Posted by: sweeneyblog | December 9, 2014

Interviewing Michelle Magee for City Council

Michelle Magee, applicant for Bellingham City Council, describes herself as an activist, a queer mother, a progressive and a teacher. However, what I find to be her defining trait is her contagious enthusiasm for tackling big issues on a local level.

Michelle Magee

Michelle Magee

Her volunteer work shows this passion. As an organizer with the Coal-Free Bellingham initiative, volunteer with Occupy Bellingham and the Non-GMO project, she is working to make change on the local level. Now, Magee is readying to transfer that commitment to the City Council.

“I’m running for City Council for the same reasons all the applicants are. We need clean water, affordable housing, to protect open spaces and figure out what the heck is going on with the waterfront.” She acknowledges that there are some very talented people running for this position but she believes her perspective and commitment to the community sets her apart.

“When I talk to the voters, it comes down to representation. All of us share political views but there is more to it than that. First voters look for qualifications; are they smart, do they collaborate, are they a leader?”

“Next, they go to values. Here in Bellingham we are moderate to far left. We value the environment and support local business. They ask, are they in touch with the needs of lower income people?” If these criteria are met, Magee believes that people look for representation.

“After all that, the question becomes, ‘do they represent me?’ Many activists are supporting me because they are excited about having someone they trust to fight for the causes that I have fought for alongside them.” She notes that her endorsement list includes some of her personal heroes. “The fact that we have had some real knock down fights and for them to come back and say, yes, I want you on the council, makes a big difference.”

Magee has also been quite active in the queer community. “I’ve worked as a queer advocate within the school system and maybe they are excited about a queer person in the public light.” She has already had a bit of controversy over her application, losing a supporter over her being out about her sexuality. Magee sees it as a point of pride. “I am about the most open person I know, not just about my identity or my sexuality but about my life – it is all there on the website.” Magee, along with Iris Maute-Gibson, are the only candidates who have set up campaign websites so far.

“If I hide that word, what does that say about who I am? I cannot do that. When I work with kids in our schools, I say that they are okay just the way they are and they don’t have to hide.” She shakes her head. “I wouldn’t like me if I pushed that to the side.”

Michelle Magee with two of her daughters at a Non-GMO rally

Michelle Magee with two of her daughters at a Non-GMO rally

She also believes it is important to have a mother on the City Council. “We don’t have a mom on the council and we haven’t had one in a long time. Who better is going to care about clean water? Who better to care about the open spaces and parks and having a nice waterfront? Moms and families, they are excited about the possibility of being represented on the council, and I am too!”

What is her number one priority if elected to the council? “Riley, I don’t think you are going to like this but there is no one issue that tops out the others. All of them are part of an interdependent web. You cannot only be concerned about clean water and open spaces without being concerned about local businesses because it is that tax base that funds the Greenways. You need to have affordable housing and quality infill of downtown to attract young people, it is all mixed together.”

She pauses with a slightly guilty smile, “That’s what I like about being on City Council, I’m not a one-issue person and I see how the issues are interconnected.”

Turning to issues of public policy, I ask for her take on landlord licensing. “I’ve liked seeing the process and how it is getting played out. It was nowhere for a decade and now it gets brought back into the public light.” Process aside, Magee sees it as a step forward. “I like how thoughtful people were on both sides. If we did pass the proposal, those costs are going to be passed to the renter, and I know how tough that is. There was a year where I was living month to month and thought that my girls and I might end up living out of the van.”

“But in the end, I agree this needs to happen. I’ve lived in some real holes that literally got me sick. We need some oversight on this.”

Moving along to the waterfront development, Magee makes a request. “This is where you could use one of those animated memes. Okay, here’s my interpretation of everyone I’ve spoken to about the waterfront. They look like this.” Magee gives a big exaggerated sigh and slumps her shoulders. It looked something like this – if Magee was a kitten.

“Every single person has that reaction. It is that bad. What I think is that now, after all the talking, is that we are stuck with the cards in our hand and the best approach now is to put some pressure on the developers. They want to please their customers and it is in their best interest to please their customers. They will be more responsive than they have been.”

What about Lake Whatcom? “We have to partner with the county on this one, it is not just a City Council issue but there are things we can do. We need to work with developers – use incentives to get them to install filtering systems and getting them to reduce phosphorus runoff. This will keep us from having to pay for it later.

Does Magee think the council is missing a radical or progressive voice? She pauses, thoughtful. “I think I bring a different perspective, this is where activists get very excited about the possibility of me sitting there. I’m running for City Council because service gives me life. This place has given me life. I work all the time to give back to Bellingham and I will do that whether or not I’m appointed. City Council is a good fit for my quirky little big picture mind.”

To drive this home, she pulls out her visual aid. She had read my earlier interviews with Iris Maute-Gibson and Dan Hammill where they used visual aids (ward maps and budget charts, respectively). Magee’s visual aid, however, blows them both out of the water.

From left to right, Terry Bornemann, Jack Weiss, Roxanne Murphy, Cathy Lehman, Michelle Magee, Michael Lilliquist, Gene Knutson and Pinky Vargas (on the pinky, naturally)

From left to right, Terry Bornemann, Jack Weiss, Roxanne Murphy, Cathy Lehman, Michelle Magee, Michael Lilliquist, Gene Knutson and Pinky Vargas (on the pinky, naturally)

Magee says that there was no subtle political message (“I don’t think the council is puppets or anything!”) – and that Pinky was the hardest to draw (“because she is too pretty!”), Michael was the easiest because of the beard.

Closing out the interview, I ask Magee if there is one thing she would like everyone in Bellingham to know about here. “If you are looking for someone who really loves this place, who is really open to hearing you even if I don’t agree with you, and take that into consideration, someone who is going to look not just at the short term but long term to see what is good for our kids and families, I’m a pretty good person to look at.”



  1. Thank you for this article, Riley.
    Michelle Magee now has my vote.

    • Wait, which neighborhood is Ward 3?

      • Ward 3 is downtown with slices of Roosevelt, Lettered Sts, Columbia, York and a few others. However, if Michelle runs next year, the whole city gets to vote on her race.

  2. Ward 3 and more –
    York, Roosevelt, Lettered Streets, Central Business District

    • Excellent, thank you. Ward 3 is my neighborhood (Central Business District). I’d be glad to have Michelle represent me.

  3. I really like the information obtained from the candidates for city council through your interviews. Great idea for your blog. Hard to chose one as they all seem pretty good Rosemary

  4. Thanks for the interview Riley. Michelle has a like-ability factor. Enthusiasm and finger puppets might work for a vote at Western, but the 6 City Council members are making the decision. I suspect they will go with somebody inclined towards hard work and rigorous, objective analysis – and a stomach for painful compromises. (Full disclosure – I have worked closely with Dan Hammill and endorsed him already.)

    • I think all the candidates who I’ve interviewed have shown hard work through their involvement with the community. Michelle has been a devoted activist and dedicated teacher, Iris has worked on a slew of difficult campaigns and issues, Andrew has been a council member before and faced hard choices there.

      That’s the interesting part about this appointment, we have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to applicants.

      • You are right Riley – an excellent collection of citizens and candidates. Thank you for introducing them to us. We are lucky to have them and i am grateful they are willing to serve.

  5. Thanks for the interview with Magee, my favored applicant.

  6. Thanks for all the insights, Riley. You do our community a service, and fill a
    void left by the local dog trainer, The Herald.

  7. In the end, it seems like Hammill will be appointed, based on what I have heard in the interviews, not that I am in full support of him.

  8. Thanks Riley for covering these candidates for the appointment. Very useful interviews.

    In a city lacking a daily newspaper, many look to your blog for information on topics other than recipes, middle-school sports or the Lynden Christian cheer-leaders..
    Abe Jacobson

    • Ouch!!

  9. […] shares Michelle Magee’s depressed slump over the waterfront. “We have a waterfront plan. It is better than the one we had. It is a […]

  10. […] Maute-Gibson arrive within moments of each other. Iris brought a slight entourage with her. Next Michelle Magee with children in tow and Scot Barg with his partner Becky. Meanwhile Pinky Vargas, Michael […]

  11. […] who could represent the evolving face of Bellingham (Iris), the often-neglected activist core (Michelle) or push for bolder, progressive policy changes (Andrew). Hammill is a fine choice, but a […]

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