Pearman continues NW family tradition
November 24, 2008 · Updated 3:55 PM
Public service is more than a lesson Mayor Jim Pearman — an Eagle Scout and MIHS graduate — picked up during his youth, growing up on Mercer Island. It is also a family tradition for the great-nephew of a former Seattle mayor.
Entering his first year as Mercer Island mayor, Pearman has served the last six years on the City Council. Prior to that, he served on the parks board and a citizens committee for the Community Center at Mercer View. He and his wife, Katalin, have lived on the Island since 1987 and have two daughters, Charlotte, 13, and Julia, 2. They live in the South end home that Pearman’s father built in the 1960s.
The Reporter caught up with the new mayor last week to talk about the issues facing the city, his family life and recent career change — a job at the University of Washington.
What are your duties at your new job with the UW?
I will be in charge of recruiting and marketing for the executive education program at the Evans School of Public Affairs. It’s a full-time job at the UW, but still one that requires you to be out and about in the community.
What other professional work experience do you have?
I got my master’s degree in public administration from UW and really learned a lot from the Evans School [of Public Affairs]. I was in the hotel management business and have been the Visitors Bureau president. What I find interesting is that hotel hospitality has a lot of similarities with the Island Council. In the service industry, marks are made on the level of service provided to customers. In the city, customers are citizens, and there are similar criteria to judge how you are doing your job.
Your family and some friends attended the swearing in ceremony when you were chosen as the Island’s next mayor. What made that night special?
In addition to my wife and two daughters, my in-laws were there from Budapest, Hungary. Also, Pat Braman [a current School Boardmember], who was my high school English teacher, was there. I was thinking to myself, ‘How cool is this.’ She was there that night to see her pupil sworn in as mayor. I was so flattered and happy she was there that night. It was very symbolic to me.
When did you get interested in politics or local government?
I started my political career on Mercer Island by becoming the president of the ninth grade. I’ve also had great role models in my family. Though I’ve always admired them, they were not a driving thing. When the Council position became open, I had no intention of running but was courted by a handful of past mayors to do it. That was the result of being a leader [in efforts] to preserve Pioneer Park and not make it a golf course. It wasn’t premeditated. Life just guided me that way.
Do you see yourself moving up the political ladder after serving as mayor?
I think there are two types of motivation for running for office: One is an extension of public service, where you want to leave the campsite a little cleaner than you found it. Then there are those who aspire to a higher office. I tend to be into the service and leaving the campsite cleaner [model].
What do you see as the most important issues for the City Council this upcoming year?
To me, I very much want to be a consensus team player. I want to find out what the Council wants to do as a whole and facilitate that happening. There are a lot of great ideas coming from myself and the other members. There’s the plaza, which I think is an important element in making the Town Center a vibrant and healthy downtown. There’s the parks levy, which will impact the refining of our park system, fields and natural environment — you know — so invasives don’t take over. It’s important we do that. Finally, we have Luther Burbank.
The Council is also looking at the [sewer] lake line. That’s the one we are all focusing on. It could carry a price tag twice that of our community center. It’s complicated and we have staff working on it. But we’re kind of left at the whims of the construction world. I’d also like to see the Island work on real sustainability issues and be a regional leader as good custodians of our environment.
There also seems to be a growing interest in creating some affordable or workforce housing on Mercer Island. Is that something the Council will deal with this year?
Affordable housing is an issue that will never go away. Councils always aspire to do something like that. We know that to live and build on the Island is expensive, so we must be creative. The price tag is so high that it’s difficult. But we’re not different than other Eastside communities. We all struggle with this and look at alternative types of residences.
What are some of the things you and your family like to do?
We travel quite a bit around the world. Charlotte is a voracious reader and loves to go biking. My wife loves the arts and the classics. I tend to be the hiker and the rower. I was rowing a lot at Mount Baker [Crew] in Seattle. I rowed in Nationals two years ago in Green Lake. I’ve rowed during Opening Day through the Mountlake Cut. I am addicted to it. It’s the ultimate team sport.
Can you tell me your family history with the Island?
I am a fourth-generation Seattleite on my mom’s side. My great-uncle was mayor of Seattle during the Great Depression, and many of my uncles were judges. I was born in Seattle in 1959 and lived in Leschi. We then moved to the Island, and I started at Lakeridge Elementary. I graduated from MIHS in 1976. Now I am living in the house that I grew up in. My father built it in 1969, and after my mom and dad passed away, I bought it from the estate. We moved in 2001. I was married in Hungary in 1985, and we bought our first house on the Island in 1987.
What are some of your family’s Island favorites?
I am in Pioneer Park everyday. It’s my soul, my grounding. I call it the Zen in the art of dog walking. I’m out there with my cup of tea and do my loop in the woods there. My wife adores Alpenland. She just loves it with her European background and what they have to offer. My daughter Charlotte is addicted to the teriyaki restaurants, and I am absolutely drawn to what Bennett’s and Cellar 46 have done. What I love about this place is that everybody knows everybody. There is an incredible identity to living on this Island.
You are also an Eagle Scout. What did you do for your project?
I was organizing young people to spend time with the frail and elderly at a [senior] center. I was president of my class, so I was doing a lot with the high school. I raised money for bike racks at the middle school, which back then was South Mercer Elementary. I was also a counselor at Camp Parsons. I ran the beaches for nine weeks for two summers out there.