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Norman Sigler
  Norman Sigler
 

Renaissance Man Norman Sigler, MBA '92, Runs for Mayor of Seattle

7/13/2009 --

Business background brings creative ideas, partnerships to address healthcare, transportation.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Norman Sigler, MBA '92, has worn many hats throughout his robust business career. He's worked in the airline, healthcare, and automotive industries. He's performed executive recruiting for corporations and nonprofits, and started a matchmaking firm. He also has contributed to various communities as a former board member of Chicago Children's Charities, a former auxiliary board member of Northwestern University Memorial Hospital, and a volunteer with public radio stations WBEZ in Chicago, WFAE in Charlotte, and KUOW in Seattle. But recently, Sigler decided his talents would be best served by holding a public office; specifically, by running the city of Seattle as its mayor. He's competing against seven other candidates, but Sigler believes his business acumen and knack for bringing talented people and resources together set him apart. With the August 18 primary approaching, Sigler spoke to Dividend's Leah Sipher-Mann about his love for Seattle and its people, how fundraising has changed in the down economy, and what a run for student government while at Ross taught him about campaigning.

Tell me about your career before you became interested in politics.
Sigler: In my business career, I worked for several industries including airline, executive recruiting, and healthcare. The airline industry was my first job out of business school and one that I was passionate about. I worked for Northwest, Continental, and Alaska Airlines. Working for the airline companies, I managed multimillion-dollar budgets and negotiated multimillion-dollar contracts. That gave me incredible insight into how companies are run. In business school, about a third of the case studies I read were from the airline industry, so I got to actually see some of those case studies play out.

What got you interested in politics?
Sigler: I had a business background, and I've also worked for recruiting firms. For much of my career, I felt I could best serve the company by working outside the organization recruiting talented people. I've learned how to identify resources, mediate, negotiate, and bring people together. Politics is just that: bringing talented people and resources together. I'm also just passionate about people in our community, so that's what brought me to politics. I think everybody should participate to improve how our government works.

Not being a Seattle native, why did you pick Seattle for your first race?
Sigler: I was brought to Seattle by Alaska Airlines. When I moved here, I was awestruck by the physical beauty of the area. I also immediately witnessed how difficult it was to move around the city due to lack of efficient public transportation. But I saw Seattle as a city that has a lot of potential. I always think of the line from the movie The Sixth Sense, "I see dead people." I see potential.

I want to find a way to bring the entire community together, focusing on transportation and connecting people more easily. It seems like Seattle, as a city, isn't being tapped to its fullest potential. Seattle's biggest assets are the people -- environmentalists, social workers, scientists, artists, attorneys, legislators -- but they aren't being asked to contribute to the city. I want to tap into those people. Seattle is home to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. We also have private businesses like Amazon, Starbucks and Microsoft. The city has very strong public, nonprofit, and private sectors, so we need someone who's able to tap into all three of those silos, and I believe I can accomplish that. I also picked Seattle because it has a huge impact on the surrounding region. I believe that as Seattle goes, so goes the whole Puget Sound region.

This is your first run for office. Why did you choose to run for mayor?
Sigler: In Seattle, we've had leadership over the last 20 years that has come up the traditional way: through the neighborhood council groups and working for elected officials. But when they get to the higher-level leadership roles, they tend to lose focus on the citywide issues and are beholden to the groups that got them there. I don't have that baggage, having only been here for six years. Seattle needs someone who's fresh, energetic, youthful, and bring lots of talented people to the table. I think my business background speaks to that. I think we need that for government in Seattle and everywhere. We need a leader who's able to partner with public, nonprofit, and for-profit communities to create a bright future for this city.

How is running a city like running a business?
Sigler: Most things are business. If you see or smell something that's not naturally made, there's a business behind it. The same is true of a city. There are currently 10,000 employees who work for the city of Seattle. If you get your mail, get your trashed picked up, or have running water, there's government behind it.

Just like a businessperson is always thinking about how they can lower costs and raise profits, I'm always wondering how we can get lower rates and then translate any benefits that we get to the community. For instance, our healthcare costs have gone up more than 40 percent during the past 4 years. One of my plans is to reduce costs with vendors. I'm proposing that we partner with the cities outside of Seattle, as well as other counties and the state because we all pay employees' healthcare costs. We could pool all of that coverage into one plan offering great choices and reduce costs by 30 to 40 percent. Then, we could offer those preferred rates to local small businesses so they can provide healthcare to their employees. That's something innovative that other candidates aren't bringing to the table. We have to learn to leverage our resources and partner with others. My business background translates into inspiring creative ideas to address issues the city is facing.

How has your Ross background prepared you for the mayoral campaign?
Sigler: I ran for student government at Ross. Twenty candidates were running and the top five made it onto student government. I came in sixth. I missed the top five by three votes. That showed me the power of continuous campaigning. You have to remind people and remind people and remind people. That's why we're campaigning and pushing all the way to the primary date on August 18. Campaigning until the very end was something I learned directly from my time at Ross.

I also learned that if you want to make things happen, you have to get involved. One of the things I did as part of the leadership team in the Finance Club while at Ross was to create the annual New York trip that the club still does. At Ross, I learned how to be creative and involved. [Former] Dean White encouraged all of us to get involved with the running of the school and we did.

How are campaigns changing in the age of social media? What kinds of social media are you using in your campaign?
Sigler: We're posting our Twitter feed on the website, showing a real-time countdown to the primary date, offering YouTube videos, and including a link to our Facebook page. We also created and posted videos of Seattleites talking about issues that are important to them, which has caught on with other candidates. We haven't yet figured out how to do fundraising by social media because of election compliance issues but that would be an incredible asset.

Speaking of which, how has fundraising changed in this economy?
Sigler: It's a really tough fundraising environment. But we've emphasized that we care about very small contributions. If there are 5,000 people out there and they can each contribute $10 to the campaign, we'd be very happy about that. They can go to our website to help: www.siglerforseattle.com. Our goal is not to match the other contenders, it's to raise a minimum amount of money needed in order to put out a meaningful message that people want to hear.

You don't pay any staff or consultants. Why? Is this strictly a budget issue or is it a conscious choice?
Sigler: It started off as a conscious choice. We thought we could recruit a talented group of volunteers to create positive change for Seattle. We recruited a great team, but realized we needed to supplement our group with seasoned campaigners. Then it became a budget thing. We wanted a campaign where the people could control how the elections are run. We found that if you don't have money, the media doesn't pay attention to you. It's bad for the public who are not able to learn about all the candidates and their platforms. Some media are not covering campaigns solely because the candidates don't have money. So although not paying staff was originally our plan, not spending a lot of money was also somewhat of a protest against the mentality of "those who have the most get the most coverage" and "money is not the solution to any problem."

You've said you're running a green campaign. What does that mean?
Sigler: Being conscious of paper use is one component of it. We don't flyer everywhere. I also don't have a car, so I take the bus everywhere. We try to limit our carbon footprint wherever possible. We're also trying to support local vendors, like buying business cards and posters from people down the street instead of a company in Portland or Atlanta.

You started a matchmaking firm and have said you're passionate about bringing people together. How does this help you in your campaign, and how would it help you as mayor?
Sigler: Well, it helps and it hurts. People are intrigued when they hear that I'm a matchmaker, but that means lots of people don't want to hear about the campaign, they want to hear about matchmaking. But like I've said, who cares more about people than someone who wants to bring love to the world? As mayor of Seattle, I want to bring people together who wouldn't normally come together. I think my experience as a matchmaker can only help me do that.

What are some of the biggest issues Seattle is facing, and how will you address them?
Sigler: First, there's the issue of transportation. Seattle has some mobility issues, and in order to resolve them, we need to address the concerns of all commuters, whether pedestrian, cyclist, or public transportation user. I feel our transportation system should encourage neighborhoods to thrive.

We're finally getting a small stretch of train, but it's taken about 30 years. That's way too long. I want to encourage more train transport. Originally, the people of Seattle voted for a proposal that would create a monorail, but it eventually proved to be too expensive. Since we already have an organization that's building trains in the region, why don't we give them the business instead? It's a win-win. It gives that organization expertise, and we don't have to create a separate agency. That's another example of leveraging partnerships to make things happen.

Another issue I'm passionate about is education and integrating it into the greater community. The current mayor [Greg Nickels] throws his hands up about the topic of education because the schools are run by an independent school board, but I think that's crazy. We have the power to produce kids who can survive and thrive in a global world. The mayor can directly influence schools by creating a safe and secure learning community. Through the planning department and zoning policy, we can influence the types of businesses that surround schools to promote healthy outcomes.

We've had many school closures recently because there aren't enough students. One proposal I have to correct this is to sell those schools to the community. That way, the cost of the school building is no longer on the books and the groups within the community, like kid-focused nonprofits, can rent out space. The school system can then lease back space in those schools to educate the kids who remain. This will greatly limit the impact of closures on the students.

Obviously, the economy is a huge issue. I want to promote economic development in every neighborhood, especially in places that haven't realized any economic success. I want to encourage banks to operate as community banks making loans to people in the neighborhoods. Supporting local businesses is important. I want to help people learn how to start small businesses and family businesses. We'll work with the local small business associations to place business resources in every neighborhood. I also plan to establish an advisory council of local business owners to help me create an economic vision for years to come.

How is it being in a race with seven other candidates? What sets you apart?
Sigler: I was actually the first one to officially announce my candidacy against the incumbent. We all knew he was looking for a third term. But I said, "No, he's been there long enough." He's not serving the average citizens.

Of the eight of us running for mayor, two are from the more traditional machine and six of us are new to politics and have never run for office before. Everybody comes from a different background. I think what I bring to the table is the ability to bring together talented people to come up with solutions for our problems. When I go out and talk to people, they love that message.

—Leah Sipher-Mann



For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat, (734) 936-1015 or 647-1847, bernied@umich.edu