EVERETT — Ray Stephanson plans to retire Dec. 31, after 14 years as Everett’s mayor.
Question: What do you hope people remember about your legacy?
Answer: The fact that we have Washington State University in the city of Everett and Snohomish County. … That research institution will have impacts on generations to come, and that is what I am most proud of.
Q: What has guided you in making difficult and complex choices?
A: In 2004 we did a vision process with a few dozen citizens that really defined our vision and our efforts over the last 14 years. Higher education was a part of that, commercial air service at Paine Field was another significant part of that, growing the economy and growing jobs, which I think we’ve been successful with, and ensuring that Naval Station Everett remains robust and an important part of our national defense.
Q: But, philosophically?
A: Well, it may sound quaint but I always try to do the right thing. For every decision a mayor makes there are consequences, there are political consequences and consequences with businesses, with citizens’ opinions. Obviously I’ve tried to do the research necessary with every decision I’ve made and tried to make a decision that would really be in the long-term best interests of the city of Everett.
Q: What has changed about the city?
A: The economy changes, the way jobs are created, it changes and grows, and I think in public life we can have an impact on that. I think about our collective work on Boeing and the 787 and the 777 … Making some of those tough choices, that weren’t always popular but really protected the job base … In the ’80s, we were very dependent on aerospace, really at significant risk when there were downturns, and that was one of the big reasons why there was such a public push to bring Naval Station Everett here. Because we knew and other bases had shown that even in a downturn in the economy, the base would remain.
… What hasn’t changed is that small-town feel the city continues to have. Everybody knows everybody’s business, whether that’s good or bad.
Q: In the past year or two, what are some of the issues you’ve lost the most sleep over?
A: Helping the homeless and those with addiction. That really has been the biggest challenge that there’s not an easy fix to. It’s not like recruiting a company … It’s a problem that is complex and in my view it will take years if not decades to fix. … I think we’ve set a solid foundation with supportive housing and services, but there is so much more to do.
Q: What are you looking forward to now?
Being able to choose the next chapter of our life on our terms. I want to spend more time with family, the kids and grandkids … I want to travel. Vicki and I love to do road trips. And I want to see as much of the U.S. as we can.
Q: Do you have advice for the next mayor?
A: The issues that are important moving forward, obviously the Purdue (opioids) lawsuit comes to mind, cleaning up the Kimberly-Clark property is a priority I think the city should continue to stay focused on, growing jobs … (but) I’m not going to be your critic. This is a tough job.
Q: Is there anything you’d do differently?
A: There’s always going to be something else to do. The work is never done. That’s always been the hard part for me to realize … I don’t have any regrets. I wish we were further along in supportive housing and services, but I think we’ve laid a good foundation … I feel good about the major initiatives that we worked on and the teamwork that occurred.
Q: Is there anything you would tell yourself 14 years ago, if you could?
A: Even having 30 years of private sector experience, when you first come to a new job like being mayor, you make mistakes … The main thing I would say is we’re all human, we’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to do things we wish would have done differently. … I’ve tried to admit when I’ve made a mistake and think we should go in a different direction, and I frankly think that’s a strength, not a weakness.
Q: What were some of the steepest learning curves?
A: Probably the biggest challenge we had was going through eight years of recession. A lot of the things we were starting on and working on in 2004 and 2005 and 2006, around Riverfront (and) the development at the port, were put on hold because of the economy. Things in government often times don’t move very quickly. That’s frustrating, so you really have to be focused for the long term and you have to be patient but at the same time persistent and just keep focused on what you think is most important.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
A: It has been a tremendous honor for me to serve as mayor, and I’m very appreciative of the support I’ve gotten from citizens. I really tried to spend a lot of time in neighborhood meetings and citizen events and tried to listen. I find the most influence I’ve had in making public policy and doing the things that are important for the city really come from the people. It doesn’t come from sitting in my office and thinking I have all the answers. … You have to be willing to listen and sometimes agree and sometimes disagree when people have different ideas. And I’ve tried to do that. I’ve been working for a lot of years but public service is the best work I’ve ever done, the most rewarding.
Q: Do you think you’ll be able to go anywhere in town incognito now?
A: If I grow my hair real long.