'For the last 8 years, I got to do the best job anywhere'

'For the last 8 years, I got to do the best job anywhere' »Play Video
SEATTLE -- When Greg Nickels and I sat down for our interview today, he confided, "I'm so relaxed, I forgot to shave today! I don't know that I've done that in 20 years."

The stress level is certainly going down for Nickels, who leaves office Jan. 1, making way for Mayor-elect Mike McGinn to take over.

Nickels says he sent a $3.9 billion budget to the council Monday and is working on a smooth transition for McGinn.

"For the last 8 years, I got to do the best job anywhere, so I leave with Thanksgiving coming up with a sense I've been blessed," he said.

The mayor told me he got a call at home from the White House personnel office. "They are interested in what I'm going to do now, though they didn't mention any specific jobs."

Nickels says his passion has always been local politics and he's never had any desire to live in Washington D.C. But he believes his help could be needed in building support among cities on the issue of climate change. He says he and his wife Sharon would consider moving there for 4 to 5 years, especially now that his daughter Carey has gotten a job there at the Brookings Institution.

Nickels reflected on his accomplishments as mayor and on things he would do differently.

"There are a couple weeks in December last year I'd like to do over," he says with a smile.

The mayor was talking about the city's failure to clear the roads during last winter's big snow storm. Nickels suffered a storm of anger over that, but says he doesn't think that's why he placed 3rd in the primary.

"I think there's a certain tenor to these times and I think that tenor comes from the fact that people are scared to death about the economy," he said. "Without that underlying angst, people would have said, 'Hey he screwed up, he apologized, let's move on.' But with that anger and fear you don't get the same forgiveness."

I asked him why the polls showed so many people didn't like him near the end of his campaign.

"I wanted to make my time as mayor count," he said. "You see politicians come in and not do anything to keep from stepping on toes. Why bother? When you make decisions, everyone disagrees with something. There's something to the old saying: 'Friends come and go, enemies accumulate.' It wasn't any one issue. It wasn't the monorail and the tough position I had to take on that. It wasn't the Sonics or the snowstorm. I think it was people are not happy right now and they're a little less tolerant."

Nickels told me he is not worried about momentum for the deep bore tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

"In six years when that viaduct comes down, everyone will have been 'for' it. And we'll all understand it was a fight worth having. I'll be surprised if people remember my role in it in six years, but I will and it'll be a good day."

Nickels believes his main legacy will be mass transit and connecting the majority of homes and workers with transportation other than cars. He's excited to cut the ribbon next month for the new Sound Transit station at Sea-Tac Airport.

The mayor hopes to use his voice to continue to work on the issue of climate change. He has to step aside as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors when he leaves office Jan. 1, but he's hoping there will be no loss of momentum.

"Seattle is a great city...a beacon to other cities," he said. "One of the reasons I've been so successful in fighting global warming and attracting 1,000 mayors to join Seattle and reduce emissions is Seattle's great reputation. That is greater than any one mayor and it goes back far before my time as mayor."

Greg Nickels has spent his life in politics. He told me he wants to write and teach and would consider what comes his way from the Obama Team. In the meantime, he's just trying to remember to shave.