Judge Wayne Stewart and Mayor Benson Wong were virtually surrounded by their families as the Mercer Island City Council honored the men for their copious years of service at council’s Dec. 7 video meeting.
Wong noted that Stewart — the Island’s Municipal Court judge who retired this year — served his 39 years with the city with distinction, integrity and consummate professionalism.
Stewart began his Island career as a legal intern on June 9, 1982, and rose to the position of prosecutor on Oct. 10, 1983. After serving in such roles as assistant attorney, civil and prosecuting attorney and interim director of maintenance, Stewart was appointed judge on Feb. 2, 2004, holding that position for the last 17 years.
Now that he’s retired, Stewart said that he’ll spend time exploring the many rivers in Washington.
“When I left the city attorney’s office, I left a voicemail that basically said, ‘It’s been a great ride’ over the years I spent in that office. It’s also been a great ride over here in this section of the city as a municipal court judge for the city of Mercer Island as well as the city of Newcastle,” Stewart said at the meeting after council passed a resolution of appreciation.
Jeff Gregory will replace Stewart for a four-year term, effective Jan. 1, 2022, through Dec. 31, 2025. Gregory has been a practicing attorney for almost 20 years, primarily focusing on criminal law, and he has also worked as a prosecutor, public defender and judge pro tem for Mercer Island and other jurisdictions over the past six years, according to the city.
WONG COMPLETES COUNCIL SERVICE
“Good evening, Mr. Mayor. It’s the last time I’ll be saying this to you,” said City Manager Jessi Bon with a smile at the start of the Dec. 7 meeting.
Wong said he had mixed feelings about moving on from council after nearly eight years, first as a councilmember from 2014-2019 and the last two years as mayor during the pandemic.
While reading a resolution of appreciation for Wong, Deputy Mayor Wendy Weiker noted that the outgoing mayor will be long remembered for his unwavering dedication to ending discrimination and promoting diversity, inclusion, his joy in celebrating grassroots community efforts and events and fulfilling his mayoral duties with passion and grace.
During his tenure, council met 274 times, adopted 186 ordinances and 132 resolutions and prepared more than 1,000 agenda bills. Among his many achievements were establishing a full-time sustainability analyst and sustainability program; adoption of the solid waste contract with Recology; and creation of the Parks and Recreation Commission. He was also a liaison and board member for a multitude of local and regional committees.
“You have been a mentor and a friend and a leader for me and this community for all these many years and I thank you for your service and your grace, and especially in the last two years as mayor,” Weiker said. “You stepped into that role with such history and knowledge and background, and then you had to figure out how to lead us through a pandemic and do all of this virtually.”
Wong said he was touched by the kind words from council and Bon and added: “During my eight years on the city council, it’s been a privilege and an honor to work for the entire Island on issues that matter to its residents.”
According to the city, the position of mayor is decided by a vote of the city council, where councilmembers elect amongst themselves who will serve as mayor and deputy mayor. The new mayor will be decided at council’s next meeting on Jan. 4, 2022.