Love & Wisdom

Seattle’s Most Influential People of 2015

These game changers each make their mark while reshaping our city

By Edited by Lisa Wogan and Linda Morgan October 7, 2015


This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Seattle magazine.

We get that Seattle leads the pack when it comes to talent, technology and smarts. The influx of power players and sheer brainiacs into our town has helped transform it into the soaring metropolis it is today. Of course, with growth and development come big-city problems: traffic, parking, housing…the list goes on. That’s where our lineup of luminaries comes into the picture. Many members of this carefully curated collection are finding innovative solutions to new complexities. Others share their savvy and skills in science, sports and the arts—promising to elevate Seattle to even greater heights.

The New Seattleite
Artwork of man playing instrument while walking towards Seattle

You see them around town—those self-described geeks with the blue badges in their convertible Mini Coopers, adding to the Mercer Mess, with a yellow Lab named Jeff Bezos riding shotgun. You’ve seen them in Bellevue, dropping their supersmart kids off at preschool. We’re talking about the newcomer, our Most Influential Person of 2015, who is changing Seattle in ways that are big and small, good and bad, if not badass.

Not that these predominantly male, data-mining software engineers from California, Texas and India are powerful individually. It’s just that there are so many of them. Hard to say exactly how many, but to put it in perspective, a record 64,376 newcomers applied for driver’s licenses in King County in 2014, and 2015 will probably bust that record, according to the state Department of Licensing. The city of Seattle grew by more than 5 percent between 2010 and 2014, outpacing the rest of King County for the first time in decades, according to the county Office of Financial Management.

Media coverage has focused mainly on negative impacts: soul-sucking traffic, runaway rents and scarily fierce competition for half-million-dollar, 900-square-foot condos. What isn’t often reported: This infusion of talent and dollars is funding schools, small businesses and transportation options. The injection of demand is kick-starting the retirements of the old guard in neighborhoods the newcomers fancy, including South Lake Union, Capitol Hill, Ballard and West Bellevue. And that giggling you’ve been hearing? Those are apartment developers. With the City of Seattle figuring that 30 percent of residents are now young adults ages 25–34, and its planning department predicting there will be 120,000 more people in Seattle over the next 20 years, there’s a push to build fast.

And hey, ladies, have you noticed it’s raining men? According to U.S. Census data collected between 2011 and 2013, our local “computing, engineering and science” labor force is 78.6 percent male. And for those who have been unemployed since the Great Recession: Did you know there are tens of thousands of jobs listed on LinkedIn in greater Seattle? Apparently, every Amazon position creates almost three other jobs—such as in doggy day care, as a Mini Cooper salesperson and as cook on a grilled-cheese food truck.

So where does this leave us? We salute and honor you, newcomer, on whose shoulders we have risen far above the “Will the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights?” era of the 1970s. And yet, for those of us who remember when the bumper sticker “Visualize Ballard” was a joke, there is a sense of loss. Some of us yearn for a Seattle that was weird and pleasantly gloomy, before global warming and high-tech corporations made everything so darned sunny. The question is, how many more responsible, math- and science-career-oriented newcomers can the city sustain before its soul heads south for Portland?–Jenny Cunningham

Nurturing Knowledge
Brad Smith, president and chief legal officer, Microsoft


This stalwart Microsoft executive has been a regional force since joining the company in 1993, and increasingly, a global one since rising to the position of general counsel in 2002, and then president and chief legal officer in September.

Smith brings some of that impact home by helping lead Microsoft’s funding of a new partnership between the University of Washington and China’s Tsinghua University. Microsoft dollars will go toward the creation of the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX), a graduate academic institute focused on technology innovation. Students will begin classes in the fall of 2016. The $40 million initiative will attract top technical talent and research dollars to Bellevue’s new Spring District development—a 16-block, mixed-use urban neighborhood under development at the intersection of State Route 520 and Interstate 405. Education has long been one of Smith’s concerns, motivating his behind-closed-doors negotiations with state lawmakers earlier this year in which Microsoft agreed to forgo $57 million in tax breaks in exchange for increased state funding of education. Smith also aims to increase diversity in Microsoft’s legal department, offering $15 million in bonuses to certain law firms that it hires. The extra money is earmarked for firms that bring more minorities into their upper ranks. —Gianni Truzzi


Game Changer
Ana Mari Cauce, Interim President, University of Washington


Ana Mari Cauce, 
Interim President, 
University of Washington

University of Washington interim president Ana Mari Cauce has a strong following among UW staff and faculty, thanks to her skillful management, first as dean of the UW’s College of Arts and Sciences, and later as provost. Cauce took on the job after previous UW president Michael Young left abruptly last February.

Cauce, who has also been instrumental in such initiatives as the Husky Promise, which guarantees full tuition for qualified low-income students, and the push to make innovation a more central part of the student experience, won over many in the community when she launched an initiative to combat racism and homophobia in April. “We may not be able to solve racial inequity,” she said in a speech that referred to her own experiences as a gay Latina, “but we’ve got to begin by not being part of the problem.”

In June, she presided over the launch of the Global Innovation Exchange (GIX), a joint venture with Tsinghua University, China’s equivalent to MIT (see previous page). The institute will offer a project-based curriculum leading to a master’s degree in technology innovation, filling an important need for more tech talent. —Leslie Helm

Leading the Causes
Paul Allen, Benefactor

You’d be hard-pressed to name an aspect of Seattle that Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen hasn’t influenced, whether it’s the arts (he owns the newly revitalized Cinerama and founded EMP Museum), real estate (his company Vulcan Real Estate has reshaped South Lake Union) or sports (he owns the Seahawks and is a part-owner of the Sounders Major League Soccer team). Since he made a pact with Bill Gates to donate the bulk of his wealth in 2010, the philanthropy-minded former techie has made serious commitments to scientific research.

His latest enterprise? Donating $100 million over a period of years to launch the Allen Institute for Cell Science, complementing his Allen Institute for Brain Science, established in 2003. He’s building a site to house them both on his home turf in South Lake Union, creating a miniature empire of scientific study in the Pacific Northwest. The Institute for Cell Science’s first goal is to research the way stem cells transform into other cell types, such as those that comprise muscle or skin. Allen isn’t simply accumulating research institutes, however; the avid art collector coproduced the first-ever Seattle Art Fair this summer, a four-day affair showcasing more than $250 million worth of contemporary art from icons such as Seattleite Buster Simpson and Japanese visual artist Tabaimo. While we can’t know how successful these art and research ventures will be, we can count on Paul Allen to keep investing in innovative, game-changing projects. —Niki Stojnic

Public Defender
Jim Ritter, Seattle Police Department


Jim Ritter, a Seattle Police Department officer, is trying to show Seattle’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ) community that the city is on its side. A member of the gay community himself, Ritter was appointed last fall as the SPD’s first LGBTQ liaison. He hoped to address what he calls the “alarming lack of reporting of anti-LGBTQ crimes” by the victims. To that end, last May he created the Safe Place initiative, which sets up a citywide network of businesses and nonprofits committed to protecting LGBTQ individuals. Local managers and store owners register on the website and receive a 4-by-6-inch, rainbow-striped sticker—it’s shaped like a police badge—which Ritter installs on a street-facing window. Hundreds of local businesses and organizations have signed up for the program, and, in several reported cases, endangered Seattleites have found refuge inside Safe Place venues. To critics, some of whom are calling the program a PR stunt, Ritter says he is “ensuring that the members of Seattle’s LGBTQ community are respected by my [fellow police officers], and are able to walk Seattle’s streets without fear of being victimized. —Ryan Kindel

Satellite Imagery
Local Artists 
Bring it Home

From left: Kirsten Anderson, Sierra Stinson, Sharon Arnold and Greg Lundgren 

When word of the Vulcan-sponsored Seattle Art Fair went public, some local artists felt left out by its emphasis on New York and LA galleries. Accordingly, art instigator Greg Lundgren conceived of a satellite art exhibit, running concurrently and focused entirely on local artists. Working with local curators Kirsten Anderson, Sharon Arnold and Sierra Stinson, Lundgren launched Out of Sight, featuring work by more than 100 visual artists, hung in a beautifully raw 24,000-square-foot space at King Street Station. The show not only proved that Seattle artists easily hold their own with a national audience, it also invigorated the local art community in a way that promises a thrilling future. —Brangien Davis

Voice Activator
Ijeoma Oluo, Writer, Speaker


Whether defending the disruption of Bernie Sanders by Black Lives Matter activists, questioning the enormous social outrage over the killing of Cecil the Lion (versus the comparative acceptance of black men killed by police) or creating a “Badass Feminist Coloring Book” (, Ijeoma Oluo has emerged as one of Seattle’s strongest voices for social justice. As a local writer, public speaker and self-proclaimed “Internet yeller” on racial, sexual, economic and gender issues, Oluo has provoked conversation, opened eyes and attracted a Twitter following (@ijeomaoluo) of nearly 19,000. Best of all, she gets her message across with incisive wit, remarkable humor and an appropriate magnitude of rage. —B.D.


Hanna Brooks Olsen, Sarah Anne Lloyd and Alex Hudson, Founders, Seattlish

From L-R: Alex Hudson, Sarah Anne Lloyd and Hanna Brooks Olsen

The year was 2013. The brain trust of the International Communist Conspiracy looked upon Seattle, its foothold in North America, with concern. Yes, City Council member Kshama Sawant and news weekly The Stranger were playing their roles. But something was missing: a blog sympathetic to its cause, written with sarcastic humor and intelligence, instead of pious anger and solemnity. As luck would have it, three self-described “mouthy broads” were preparing to launch just such an effort. Hanna Brooks Olsen, Sarah Anne Lloyd and Alex Hudson were fresh out of work following the closure of Seattlest, the local branch of national blog network Gothamist. Not content to go down the road of public relations gigs and plasma donations, like so many other spurned reporters, they kept plugging away, offering their opinions to the world without the paycheck. Today, their creation, Seattlish, is a must-read for fans of local politics and civic life, provided those readers aren’t in the market for nuance, or anything but mockery of views outside the hard left of the political spectrum. For some, the blog is a symptom of an increasingly abrasive political culture. But for those who find Seattle’s mainstream liberals a bit too self-satisfied, Seattlish is part of the antidote. —Drew Atkins

River Queens
Sarah Kavage and 
Nicole Kistler

Artists Sarah Kavage (at left, in mirror) and Nicole Kistler

In a city that loves its bodies of water, the Duwamish River gets no respect. We tend to forget it’s Seattle’s only river, or think of it only as a Superfund site, best left to the cleanup crews. But that all changed this past summer, when local artists Sarah Kavage and Nicole Kistler gave the Duwamish its due with a months-long arts and culture celebration of the river’s history, present and future. Spanning four months and both banks of the river from Alki to South Park, Duwamish Revealed featured about two dozen art installations, 15 performance art groups and three cultural celebrations—all curated and coordinated by Kavage and Kistler, whose work brought the river a new prominence in the local landscape. —B.D.

 Package Deal

We’ve always been a company town, but these days it’s Amazon—not Boeing or Microsoft—that rules our roost. The online retail giant founded by Jeff Bezos continues to draw top talent to the city, with most of its 24,000 Washington employees (out of 183,100 worldwide) at its Seattle headquarters. The company has helped transform South Lake Union, which hosts most of its 10 million square feet of office space currently leased, owned or in development. By 2019, its offices in the Ama-Zone will accommodate a projected 71,500 Seattle workers. Such rapid growth and affluence, while welcome, will certainly add to the stresses of congestion and steep rent hikes. And it remains to be seen if Amazon—notorious for its lack of hometown philanthropy—will loosen its purse strings anytime soon. As news reports reveal, the company’s punishing work culture of unrelenting hours and cutthroat competition sets a new bar for workplace intensity in the tech industry. Now celebrating its 20th year, Amazon has an influence on Seattle that is undeniable. —G.T.

Research Ringleader
Leen Kawas, CEO, M3 Biotechnology


Leen Kawas might seem a little young to be talking about Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. But that’s just what the 30-year-old cofounder, president and chief executive officer of the four-year-old Seattle start-up M3 Biotechnology is doing, leading her company’s development of a new drug that might treat those diseases. She’s currently engaged in an effort to raise capital that would enable the company to launch the promising drug’s first human trials next year. For the native of Jordan, who earned her doctorate in molecular pharmacology at Washington State University, the study of neurodegenerative diseases is personal—her mother had such a disease when she died. Kawas was honored last summer as a “Woman to Watch” in the life sciences by the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical Association, for her entrepreneurship and mentorship of women in science and business. She’s particularly outspoken about biotech funding as a means to keep talent in Washington state. Last May, after joining Governor Jay Inslee’s panel of health care and science CEOs, she noted that $750,000 from the state-supported Life Sciences Discovery Fund kept her up-and-coming company from being wooed away to San Diego. —Sally James

Block Party
City Council District Restructure

For years, Seattle activists pushed to create a more responsive City Council by forcing most members to represent a particular district, rather than the city as a whole. This year’s council elections are the result. 

But are neighborhood interests getting the shake-up they desired? Longtime council mainstays such as Tom Rasmussen and Sally Clark retired rather than face reelection campaigns. New faces, many younger, are on their way to City Hall. However, the survivors of the primaries were almost exclusively incumbents and top fundraisers: same as usual. Voter turnout was mediocre. The price of campaigns remains high, and downtown-based interests still exercise plenty of muscle. The city’s power dynamics have changed, but it remains to be seen exactly how. —D.A.

The Trailblazer
David Brewster, Civic Activist, Librarian


Seattle has had its share of city shapers: Pioneer Henry Yesler erected the first buildings for public meetings in Seattle. Eddie Carlson brought us the World’s Fair and Seattle Center. Jim Ellis spearheaded the cleanup of Lake Washington and ushered in Metro for regional transit. One thing they had in common was a civic irrepressibility—multiple projects and persistence in building a stronger community. In that light, consider the contributions of the 76-year-young David Brewster, a Seattle institution who has been encouraging sophisticated conversation among Seattle citizens for decades. The founder of Seattle Weekly, creator of civic event space Town Hall and originator of the news website Crosscut has no intention of slowing down. 

When he wanted to raise our sophistication about food, he launched “A Gourmet’s Notebook” and the Best Places book series in the ’70s, featuring critical reviews of restaurants. They goosed the foodie scene to life. He thought we needed a newspaper with in-depth arts, political and food coverage, so Seattle Weekly was born. He launched Sasquatch Books because Seattle needed a locally owned, independent book publisher, and it thrives today. In the early ’80s, he launched the legendary Mark Tobey Pub in Post Alley as a writers’ hangout. It failed financially, but literary haunts now abound, fueled by microbrews and artisanal spirits. 

His latest venture: a membership library in the downtown YMCA called Folio: The Seattle Athenaeum. Call it Brewster’s Ark for books and book lovers. While some other influencers have focused on infrastructure, Brewster’s target is civic life—not Seattle’s body as much as its mind and spirit. Based on his past projects, there’s little doubt Brewster will continue the discussion for years to come. —Knute Berger

Benefits Package
Dorothy Teeter, Director, Washington State Health Care Authority

In the deeply flawed world of American health care, seemingly commonsense proposals often die quick deaths. It’s for that reason that any movement to drive up quality or drive down costs is worthy of a celebration. Dorothy Teeter, director of the Washington State Health Care Authority (HCA), and her staff therefore deserve a ticker tape parade for their work over the past year.

Teeter’s organization manages benefits for the state’s public workers, a massive pool that lends its leverage to create systemic changes in Washington’s health care ecosystem. In the past year, HCA has advanced proposals to stem the seemingly ceiling-free increase of health care costs. These include efforts to link payment for care to quality and outcomes, as opposed to simple fees for procedures. HCA is also endeavoring to integrate mental and physical health services, and to increase focus and funding for preventive care. —D.A.

Clearing the Air
Janet Freeman-Daily, Survivor, Social Media Maven


Thousands of people talk to Janet Freeman-Daily about their health—yet she’s not a doctor or a nurse. The Federal Way resident is a retired Boeing aerospace engineer who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2011 and shares, via her blog, Gray Connections, what it’s been like living with the disease. An estimated 36,000 people from 131 countries have followed that blog. She also helps others connect through a weekly Twitter chat, #lcsm (Lung Cancer Social Media), which has had more than 16,000 participants since its founding in 2013. In a way, she’s returning a favor; social media is where she turned, combing through research, when chemotherapy and radiation failed to halt her disease. She blogs about the high cost of new cancer therapies, and about what patients call “scanxiety”—that’s when they must repeatedly get images that could spell a new crisis. She rages against the stigma lung cancer carries (people assume patients must have smoked), quipping that she’s never smoked anything but a salmon. The national nonprofit fundraiser LUNGevity Foundation named her a hero in July for her translation of what they dubbed “the experience and science of lung cancer.” So far, cutting-edge treatment has kept her cancer at bay, which enables her to keep busy…so busy that her husband reminds her, as she says, “that I’m a cancer patient” and needs her sleep. “I don’t have an expiration date anywhere on my body,” she says. —S.J.

Sick Leave
Christopher Murray, Director, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation


Exactly who is getting sick, who is leading a shorter life, and why? The ability to fully answer these questions would spark a revolution in human wellness. This endeavor—as ambitious as any scientific project before it—is being led by Christopher Murray, M.D., and his team at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). 

Launched in 2007 at the University of Washington with a $105 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IHME gathers a prolific amount of data about global health conditions. Its researchers track disease trends in the Third World, as well as heavy drinking in individual American counties. Very little escapes its focus, and in the emerging age of big data, IHME is expanding humankind’s understanding of health in a pivotal way. Murray’s work has sparked national health care reform in countries such as Mexico, and is transforming how institutions dedicate their resources to health on a global level. —D.A.

The Makeover Team
Downtown groups change the face of public spaces


The first spark of change in Westlake Park was a gleaming gated playground. That appeared in 2012—a startling sight in the central downtown civic space, known more for drug dealing and homeless camping, and punctuated by the occasional political rally. Then came the blue and yellow café tables, reminiscent of an Ikea catalog; spots to play table tennis or toss a beanbag; and yoga classes and concerts.

A similar transformation was happening in Pioneer Square’s Occidental Park. It’s all thanks to the vision of two private groups: the Downtown Seattle Association, headed up by Jon Scholes, and the Metropolitan Improvement District, led by Joshua Curtis. When Mayor Ed Murray turned the management of the two parks over to these organizations last June, many questioned the decision, wondering whether Seattle public spaces should be managed by private groups. But the partnership has worked wonders to make the parks usable for all. It’s been a large-scale team effort: Scholes and Curtis worked with Seattle Parks and Recreation’s deputy superintendent Christopher Williams and center city parks initiative manager Victoria Schoenburg, who has long pushed for park activation and cleanup, along with Seattle Parks Foundation, Alliance for Pioneer Square and Friends of Waterfront Seattle. They invested $665,000 in private funds to activate the parks. Even Tim Harris, founder of the progressive weekly Real Change, who had expressed worry that the plan would push the homeless out, was impressed, likening the result to “the peaceable kingdom.” Other parks, such as Victor Steinbrueck Park, may be up for consideration in the future. —N.S.

The Creative Thinker
Tom Kundig, Olson Kundig Architects


When the owners of studhorse (the Methow Valley home that recently won an AIA Housing Award for Architecture and was featured on the October cover of this magazine) were brainstorming designs for an outdoor movie area, they expected their architect, Tom Kundig, to present a traditional blank-wall-and-projector setup. Instead, Kundig reinvented the outdoor viewing experience of their new vacation home by mounting an oversize flat-screen TV on the inside of the media room and installing a cremone bolt that allows the interior wall—TV and all—to swing 90 degrees out to the covered courtyard. The installation, one of a number of creative design approaches incorporated into the Winthrop-area residence, underscores exactly why the Olson Kundig principal and owner is emerging as one of the most intriguing designers in the city. He’s making his mark throughout the area with projects such as the University of Washington’s new Burke Museum (breaking ground in 2016), Charles Smith’s Jet City urban winery in Georgetown (featuring a floor-to-ceiling glass facade) and, with a firm that’s part of the International Sustainability Institute’s Alley Corridor Project in Pioneer Square, revitalizing and activating alleys throughout the neighborhood. —Sheila Cain

Thought Leader 
Danny Westneat, Seattle Times columnist


The newspaper columnist who actually affects public process and civic discourse is a vanishing breed. Some people in power no doubt wish Danny Westneat would join the vanishing.

Westneat, a perceptive reporter and eloquent essayist, writes a twice-weekly metro column in The Seattle Times that produces results. Whether it’s persuading the Seattle Police Department to rethink its property-crime procedures (after discussing his own family’s frustration at being victimized by a car prowler) or getting Seattle’s mayor to backpedal on a suggested change to single-family zoning in the city (after getting wind of the proposal and writing about it), Westneat has a knack for sensing a good story and needling people in power with a healthy measure of levelheaded attitude. “Many people go into journalism because they want to make a difference,” says Times editor Kathy Best. “Danny Westneat is a journalist who actually does make a difference. Because he is a terrific reporter, he digs up facts about important issues that elected leaders would rather keep quiet. Because he is a gifted writer, he weaves that information into stories that make us stop, think and see the world a little more clearly than we did before.” —John Levesque

Poise in the Boat
Michael Callahan, UW Men’s Rowing Coach

Michael Callahan has led the UW men’s rowing team to six national championships; photo by Hayley Young

The University of Washington’s campus was a blur of purple and gold the first time Michael Callahan walked to the banks of Montlake Cut 25 years ago. The then-17-year-old, on a rowing recruiting trip to the UW, watched a group of UW students sing a jubilant version of “Bow Down to Washington” as they jumped headfirst into the chilly waters.

“It was not only my first introduction to a UW rowing team, but the first time in my life that I truly felt at home,” says Callahan, now the UW men’s head rowing coach. In his eight-year tenure, Callahan has brought home six Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championships. Last May, he became the first coach since the organization was founded in 1895 to win five titles in a row, reaffirming a legacy and a style of coaching that not even the past dynasties of Cornell, the University of California at Berkeley, or even the UW’s famed The Boys in the Boat teams achieved. The secret is to “live by a theme that excellence is fluid, whether that is achieving your best GPA, being a better family person, team player or friend,” Callahan says. “Bring 100 percent, be genuine to yourself and keep that Husky spirit.” –Patrick Knowles

Brace for the Cure
Gary GilliLand, President and Director, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Photo: Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Gary Gilliland, M.D., Ph.D., is not afraid to make bold predictions: “It is actually plausible that in 10 years we will have cures and therapies for most, if not all, human cancer,” he said last June.

This is the first year Gilliland has served as president at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and he takes the reins at a turning point for the organization. Outside of universities, the institute is the largest recipient of federal medical research grants in the nation, through the National Institutes of Health. But this source of funding is on shakier ground these days, as Congress continues to engage in budget standoffs, and often demonstrates only lip service to properly funding scientific research. Gilliland plans to adapt with a greater focus on involving commercial investors in the process, moving research from lab to market, and into commercial spinoffs, such as Juno Therapeutics, which emerged from the Hutch’s research and currently has a market cap of $4 billion. With Gilliland at the helm, the region’s premier cancer research institution is entering a brave new era. —D.A.

Remembering ‘E Flo’
Elson Floyd, President, Washington State University

The late Elson S. Floyd; Photo: Robert Hubner / wsu

How does one capture the worth of a man—particularly a great one—after he’s passed? Many have wrestled with this question since Elson S. Floyd, the president of Washington State University, died this past June at the age of 59 of complications from colon cancer.

To illuminate what he meant to the school and the region, some have cited his professional accomplishments: WSU went through major growth under his leadership, including record enrollment at the university, a near doubling in the number of students of color and tremendous growth in annual research expenditures. Perhaps most notably, WSU won bipartisan support in the Washington State Legislature to create its own, separately accredited medical school at WSU Health Sciences Spokane.

Accomplishments aside, perhaps the most fitting tribute to Floyd’s influence will come from WSU students, known also as “Cougs.” Floyd understood that the best schools are the ones truly dedicated to improving the lives of their students, and that staff is only an instrument toward this end. Floyd was close with his Cougs—offering them his personal phone number for concerns, memorizing their names, sitting with them at sporting events—and they loved “E Flo” right back. —D.A.

Peaceful Protesters
Women of Color for Systemic Change

When George Zimmerman was acquitted in July 2013 in the Florida shooting death of African-American teen Trayvon Martin, it touched nerves nationwide. It kicked off the Black Lives Matter movement and started a debate about police accountability that is even stronger today than it was two years ago. Seattle group Women of Color for Systemic Change has taken on police accountability issues here at home by staging peaceful protests and encouraging productive dialogue. Group founders Aretha Basu, Zemzem Ahmed, Jazmine Cañez and Harmony Wright, all in their 20s, may be recognized as the leaders of the Black Lives Matter crusade here in Seattle—although they were not part of the group that protested against presidential candidate Bernie Sanders last August.

These women believe the energy propelling the movement comes from the masses. “Black Lives Matter finds strength in being a decentralized movement that calls for a bigger umbrella, so that multiple organizations can work across all of spectrums in our communities,” says Basu.

They have followed this open ideology, and, in turn, Women of Color for Systemic Change has helped to organize dozens of protests, through social media and word-of-mouth buzz, to address black transgender issues, reconstruction of the youth jail system in Seattle, the recent Seattle Schools teacher strike and police accountability.

The tight-knit group has a knack for opening dialogue among the generations in the city that evokes both the sentiment and memory of civil rights advocates like Seattle’s Gang of Four. When asked where they find hope in the movement, the founders of the group stay true to the fundamental pillar of Black Lives Matter and answer in unison: “Each other.” —P.K.

The Home Team
City of Seattle Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda Committee

For months, this 28-member committee met to brainstorm new housing strategies aimed at keeping Seattle affordable to middle- and low-income individuals as the city undergoes unprecedented growth. When the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) committee released its recommendations in July, Mayor Ed Murray endorsed them wholeheartedly. Pointedly, this included a proposal to allow more density in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes. Within weeks, angry single-family homeowners—not eager to welcome new condos and apartments on their blocks—had skewered this suggestion. Murray and City Council members distanced themselves at whiplash speeds.

Regardless of the near-immediate failure of its most controversial proposal, HALA made 65 recommendations, many of which will reshape the city in the years ahead. Will HALA end “an almost two-decade war about how we move forward on affordable housing,” as Murray said he hoped? Nope, and his swift retreat will undoubtedly diminish his credibility for future efforts. But beyond its recommendations, HALA is energizing the citywide conversation about housing and putting important questions in stark contrast. Without attaching tough affordability requirements to new development, how much is new density simply a sweetheart deal for developers?  How much sway do neighborhoods have in shaping their growth? As Seattle undergoes colossal changes, HALA is establishing a new playing field for these issues. —D.A.

Ahead of the Curve
Ryan Meeks, Pastor, EastLake Community Church

Pastor Ryan Meeks is opening the doors to diversity; photo: Chustine Minoda
In June, when the supreme court announced its ruling guaranteeing same-sex couples the right to marry in all 50 states, conservative grumbling was largely drowned out by the jubilant cheers of newly enfranchised LGBTQ Americans. But now, the loudest, clearest voices are those of the political and religious right who oppose the decision.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, however, one religious leader is letting love lead the way. His name is Ryan Meeks, and he’s a pastor at EastLake Community Church. It would be easy to assume that EastLake, like many of the evangelical Christian congregations nationwide, disapproves of same-sex unions. But in an impassioned January 2015 sermon, Meeks announced that he was making it an official EastLake policy to serve and accept its LGBTQ congregants. “I refuse to go to a church where my friends who are gay are excluded from communion or a marriage covenant or the beauty of Christian community,” Meeks told Time magazine for a cover story earlier this year. —Evan Webeck and R.K.

The Tracker
Brian Ferris, OneBusAway Creator and Google Transit Engineer
It started with a school project. In 2008, while Brian Ferris was a Ph.D. student at the University of Washington, he released his OneBusAway (OBA) app, which used real-time mapping to tell users exactly when a bus would arrive.

The app’s approachable interface obscured the wizardry that had been involved in making it work. Ferris had designed a system that would sift through an enormous constellation of tracking data—and spit out a bus schedule, curated according to where and at what time the app was being used. OBA spread quickly; by 2011, Puget Sound–area commuters were using the app 50,000 times every week. In 2013, the project began expanding to other metropolitan areas: Atlanta, Tampa, New York City. In 2011, Ferris left OBA for Google Transit, a division of Google Maps devoted to tracking buses and trains. As an engineer at Google Transit, he has helped bring real-time transit information to hundreds of participating cities, across six continents. Kari Watkins, who collaborated with Ferris on the original project and now oversees OneBusAway’s Atlanta branch, credits Ferris with making life easier for transit riders worldwide—one bus at a time. —R.K.

Cracking the Code
Hadi and Ali Partovi, Founders,

Brothers Hadi (left) and Ali Partovi are opening the doors to the coding world; photo: courtesy of
Want to learn how to code? Seems boring. What if the lessons taught you how to make games like Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies? I’m listening.

And what if you could learn from tech superstars like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg? Heck yeah! That’s the kind of excitement that Hadi and Ali Partovi hoped to generate when they founded, an online coding school, in 2013. The website features fun and engaging video tutorials (some of which are, yes, hosted by Zuckerberg and Gates) aimed at women and students of color. These populations are sorely underrepresented in the tech industry. At Facebook, just 1 percent of tech employees are black, and 3 percent are Latino. Microsoft’s numbers are similar. Women comprise 16 percent of Facebook’s employees and 16.7 percent of Microsoft’s employees. With, the Partovi brothers are hoping to improve these numbers. Although is focused on spreading computer science to the tech minorities, its classes are available to anyone. —E.W. and R.K.

Getting to Happy
Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments

Gravity Payment’s Dan Price upped his employees’ salaries; photo by Hayley Young
In an attempt to raise the happiness bar in the workplace, Gravity Payments’ CEO Dan Price, 31, decided last April to increase the salary of his 120 employees to a minimum of $70,000 over three years.

Price implemented this decision after he read a Princeton University article reporting that people making $75,000 a year were happier and more productive. How can Price meet this…price? By slashing his own $1 million salary more than 90 percent and dipping into the company’s anticipated annual profits of $2 million. He’s calling it the “moral imperative.” But critics claimed the salary increase was either a political statement or a publicity stunt. The Seattle-based credit-card-processing firm lost several clients, as well as two valued employees. Then, Price’s older brother, Gravity cofounder Lucas Price, sued Dan, claiming he’d violated Lucas’ rights as a minority shareholder. But Dan Price stands by his decision and hopes to inspire other companies to follow in his footsteps. —Jennifer Meyers

Leaning In
Jonathan Sposato, Angel Investor and Seattle Entrepreneur

Jonathan Sposato, shown here at his home, wants to see more women  working in tech; photo by Chustine Minoda
Seattle entrepreneur and angel investor Jonathan Sposato is best known as being the chair of GeekWire, the CEO of PicMonkey, and for selling startups Phatbits and Picnik to Google.

These days, he’s making his mark in another arena: helping women succeed in the male-dominated tech world. At the Seattle Angel Conference last May, Sposato announced he would invest only in companies that have at least one female founder. Why? Women-founded companies can be “just as good [as male-founded companies] and in many cases, better,” he says. For investors, gender-balanced teams lower the risk of financial or consumer loss, says Sposato. Critics, however, are calling Sposato sexist or a PR opportunist. “I think the naysayers are genuinely confused about how deeply institutionalized some of these problems are; otherwise, they wouldn’t dismiss this as feminist sexism,” Sposato says. Since 2011, he has invested in female-founded companies such as PokitDok, Glamhive and GiftStarter, with more prospective startups in the works. —J.M.

Reinventing Real Estate
Redfin’s Glenn Kelman and Zillow’s Spencer Rascoff

Rascoff (left) and Kelman (right); Photos by Hayley Young

Call them the bad boys of real estate, disrupters destined to shake up the status quo. Glenn Kelman, CEO of Redfin, and Spencer Rascoff, CEO of Zillow Group, have reinvented real estate as we know it and, in the process, have become two of the hottest and most successful young business leaders in the country. While both online real estate companies have developed search portals to view real estate information, Redfin also operates as an online brokerage.

Under Kelman’s leadership, Redfin—which reports annual revenues of more than $100 million—offers what he has described as a “radically different way” to buy or sell homes. The company employs more than 1,000 real estate agents, counts 30,000 customers in 67 cities across the country and has closed $20 billion in home sales.

Rascoff, 40, wants his Seattle-based company, Zillow, to be synonymous with real estate, the same way Yelp is synonymous with local search and Amazon is with retail. Its online housing database offers maps, pictures, price estimates and agent listings. The CEO has even made it onto The New York Times best-seller list with his book, Zillow Talk: The New Rules of Real Estate. In February, Zillow closed its $2.5 billion acquisition of online real estate company Trulia, and now has 2,000 employees.

Rascoff showed his zanier side when he rang the opening bell at the Nasdaq last September. He closed out his East Coast visit by donning shiny, gold-colored “Hammer pants,” tweeting to Zillow employees that he wore the garb to fulfill a promise to them. —Karen West

Mission Possible
Sawhorse Revolution

Students made a model of a tiny house, built for the Nickelsville homeless community; Photo by Nate Watters
Last March, teens from Nova and Franklin high schools in Seattle could be seen cutting lumber and hammering nails to build a Nest, an 8-by-10-foot microhome that accommodates three. The simple, collapsible structure incorporates salvaged materials and features a slanted roof, loft bed and high windows for privacy and efficiency. With its modern design and charred wood siding, it looks like a hipster’s tiny house, but it’s actually one of several microhomes built by Sawhorse Revolution for the Nickelsville homeless community, on South Dearborn Street in Seattle’s International District, as part of its Impossible City project, begun in 2014.

Originally founded as a summer camp in 2010, Sawhorse Revolution is now a nonprofit carpentry program that teaches kids all around the city about building and design. High school students work together and with professionals to complete projects for the community. Earlier this year, the Sawhorse team raised funds exceeding its $32,205 goal, via Indiegogo, an international crowdfunding website. That money is to fund six new projects now in the works. With Mayor Ed Murray’s summer announcement of new homeless encampment sites, Sawhorse is considering designs for outdoor cooking spots, solar power centers and composting latrines. —Madeline Lootens

Paddle Power
The Kayaktivists

Kayaktivists from the SHellNo! Action Council send a message to big oil; Charles Conatzer & the sHellNo! Action Council
More than 50 activists, including Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien, gathered in colorful kayaks and surrounded a Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig as it left Seattle’s port in June. It was a bold attempt to stop the ship from searching for oil reserves in Alaska—and led the Coast Guard to detain 24 protesters, O’Brien among them, for intruding into the safety zone around the rig. (The kayaktivists ultimately got their wish, as Shell announced in late September that it would halt offshore exploration efforts after failing to find enough oil.)

The last-minute demonstration followed a chain of protests against the company’s use of the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5 in West Seattle as a base of operations. The blockade attracted international media attention. It wasn’t the first time locals have taken to tiny boats to protest: In 2009, Vashon Island activists and artists organized a “mosquito fleet” of kayaks in an effort to prevent a company from mining on Maury Island. While the use of Terminal 5 is still up for debate, the powerful imagery of the “kayaktivists” reminds us of how citizens can mobilize to raise public awareness. —Lyra Fontaine

The Opening Act
Jennifer Tam, Restaurant Advocate, Office of Economic Development, City of Seattle

Jennifer Tam helps Seattle’s culinary newcomers; photo by Chustine Minoda
Opening a restaurant can be a challenge. That’s why Mayor Ed Murray launched an initiative called Restaurant Success ( in 2014 and hired 33-year-old Jennifer Tam to lead the charge. Tam, a former business case manager for the nonprofit Rainier Valley Community Development Fund, acts as a single point of contact for budding restaurateurs trying to navigate the 17 regulatory agencies involved in opening a Seattle restaurant. She’s their advocate, a culinary closer with a mind for business and a heart for people—and good food. Tam grew up on the Oregon coast helping her Chinese immigrant parents with their restaurant, which just celebrated its 40th year. Now, she fields calls on everything from permit assistance to marketing and licensing.

The program helped launch Seattle restaurants Super Six, which opened in Columbia City in September, and Hurry Curry of Tokyo, set to open in December in South Lake Union. Off the clock, Tam loves to eat at The Hangar Cafe in Georgetown and A Piece of Cake eatery/bakery in the Chinatown–International District. —J.Y.

Influential Act: Golf
Chambers Bay gives golf’s elite a memorable welcome

Photo: USGA
Raised eyebrows became a new fashion statement when the U.S. Golf Association announced in 2008 that it had picked Chambers Bay to be the site of the 2015 U.S. Open. The kind of historic cachet associated with U.S. Open courses doesn’t automatically attach to a public course that’s the same age as a second-grader.

But Chambers Bay, an abandoned sand and gravel quarry until as recently as a decade ago, made an impact that golfers, golf watchers and golf commentators will remember for some time. It wasn’t all positive. Bumpy greens—one professional golfer likened them to beds of broccoli—and a less than ideal spectator experience on the hilly links provided sufficient evidence that Chambers Bay has some homework to do. But all indications are that the U.S. Open will be back, possibly as soon as 2025, along with other USGA events, such as the U.S. Women’s Open. Meanwhile, the exposure Chambers Bay and the Puget Sound region received during the tournament, which culminated on Father’s Day, is the kind of PR people dream about. Chambers Bay visionary John Ladenburg, the former county executive of Pierce County, also dreamed big. “Nobody saw this,” he told “I had to break a few legs and twist a few arms.” As they say in sports: No pain, no gain. —J.L.

Street Smarts

Scott Kubly, SDOT Director

The average seattle commuter spends close to 63 hours per year stuck in traffic, says a recent study. That’s a staggering uptick from 35 hours in 2012—and the number is only growing. The director of Seattle’s Department of Transportation, Scott Kubly, hopes to help Seattleites move through the city in other ways, using buses, railways and bikes. So Kubly and Mayor Ed Murray proposed a levy last March to do just that. The levy, called Move Seattle, would fund safety measures such as improved signage and more clearly demarcated routes for bikes and pedestrians. It would also beef up the Metro system, bringing high-frequency bus access to three-fourths of the city’s residents. What it wouldn’t do: make life any easier for people who drive cars. It’s Kubly’s way of telling drivers that they’d better load up their Orca cards. The levy will be on the ballot this November. —R.K.

Iconic Updaters
Miller Hull, Architecture firm

The Miller Hull partnership
Architecture firm miller hull broke ground this year on historic Pike Place Market’s first new building in a decade, turning a well-worn parking lot on a hillside bordered by Victor Steinbrueck Park and Highway 99 into a mixed-use space that will add 47 day stalls for artists and farmers, a new brewery space, senior housing units, and room for social services and parking. Founding partner and lead architect David Miller and his design team had to ensure that the new construction would fit in with the Pike Place Market Historic District, as well as connect to landscape architect James Corner’s waterfront redevelopment plan. The two-story building combines Northwest industrial toughness, using wood, steel and concrete, with lightness, conveyed by large, open spans of glass, along with expanses for strolling and sitting at various levels down the hillside. It wasn’t easy. As Miller notes on his firm’s blog, the complexities involved, including location, zoning codes and discussions with stakeholders and the community that lives and works there, were the most challenging he’d ever seen in his 40-year career. —N.S.

Influential Decision: The Longest Yard
The last call of Super Bowl XLIX

A different sort of deafening sound settled over Seattle football fans on Sunday, February 1: stunned silence. Twelves were poised for celebration, with Seattle one play away from securing its second Super Bowl win in two years. With seconds left in Super Bowl XLIX’s much anticipated matchup against the New England Patriots, offensive force of nature Marshawn Lynch was in position on the 1-yard line. And then: Seattle. Didn’t. Run. The. Ball. The fateful final play—in which QB Russell Wilson’s pass was intercepted by New England rookie Malcolm Butler for the Patriot victory—launched a million armchair quarterbacks and practically overshadowed the simultaneous controversy generated by “Deflategate.” Super Bowl XLIX’s final call raised countless unanswered questions for Hawks fans, left an indelible mark on the Emerald City and has only further galvanized sights on securing the Lombardi Trophy in 2016. —J.M.

The Conservatives Winning Year
In a divided legislature, the side that wants fewer changes to the status quo wins more battles. And to its advantage, the Senate GOP of the Washington State Legislature had a drastically more limited agenda than the Democrats in the 2015 session. Democrats wanted to tax capital gains, trim tax breaks, raise the minimum wage and seriously flirted with trimming carbon emissions—all of which the Senate GOP opposed with success. Meanwhile, the Senate Republicans’ chief wish was to cut tuition at the state’s colleges, which it accomplished.

The mastermind of the GOP’s success this year was Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, a conservative wheat farmer from Ritzville who never met a tax hike he didn’t hate. Schoesler kept a tight grip on a coalition of hard-core conservatives sprinkled with a half-dozen moderates.

The Senate’s other GOP stars include Andy Hill of Redmond and John Braun of Centralia. The two led the Republicans’ budget-negotiating team, which stuck to its guns in tense budget talks that extended into triple overtime.

Senators Ann Rivers of La Center and Bruce Dammeier of Puyallup worked to shift the state’s school-levy burdens from local districts to the state. This will be the top budget issue of the 2016 legislative session, given that the two parties don’t agree on whether extra revenue will be needed to fully fund schools.

Rivers is the rare non-moderate in the Senate GOP caucus able to shepherd major Senate bills through the Democrat-controlled House, and she led the Senate’s efforts to successfully merge the state’s recreational and medical marijuana system into one network. Given that Dammeier is running for Pierce County executive, Rivers could inherit an even bigger role in this matter next session. If her work this year is any indication, this could prime the GOP for further success in 2016. —John Stang

(Still) One to Watch: Bertha
The more closely we watch Bertha, it seems, the more entrenched she becomes. But there is light at the end of the, ahem, tunnel: As of press time, nearly all the machine pieces were put back together. Seattle Tunnel Partners plans to get the project, now two years behind and counting, back to chewing dirt this month—and get cars rolling through the tunnel by 2018. In the meantime, the project has firmly embedded itself in local history as the subject of jokes, epithets and “Hail Mary” ideas for hanging on to the crumbling Viaduct. This year, restless citizens gathered enough signatures for an initiative to turn the existing Viaduct into a park, à la New York City’s High Line; the initiative is slated for the November ballot. —N.S.

Blowing Hot Air

The Blob
If you refrained from washing your car this summer—or embraced any other water conservation measures suggested by the city—you may have unwittingly been under the influence of “The Blob.” Nicknamed by Washington state climatologist Nick Bond in 2014, The Blob is a large patch of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean—the equivalent water volume of more than 50,000 Lake Washingtons—that has been hugging the coast from Alaska to Baja since 2013.

Measuring roughly 2–7 degrees Fahrenheit above average, this water is responsible for unseasonably warm weather inland and is expected to affect weather trends until the end of the year. The Blob itself, according to Bond, is part of a larger pattern driven by the tropical Pacific. The Blob’s higher temperatures meant weaker coastal winds heading in our direction throughout the year, and—in part—led to record summer highs, and contributed to statewide drought conditions and the worst wildfire season on record. Scientists speculate that the blob may also be linked to the emaciated sea lion pups washing up in droves on West Coast shores, dying and diseased salmon in local rivers, and even recent colder winters on the East Coast. —M.B.

Seattle Magazine 2015 Most Influential People

Editorial Advisory Board

Berit Anderson, co-founder and CEO of Scout

Drew Atkins, editor, Crosscut

Joni Balter, multimedia journalist, lecturer at Seattle University and Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington and host of Civic Cocktail

Stesha Brandon, former program director,

Town Hall Seattle, Peggy Chapman

editor, Northwest Asian Weekly

CR Douglas, Political Analyst for Q13 FOX News

Randy Engstrom, director, Office of Arts and Culture

James Keblas, founder of City Inspired

Alison Krupnick, editorial director, Center on Reinventing Public Education at UW Bothell

Ed Lazowska, Bill & Melinda Gates Chair in Computer Science & Engineering, University of Washington

Marie McCaffrey, co-founder of HistoryLink

Mary McWilliams, former executive director, Washington Health Alliance

Chris Vance, former chair, Washington State Republican Party

Virginia Smyth, publications manager, Group Health Cooperative and contributing editor at Seattle magazine

From Seattle magazine and Seattle Business:

Rachel Hart, Lisa Wogan, Linda Morgan, Knute Berger, Brangien Davis, Jessica Yadegaran, Kendall Jones, A.J. Rathbun, Paul Zitarelli, Stephanie Mennella O’Neill, John Levesque and Leslie Helm


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