotiating skills have gotten him off to a fast start in a city often known for process gridlock.
A Firm FoundationSeattle Pacific University Community
PHOTO CREDIT: TED S. WARREN/AP IMAGES
We all hope to avoid tragedy, but if it strikes, how will we respond? The spirit of the Seattle Pacific University community was tested on June 5, when a gunman opened fire in Otto Miller Hall on campus, killing freshman Paul Lee, 19, of Portland, Oregon, and injuring two more students before being tackled by senior engineering major Jon Meis. The faith-based community reacted immediately and automatically: as a tight-knit group with courage and resilience. In prayer circles and at special services, its members gathered to sing hymns and pray together—not only for the victims, but for the shooter as well. Living by example, they grieved the death of their fellow student while also garnering hope and strength from the foundation of their faith.