Seattle's Most Influential People of 2011
[person of the year]
The It Gets Better Project
Sometimes life’s most fleeting moments are the ones that have the greatest impact. Take, for example a distinct memory Dan Savage recalls from his Chicago childhood: “I was 8 or 9, and my family was in line for a movie, and we saw two gay people holding hands,” he says. “My parents were appalled—they literally turned our heads away so we wouldn’t see. But I thought, ‘Oh my god, I’ll be OK. They have friends, they’re laughing, they’re OK…I’m going to be fine.”
Helping gay kids understand they’re going to be OK was the chief source of inspiration for the It Gets Better Project, which The Stranger editorial director and syndicated “Savage Love” sex columnist Savage launched with his husband, Terry Miller, late last September by way of a video heard around the world. Saddened by the suicides of two teenage boys who were victims of antigay bullying, Savage and Miller recorded a simple YouTube video explaining (in a nutshell) that high school sucks for anyone perceived as different, but if you can just get through it, life gets better.
Savage—who is coy about his age; reports place him in his mid-40s—had no idea he was starting a global movement. The original video has had more than 1.5 million views. It has generated more than 35,000 videos posted in response, by average Joes and celebrities, gay and straight alike, including the president of the United States of America. A follow-up book released in March, It Gets Better: Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living, hit The New York Times bestseller list this year. And the It Gets Better Project (itgetsbetter.org) became a 501(c)3 nonprofit devoted to helping prevent antigay bullying and its harmful—and potentially lethal—repercussions.
“The project exploded,” says Savage, marveling that It Gets Better has taken on a life of its own. But he’s less interested in the hype than the hope the project provides at an individual level. “The videos from celebrities are fun,” Savage says, “but it’s the videos from everyday people that are most important.” He explains that gay kids growing up in rural areas, or whose parents are “rejecting and hostile” toward homosexuality, often feel totally alone. “Until YouTube, there wasn’t a way to reach them,” says Savage, “but those are the kids we really need to reach.” Videos posted by everyone from a gay Orthodox Jew to a lesbian dairy farmer have helped hundreds of teens in similar demographics finally see that other people like them not only exist, they have friends, they laugh, and they’re OK. --Brangien Davis
Savage’s influence will continue to widen with his new Savage Love advice show on MTV, the pilot for which is being shot this fall. Watch It Gets Better videos on the organization's YouTube channel.
Photo by Hayley Young
Nathan Myhrvold / cookbook author
We could fill this space quoting great culinary minds—from Ferran Adrià to Harold McGee to Thomas Keller and so on—who have raved about the impact of Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking, the six-volume, 2,348-page, $625 set that former Microsoftie and Intellectual Ventures founder Nathan Myhrvold published this year. It’s a cookbook, sure, but so very much more than that; Myhrvold and his crew have created the ultimate guide to kitchen science—the hows and whys of heat, chemistry, food safety and molecular biology. It took Myhrvold and his team of chefs five years to write it, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention how stunningly gorgeous the photography is. Time will tell how much of an impact Modernist Cuisine will have on chefs and the American food culture, but the smart money is on “huge.” -Allison Austin Scheff
photo by Hayley Young
Jennifer Roth / film producer
In the movie biz, it’s all about who you know—which is why Seattle’s emerging filmmakers all want to have coffee with Jennifer Roth. The locally based producer (Black Swan; The Wrestler) has not only been instrumental in convincing studios to bring large-scale productions—and the dollars they generate for the local economy—to Seattle (see World’s Greatest Dad and The Details), she has also helped countless local filmmakers find their way along the labyrinthine road to release date. In a May interview with Seattle magazine, she said, “I find it enormously rewarding to give back to the local community,” and joked, “I like to use my evil powers for good.” Bringing big-budget projects to Seattle got a lot harder last summer, when the state Legislature eliminated the film incentive program (which provides benefits to studios that film movies in Washington). As efforts to reinstate the incentive heat up, you can be sure Roth will be working her magic behind the scenes. B.D.
Photo by Hayley Young
Sam Farrazaino / art-space developer
“If I can develop a space at the right level—make it workable for artists—not the Taj Mahal, but not a slum—and give artists an affordable rate, I’ll keep it full.” That was Sam Farrazaino in an interview with Seattle magazine last spring, when he was still completing the initial renovations on Inscape, the historic INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service) building he transformed into a hive of artist studios. Back then, 40 artists occupied studios; now the four-story building (which can hold 125 studios) is more than half full. Farrazaino and his business partners also convinced the city to contribute a $3 million loan to update previously unusable sections of the building (due to asbestos and lead paint), thereby increasing the number of studios available. A sculptor who serves as Inscape property manager and has an ownership stake, Farrazaino began developing artist enclaves in 1995 with the 619 Western Building in Pioneer Square—which was emptied in October due to a massive rehab and retrofit of the historic building. Thankfully, he was able to scoop up many of those exiting artists and offer them a beautiful workspace full of light, history and promise. B.D.
**This story has been updated to correct the amount of money the city contributed to the Inscape project.
Jared Watson and Norman Rice / The Seattle Foundation
This past summer, the tweets were flying, along with email blasts and Facebook posts. A social-media awareness tsunami was building for a good cause: to elicit a wave of online donations for local nonprofits on a single day, June 23. Modeled on similar campaigns in other cities, Give Big was the brainchild of Seattle Foundation senior vice president Jared Watson, with plenty of pump priming from its president, former Seattle Mayor Norman Rice. It was the first such technology-driven fundraising effort by the 65-year-old charitable group, and it delivered big. Even in our recession-plagued times, in just 17 hours, $3.6 million was raised for 904 organizations, ranging from the YWCA to Taproot Theatre Company. All funds were distributed less than three weeks later. “It proves how every dollar counts and every tweet can make a difference,” says Rice. “I had faith this community was going to run with it, and we knew [participating] nonprofits were going all out to promote this,” says Watson. Our high-volume point was 12,000 donations, he adds, compared to 4,000 for Dallas, a city double Seattle’s size. Give Big did bring some surprises. Along with an impressive number of small arts organizations, the top money earner was Planned Parenthood. “I wouldn’t have predicted that,” remarks Rice. “The other thing we found,” says Watson, “is that a lot of nonprofits got new donors…and a lot of lapsed donors that came back.” The Seattle Foundation is already mulling over its plans for Give Big 2.0. Shannon O'Leary
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying the influence of Seattle’s mayor. Whether he’s working to stall the tunnel project, getting into a smackdown with The Village Voice-owned Seattle Weekly over child prostitution or legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits, McGinn is a polarizing power player and a tripwire for political and public debate. Kristen Russell
Restaurateur and chef Tom Douglas
Photo by Hayley Young
Last year, we recognized Tom Douglas for his role in keeping the Lake Union Fourth of July fireworks show alight. This year, we’re giving him a nod for opening no fewer than five restaurants: Cuoco, Ting Momo, Brave Horse Tavern, Dahlia Workshop and Serious Pie Westlake in South Lake Union. Twenty years after he opened his first restaurant, the Dahlia Lounge, he’s more relevant than ever, whether he’s dishing up beer and pretzels or a sublime sagey plin. And where Tom Douglas goes, others follow: Christine Keff moved Flying Fish from Belltown, another outpost of Cactus has just opened, and dozens of other restaurants continue to open in the booming SLU neighborhood. A.A.S.
Photo by Adam Reitano
John Cook and Todd Bishop of Geekwire
It was a media coup when John Cook and Todd Bishop left their tech beats at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 2009 to start TechFlash, a tech website linked to the Puget Sound Business Journal. This year, the duo took their ambitions a step further and launched a startup of their very own. “It’s probably all of those entrepreneurs I’ve covered along the way,” Cook says in a video interview of Geekwire cofounders on the site’s inaugural post. “Their mentality has infected me to some degree.” In just a few short months, Geekwire (backed by the business savvy of chief business officer Rebecca Lovell and investor Jonathan Sposato) has become a go-to source for daily coverage of technology in the Northwest. Pairing hard news with funny, off-beat news, video and audio posts, Geekwire is tapping into a Seattle community that lives and plays in the world of tech. As Cook recently put it, “Everyone has an inner geek.” --Karen Johnson
First Nations wood carver Rick Williams
Photo by Terry Divyak
The fatal shooting in August 2010 of First Nations totem carver John T. Williams by a Seattle Police officer provoked powerful emotions, public protests and multiple investigations. In the aftermath, the shooting was ruled unjustified by the Seattle Police Department’s Firearms Review Board, the officer resigned without facing charges, and Williams’ mother and estate received a $1.5 million settlement from the city. Also emanating from the controversy was one of those too rare elevating moments: a compelling call for calm. When protests turned violent, the elder brother of John T. Williams effectively intervened, earning praise from, among others, Seattle’s mayor, police chief and police guild president. Rick Williams, a talented woodcarver, then created, along with other carvers, two memorial totem poles; they hope to raise the 32-foot poles at the Seattle Center and Victor Steinbrueck Park, a longtime gathering place for Native carvers. S.O.
Allyson Brooks, Ph.D. / head of the state's Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation
l Should a city maintain historic elements while making way for progress? For state historic preservation officer Allyson Brooks, the answer to that question is a clear yes. Brooks’ quiet efforts are largely credited with saving Pioneer Square’s 619 Western Building earlier this year when transportation officials were set to tear down the artists’ loft to make way for the waterfront tunnel. Thanks to quick action on Brooks' part—insisting that federal officials abide by local ordinances, enlisting the support of City Council members and working with the National Trust for Historic Preservation—the historic building will now undergo a $20 million rehab; a boon for Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square. K.J.
Photo by Hayley Young
Chris Pardo & Laura Olson
Seattle’s nightlife dream team, Chris Pardo and fiancée Laura Olson, know what it takes to create a successful business—and it’s a good thing, since they’re apparently unstoppable, opening three new Seattle restaurants and bars in 2010 and another four this year. “Since the first Po Dog [hot dog joint on Capitol Hill], we have always approached any business with the same rules: It has to be a place we would want to go on a regular basis, it has to be in a neighborhood we love and it has to offer products that fit a niche for the community,” says Pardo, cofounder of Pb Elemental architecture. One restaurant, Grim’s Provisions and Spirits on Capitol Hill, holds a special place in their hearts. “It was exciting to see each other’s ideas become reality,” says Pardo. “I think Grim’s has been a hit partially due to its intimate-sized rooms, but also by continuing the theme of offering high-quality ingredients and design in a reasonable price range that is accessible to all walks of life.” We also think the pair’s restaurants are a hit because they strike just the right pop-culture chord; in July, the pair opened Detention Restaurant and Bar, a school-lunch-themed restaurant in the University District. Up next? The Social, an 8,000-square-foot dance club, and steak joint Manhattan Drugs, both slated to open on Capitol Hill at press time. --Cayla Lambier
Photo by Hayley Young
Henry Lai / University of Washington research professor
University of Washington’s Henry Lai nearly lost his career after he released a study a decade ago linking cell-phone use to cancer. Subsequently, the cell-phone industry set out to destroy his credibility. But today, a new body of studies is backing up his research, and a number of lawmakers are using his work to push for tougher rules on radiation exposure from cell phones. Though the jury is still out on what will become of Lai’s findings, with national coverage of Lai’s story in The New York Times and Time magazine, it’s safe to say that Lai’s message is being heard. K.J.
Photo by Andrew Waits
Charlie and Benita Staadecker / arts supporters
It started with the best birthday gift ever: To commemorate his wife Benita’s 60th, Charlie Staadecker commissioned a play (Becky’s New Car, by Steven Dietz), which premiered at ACT in 2008. The feeling of creating a lasting arts legacy (the acclaimed play is still being performed across the country) was intoxicating, and the Staadeckers soon commissioned a work from the Seattle Symphony (Samuel Jones’ “Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra”), which premiered in 2009. Last year, wanting to commission another symphony piece, but not having the funds to do so on their own, the Staadeckers convinced four couples to join them in funding another new piece by Jones, “Reflections: Songs of Fathers and Daughters,” which the Seattle Symphony premiered in June. The couple’s infectious enthusiasm is having a wave effect, reinvigorating local interest in commissioning art. “We’re having such a good time,” Charlie commented in an interview with Seattle magazine last summer. “Where else can you spend money like this and have so much fun?” B.D.
Photo by Hayley Young
Architects JIm Graham and Brett Baba
the last two years have been huge for 5-year-old Capitol Hill boutique architecture firm Graham Baba Architects. The nationally recognized, multiuse Melrose Market is perhaps the firm’s best-known project, but the seven-member team also has designed and built Capitol Hill’s Eltana Bagels and Skillet Diner, Fremont’s Revel and neighboring bar Quoin, as well as the Kohlstrand Building in Ballard, home to Walrus & Carpenter Oyster Bar and Ethan Stowell’s Staple and Fancy Mercantile. The signature look is sturdy, modern, functional and yet warmly lived in: wood left bare and unpolished, floors of dyed cement, exposed steel beams, warehouse lighting. And Graham Baba is just getting started: At press time, the firm was working on the Fat Hen restaurant in Ballard near Delancey, and The Local Vine at University Village. A.A.S.
hoto by Adam Reitano
Rich Feldman / Pacific Northwest manager of Ecotality
Those futuristic electric vehicle (EV) plugins that seem to have popped up overnight at CenturyLink Field, South Lake Union and even Fred Meyer this summer are more than mere technological eye candy; they’re also the product of years of careful organizing and lobbying by Rich Feldman. Former executive director of the Economic Development and Public Policy program of the Worker Center division of the King County Labor Council and senior policy adviser to Greg Nickels, Feldman now brings his coalition-building skills to the streets—literally—pitching the benefits of installing EV-charging stations to local businesses. As Pacific Northwest manager for Ecotality, the company contracted to build 15,000 EV-charging stations in Seattle and 15 other pilot cities, Feldman was recently the subject of a Wall Street Journal profile focused on the Seattle pilot project. He told the paper, “Seattle in 1907 had one of the first gas stations in America. Now it will be one of the first cities to host the gas pump’s challenger.” K.J.
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Gettyimages
Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez
It’s good to be king: At just 25 years old, Mariners ace Felix “The King” Hernandez is racking up accolades faster than 90-mile-per-hour fastball strikeouts, including baseball’s top honor for a pitcher, winning the 2010 A.L. Cy Young Award (despite being on a losing team, a major feat in Major League Baseball). His aggressive pitching style has made him a fan favorite, with a burgeoning “King’s Court” fan section for each Safeco start. But off the mound, Hernandez’s positive influence permeates through a clubhouse in need of a leader and into the community, where he has put down off-season roots and is a spokesperson for the Seattle Humane Society. (He has two adopted pooches of his own, Oreo and, of course, King.) Most inspiring for fans: Hernandez has been vocal about staying put as the team tries to find its long-buried mojo; as his devoted fan section spreads farther down the third base line, it seems only a matter of time before the young king officially becomes baseball royalty. K.C.
Andy Sack / executive director, TechStars Seattle
l If you have a million-dollar startup idea, you’d be wise to take note of the name Andy Sack. A self-proclaimed “serial entrepreneur,” Sack is the executive director of TechStars Seattle, the local arm of a technology incubator that annually gives about 10 lucky startups as much as $18,000 in seed money, and three months of mentorship and training in exchange for a 6 percent share in each company. Startup ideas have included daily deal sites, social media applications and farther-flung concepts, including a gaming platform aimed at raising “virtual celebrities.” Sack, a veteran entrepreneur known locally for co-managing the seed-stage fund Founder’s Co-op before taking the helm at the South Lake Union–based TechStars Seattle, isn’t slowing down. He’s also the founder of Lighter Capital, a “revenue-based financing” site that “funds weird companies that make money.” K.J.
Photo by Hayley Young
Festival front men Adam Zacks, Chad Clibborn,
Kevin Sur and Joe Brotherton
The masterminds behind the Sasquatch music festival and Doe Bay Fest know what Northwest music lovers want. The proof is in their wildly successful, frequently sold-out annual music fests. Sasquatch, now having marked its 10th year at the Gorge Amphitheatre, is lauded for showcasing bands both established and emerging, something Zacks aims for when booking performers: “I get a lot of satisfaction from booking bands early in their development,” he says. “The festival has a solid track record of filtering through emerging talent and identifying the cream of the crop.” Doe Bay Fest, known for its cozy atmosphere and local emphasis, sold out this year in just three minutes—without an announced lineup. “I think that the success of Doe Bay Fest proves that people are looking for something different, that they can connect with more personally,” says Clibborn. Clibborn and Doe Bay co-organizers Kevin Sur and Joe Brotherton receive more than 500 submissions from bands looking to play the annually sold-out festival, but there are no plans for expansion on the horizon. “We love our 8-to-1 attendee-to-artist ratio, extremely light security requirements and that deer still walk around on stage in the morning before the sound guys wake up.” C.L.
Photo by Hayley Young
The students, teachers and PTSA of Ingraham High School
Earlier this year, Ingraham High School became the epicenter of a powerful outcry against the sudden dismissal of beloved principal Martin Floe. “When asked for reasons, we were told that it was a personnel matter,” says Ingraham High School PTSA president Cindy Nevins, but the firing was widely reported to be related to concerns over school performance and test scores. So Nevins, along with the teachers, students and parents of Ingraham, came together to take action, gathering hundreds of signatures and holding a rally calling for his reinstatement. “We decided that even if it was futile, we wanted to try to get the superintendent to change her mind,” says Rosemary Daszkiewicz, a Queen Anne resident with two children at Ingraham. When Seattle Public Schools interim superintendent Susan Enfield reversed her decision a week later, the credit went straight to the students. “They felt it was their victory, which was wonderful to see,” says Daszkiewicz. “For the students, it was an incredible lesson to see what happens when you organize and play by the rules. You could see the future of the United States in our student body.” C.L.
Washington Federal CEO Roy Whitehead
Leading a financial institution through one of history’s worst financial crises is brave; doing so while simultaneously leading an ambitious United Way campaign is valiant. Roy Whitehead, CEO of Washington Federal since 2000, already has shown great success on one front: The bank he heads has not only replaced Washington Mutual as one of the state’s largest banks, it is the largest Pacific Northwest–based bank and has remained among the healthiest, enabling it to keep growing by acquiring banks. Whitehead has also diversified the bank’s business model to survive the long-term housing crunch. In September, Whitehead took on a new challenge: chairing the 2011–2012 United Way of King County annual corporate-giving campaign. He and his wife, Rhonda, also run a scholarship fund for teacher development in honor of their son Parker, who passed away in 1998. Sarah Dewey
Robert “Beaux” Bowman / owner and brewmaster, Black Raven Brewing
Photo by Hayley Young
Robert “Beaux” Bowman is the owner and brewing genius at Redmond’s 2-year-old Black Raven Brewing Company, one of the most talked-about breweries in the Northwest. On any given day, you’ll find him balancing the daily tasks of operating a brewery that has an insatiable need to grow. Behind his success is some very careful planning; from the beginning, Bowman rushed nothing. The brewery and taproom came together slowly and deliberately; he and his team carefully crafted each recipe; and Bowman now artfully manages and contains the brewery’s growth. Perhaps his greatest claim to fame is his uncanny ability to create bold and unexpected flavors; Bowman is one of a handful of local brewers on the foamy edge of another craft-brew revolution. The local brewing community respectfully refers to Bowman and his crew as “Birdbrains,” a nod to Black Raven’s originality, inventiveness and spontaneity. Even the most grizzled and creative brewers look at Bowman and say, “How does he come up with this stuff?” Kendall Jones
PubliCola’s Josh Feit and Erica C. Barnett
Photo by Hayley Young
Back in 2009, when daily newsrooms were cutting back coverage of local and state politics, PubliCola cofounders Josh Feit and Sandeep Kaushik bucked the trend by launching a blog that mashed hyperlocal coverage of state and city politics with a dash of snark. “People were afraid that blogging would change journalism,” says Feit. “Instead, we believe journalism can change blogging.” Elevated by the bulletproof blogging of news nerd Erica C. Barnett, crime reporting by Jonah Spangenthal-Lee, and features such as “Think Tank,” a rotating who’s who of policy and political pundits—plus a website redesign—PubliCola shows no signs of slowing down. We’re rooting for more laugh-out-loud headlines like this one: “McGinn and Eyman, Sitting in a Tree, T-O-L-L-I-N-G.” K.J.
Melissa Westbrook and Charlie Mas / bloggers, Save Seattle Schools Community blog
Photo by Hayley Young
Tenacious, persistent and prescient: The bloggers behind one of Seattle’s feistiest public-interest websites (saveseattleschools.blogspot.com) have been called that, and more. Long before anyone was talking about a financial scandal in Seattle’s public schools, Melissa Westbrook and Charlie Mas were digging into public records, asking tough questions and firing off blog entries to keep the public informed. Many credit them with uncovering serious problems that ultimately led to superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson’s firing in March, but that’s not the duo’s proudest achievement. “What I see as our biggest success is that we have become a source used by parents, staff and community for Seattle schools’ news,” says Westbrook, a former PTA copresident and school board committee member. “We break stories and write stories that readers know they won’t find anywhere else.” Mas agrees: “The popularity and usefulness of the blog is our biggest success. Public school activism is a nearly futile exercise. You're a winner if you do it at all.” K.R.
Craig Kinzer / CEO and founder, Kinzer Real Estate Services
Craig Kinzer has had a hand in shaping modern Seattle, bookending his career and the city skyline with real estate deals ranging from Starbucks’ SoDo headquarters to Adobe’s Fremont offices and, more recently, the new Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation campus near Seattle Center. A king of complexity and scale, Kinzer has shaped a portfolio dotted with notable clients and distinctive deals. Starbucks launched Kinzer to visionary status after he helped save an old Sears warehouse and negotiated expansion contracts for the then-inchoate company in 1994. Kinzer deftly balanced the public and private sectors while negotiating the Gates Foundation’s new headquarters, and he also convinced longtime Tacoma-based Russell Investments to relocate to Seattle. Earlier this year, Kinzer’s firm brokered a lease by Isilon Systems for prime office space in Pioneer Square, giving the neighborhood a much-needed shot in the arm. S.D.
David Allen / executive vice president, McKinstry
David Allen was greening business before green business was cool. In 2008, as he marketed McKinstry’s marriage of the seemingly at-odds environmental and commercial construction camps, he won approval from at-odds politicians: President George W. Bush awarded McKinstry a $5 billion federal Energy Savings Performance Contract for the next decade; and presidential candidate Barack Obama called the Seattle-based design and construction firm “a model for the nation.” Allen played a key role in imagining and populating McKinstry’s recent 24,000-square-foot addition to its Georgetown campus. The Innovation Center is designed to bring multiple clean-tech startups together under one roof, offering companies the ability to increase their office space as they grow. With this collaborative setup and the center’s mentoring program, McKinstry is working to inspire a new wave of eco-savvy businesspeople. Allen also chairs the Washington Clean Technology Alliance. Says McKinstry vice president of marketing and business development Tony Stewart: “David is the epitome of what’s good for the Pacific Northwest.” S.D.
Photo by Christof Stache/GettyImages
Hope Solo / goalkeeper, women’s U.S. Olympic soccer team
hope solo’s penchant for making saves in goal for the U.S. women’ soccer team during the 2011 World Cup competition in Germany rocketed the already famous Richland native to superstar status. It doesn’t hurt that Solo is young (30), tall (5 feet, 9 inches) and eminently photogenic (her image graced the cover of Sports Illustrated even after her team lost the World Cup final). Previously better known for a fit of pique that got her kicked off the women’s World Cup team in 2007, Solo emerged from this year’s installment as an inspirational leader possessing grace and toughness in equal measures.
After the World Cup, her Twitter following went from about 8,000 to more than a quarter-million people. Her agent, Richard Motzkin, described interest in her as “staggering.” Solo said no to Maxim and Playboy, but yes to posing in the altogether—tastefully, of course—for the annual Body Issue of ESPN The Magazine, a celebration of the athletic form. She did a fashion shoot for W, declined an invitation from Celebrity Apprentice and accepted one from Dancing with the Stars. Gatorade is reportedly paying in the low six figures for the Solo imprimatur.
The former University of Washington star, who splits her time between Kirkland and Los Angeles, says she used to dream big. But dreams do get in the way. “As soon as you let all of that go,” Solo says, “it’s all in front of you. All of a sudden, at 30, I’m being called a sex symbol and doing all these fashion shoots. I find humor in it.” --John Levesque
Alaska Air Group CEO Bill Ayer
Patience is not one of Bill Ayer’s virtues. The 57-year-old chair and CEO of Alaska Air Group, parent company of Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air, is constantly guiding his 79-year-old airline to adapt in an ever-changing, competitive industry. Alaska Airlines has grown to be the nation’s seventh largest with 9,600 employees, 117 airplanes and 422 flights a day to 61 cities in the U.S., Mexico and Canada. It has been profitable 32 of the last 38 years and is especially beloved by travelers since 2005, when Ayer championed a campaign that dramatically turned around the company’s on-time performance rating. Ayer, a Bellevue resident, tries to stay one step ahead of competitors and doesn't believe in ignoring problems. “Hope is not a strategy,”' he says. “Focus on what you can control. Be realistic about current problems, yet optimistic about solving them.” Karen West
Senator Phil Rockefeller (D-Bainbridge) and the Sierra Club’s Doug Howell
Spewing millions of tons of carbon dioxide, mercury, sulfur and nitrogen oxides into the air every year, the TransAlta coal-fired plant in Centralia is our state’s biggest polluter—but not for much longer. After decades of failed attempts, a huge coalition of eco groups, politicians, physicians, scientists and average citizens have finally collaborated on a deal that will shut down Washington’s last coal plant by 2025. Leading the charge: Senator Phil Rockefeller (D-Bainbridge Island, now retired), who sponsored the bill signed by Governor Chris Gregoire in April; and Doug Howell, campaign director for the Sierra Club’s Coal-Free Washington campaign, who credits the tireless work of hundreds of volunteers and partners. One such partner—the Northwest Energy Coalition’s policy director Nancy Hirsch—helped broker a critical part of the compromise: TransAlta will provide $30 million for economic development to offset job loss. (The plant employs about 300 people.)
“It’s pretty unique to have so many parties with different views and values coming together to agree on something like this,” says Rockefeller. “It was an exciting, dynamic experience.” How big is the news? Howell doesn’t mince words. “It is the single most important step that we have taken recently on global warming,” says Howell, adding, “It is also the single most important step we could take to improve public health and air quality.” K.R.
The Washington State Auditor’s Office
At a time when the government at all levels is held in low repute, one Olympian body has avoided our electorate’s ire. No doubt since its charge is quashing government waste and fraud, the Washington State Auditor’s Office is seen as truly doing the people’s work. Some 325 statewide staffers scour the books, investigate whistle-blower and fraud complaints, and conduct performance audits of all state and local agencies and schools. Recent pecuniary plaudits range from alleging $306,000 in overpayments to Office Depot; $1.8 million in mismanaged funds by Seattle Public Schools, leading to the ouster of superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson; multimillions overspent on a park project near Port Townsend and on Sea-Tac’s third runway. Plus, via performance audits, in 2009, the office identified $285 million in potential government savings and, in 2010, millions in cost savings for Seattle City Light customers. Head honcho Brian Sonntag’s call for a delinquent-taxpayer amnesty also netted state coffers $282 million. Now, that’s our idea of fiscal accountability. S.O.
Photo by Hayley Young
Shwetak Patel / founder of Zensi, University of Washington assistant professor
Imagine if the amount of energy used by your home was broadcast to you like a traffic sign flashing a car’s speed to a rushed driver. Thanks to a soon-to-be-released technology using sensors developed by Zensi, an energy-monitoring startup founded by University of Washington assistant professor and 2011 MacArthur Fellow Shwetak Patel, consumers will soon be able to monitor how much electricity, water and gas their homes use—right down to a gas-guzzling heater or water-wasting spigot. The goal is to help consumers monitor and adjust behavior, the same way a real-time speed signal can. “We spend so much time in the home,” says Patel, 29, of the motivations for his work. “Money. Investment. There’s already enough stress in our lives.” The pilot testing phase begins this fall in Chicago, with the goal of releasing Patel’s sensor to consumers as early as next year. K.J.
Photo by Adam Reitano
Valeri Vasioukhin, Ph.D., and Mark Silvis, Ph.D. / researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
From a lab on Seattle’s Fairview Avenue comes a promising advance in the war on cancer: the discovery of a gene responsible for the second-most-common skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma. Dr. Valeri Vasioukhin, Dr. Mark Silvis and their colleagues at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have just discovered the mechanism by which a protein—called alpha-catenin—acts as a tumor suppressor by inhibiting a protein called Yap 1; an essential clue for developing a drug to combat squamous. “It looks like it’s going to be a really important target,” says Vasioukhin. “If we can figure out how to inhibit Yap 1, we can probably have a major impact in treatment.” That’s welcome news for the 700,000 people diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma every year. K.R.
Starbucks president Michelle Gass
Working as Howard Schultz’s right-hand woman might give some the jitters, but not Michelle Gass. The veteran Starbucks executive has every reason to believe she’ll succeed in her brand-new role as president (in charge of Europe, the Middle East and Africa); after all, she has a heck of a track record. Hired 15 years ago to help develop and market a little drink called “Frappuccino,” Gass built that drink into a $2 billion brand—Starbucks’ most popular beverage by far. Promoted to president of Starbucks brand Seattle’s Best Coffee, she oversaw a revamping that set it well on a path toward becoming a $1 billion brand; SBC is now sold at 50,000 locations in the U.S. and Canada, and is experiencing double-digit growth. During Gass’ tenure at Starbucks, she’s orchestrated some of the chain’s biggest endeavors, including (for better or worse) the instant Via brand. Just add water, indeed. K.W.
Mary C. Selecky / Washington’s secretary of health
It’s a dubious distinction: Our state now has the highest rate of unvaccinated kindergartners in the nation. The number of kids skipping shots in our state has doubled in the past decade; in the 2009 school year, 6.2 percent of children had a signed exemption. Those numbers trouble Secretary of Health Mary Selecky. “We’re seeing a reemergence of childhood diseases that really were very low in the past,” she says—dangerous diseases such as measles and whooping cough. Selecky, a longtime state health official who helped create our state’s Department of Health in 1989, spearheaded an effort to combat that slide. The result? A spanking new state law that requires parents to get a signed note from a health care provider before they can refuse certain vaccines. “Public health looks out for people to keep them healthy,” Selecky says. “Immunizations are the most effective way to do that.” K.R.
Steve Sarkisian / University of Washington football coach
l The road may have been rocky for 2010 Huskies football, but man, did that finish make up for it: After sliding against Arizona, Stanford and the mighty Oregon Ducks, second-year coach Steve Sarkisian rallied the troops to win their last three season games and become the first UW bowl team since 2002. (Allow us to bask in the glory for a moment: The Huskies went on to trounce Nebraska in that thrilling December 30 Holiday Bowl game.) Wins aside, the well-respected, mild-mannered “Sark” has been the ringleader for change inside a once apathetic program. The former University of Southern California quarterback coach’s rally cry “Expect to win!”—posted in locker rooms, shouted in meetings and blazoned across campus—has become more than a marketing slogan; it’s become a sentiment living in the hearts of all Dawgs in 2011. K.C.
Seattle City Attorney Peter Holmes, former U.S. Attorney John McKay, travel writer Rick Steves, Governor Christine Gregoire and U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan
This year’s hopscotching, head-scratching marijuana moves, and the lineup of pot players, was especially interesting. It began with the governor: Just as she was set to sign off on a clear-cut, landmark medical-marijuana law in April—legalizing, though regulating, dispensaries and growing operations—Seattle’s U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, citing sure legal reprisal by the feds, persuaded her instead to veto the new law’s sweeping sections. What remained of the new law did give cities the option of limited licensing of medical-marijuana dispensaries. Seattle was the first city in the state to pass such an ordinance in July. Meanwhile, in the wake of the governor’s medical-marijuana veto, a coalition composed of the ACLU, travel writer Rick Steves, Seattle’s former U.S. Attorney John McKay and current Seattle City Attorney Peter Holmes, launched an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana that’s expected to land in Olympia in 2012. All we know for certain: Pot politics make for strange bud-fellows. S.O.
James Corner / designer of Seattle’s waterfront project
It’s been called one of the most important and greatest design projects in the history of our city by Seattle Transportation director Peter Hahn. It’s no small task, now in the hands of New York landscape architect and urban designer James Corner, whose visionary first designs for Seattle’s waterfront transfixed a standing-room-only crowd this summer. With a résumé chockfull of bleeding-edge design projects—including New York’s acclaimed elevated park, the High Line—Corner’s New York design firm was unanimously selected to provide the DNA for Seattle’s bid at reconnecting downtown to Puget Sound. “In many ways, what we do here will shape and define Seattle for the next century,” says Corner. His design aims to once again center the city around the water and play up our “dramatic, weather-bound” urban setting. A few of his grander ideas: a rooftop lawn atop Colman Dock and an elevated walkway connecting Victor Steinbrueck Park to a public plaza at the Seattle Aquarium. “Seattle, in a sense, has turned its back on Elliott Bay over the years,” said Corner during a recent presentation of his design. “That waterfront is now going to be public domain.” K.J.
PLACES TO WATCH
Change is the constant in these three key Seattle locations
Just try to stop watching South Lake Union, a neighborhood revitalization project so vast that it has its own “discovery center.” Already a miniature urban mecca just blocks from downtown, SLU just keeps evolving, adding a 12-acre lakefront park, streetcar, lofts, restaurants (including five by Tom Douglas), galleries, a hotel and a Whole Foods Market. The area is on track to surpass projections, bringing in more than 10,000 new residents and 24,000 new permanent jobs by 2020. All told, $3 billion in public and private funds will be spent to polish this jewel, one of the largest urban revitalization projects in the nation.
Plans for Seattle Center’s four new arts venues and multiple public spaces are breathing new life into the city’s aging public commons. Already in place: the nonprofit Vera Project’s headquarters next to KeyArena, and Seattle International Film Festival’s brand-new film center, which opened this year in the former Alki Room. Also completed this year, the new Theater Commons—a public space that runs between Intiman Theatre and the Seattle Repertory Theatre on the center’s north side. Coming soon: nonprofit radio station KEXP-FM’s new headquarters in the center’s Northwest Rooms, a new children’s playground south of Memorial Stadium, and the Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibition, which broke ground in August and will span 2 acres on the old Fun Forest site.
Huge changes are in the works for SoDo, where a major development project, called Stadium Place (pictured above), is set to break ground in CenturyLink Field’s north parking lot. Plans are still being finalized but the 1 million-square-foot development could include four 240-foot-tall towers with 700 apartments and condos, a hotel, and 450,000 square feet of office and retail space. K.R.
OUR SELECTION PANEL
Seattle magazine thanks our 2011 selection panel, whose expertise and insights made this list possible.
We are grateful to: Katherine Akyuz, senior ecologist at King County; Dan Bertolet, city planner and urban designer, founder of City Tank; John Carlson, Fisher Radio; John Cook, cofounder, Geekwire; Rebekah Denn, food reporter; Maria Dolan, reporter and author; Mike Fancher, The Seattle Times’ former executive editor; Josh Feit, founder, PubliCola; Susannah Frame, KING 5 investigative reporter; Stacy Graven, executive director, Meydenbauer Center; Nancy Guppy, host, Art Zone, Seattle Channel; Leslie D. Helm, editor, Seattle Business magazine; Hanson Hosein, director, Master of Communication in Digital Media program at the University of Washington; Naomi Ishisaka, communications director, SEIU Healthcare NW; James Jiambalvo, dean, Michael G. Foster School of Business, University of Washington; James Keblas, director, Seattle’s Office of Film and Music; Chris Korsmo, executive director, League of Education Voters; Ed Lazowska, Bill and Melinda Gates chair in computer science and engineering, University of Washington; John Levesque, managing editor, Seattle Business magazine; Jordan Royer, vice president, external affairs, Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, Crosscut contributor; Virginia Smyth, editor, Northwest Health magazine at Group Health Cooperative; Chuck Taylor, an editor at The Herald in Everett, creator of Newsdex; Chris Vance, former chair, Washington State Republican Party; Melissa Westbrook, blogger, Save Seattle Schools.
Seattle magazine panelists: Rachel Hart, editorial director; Kristen Russell, managing editor; Brangien Davis, arts and culture editor; Allison Austin Scheff, food and dining editor; Kate Calamusa, fashion and lifestyle editor; Karen Johnson, contributing editor; Shannon O’Leary, contributing editor; Knute Berger, editor at large