When Nicola Smith burst on the scene in 2013, her candidacy to become Mayor of Lynnwood, Washington seemed to be a spur-of-the-moment decision. Nicola had been Dean of Student Life and Development at Edmonds Community College for over twenty years, and this was her first foray running for public office. Although Nicola’s background had demonstrated a long track record of managing multiple departments and programs with competing interests and complex budgets, the incumbent mayor, Don Gough, appeared to be amused by her candidacy and deemed her to be unqualified. And even though Gough didn’t garner anywhere near a sizable majority during the primary, he seemed pleased enough at the results. “We’re ready to move on to the general election,” Gough said. “I’m happy with where we’re at.” Gough then reportedly said he planned to take a break from the campaign trail to spend time with his family.
What happened next in November, 2013 was unexpected. In the election, Mayor Don Gough was walloped by Nicola Smith. Smith had 61.4 percent, or 2,076 votes. Gough had 1,284 votes, or just under 38 percent. This election was much more than the unraveling of small town politics. It was a race between the old and the new, and an indicator of what happens when a small city is marked for growth and destined to become a regional leader in the Puget Sound region. Upon winning the election in a landslide, Nicola Smith said, “I am really honored to be in this position and I’m very excited that the voters have entrusted me to move our city forward.”
As it turned out, Nicola Smith’s career in public service was a natural transition from her prior administrative roles. In a short three and a half years, she has leveraged her professional leadership skills and expertise to refresh and reset the City of Lynnwood. By engaging staff at all levels, and matching the right staff with the right jobs that needed to be done, Mayor Nicola has infused the entire city organization with efficiency, innovation and transparency.
One of Mayor Nicola Smith’s most notable achievements has been the development of the Lynnwood city center that includes 1,000 affordable housing units and the groundwork laid for the new Light Rail.
Traditionally, Lynnwood and the Puget Sound has been behind other cities in terms of serving its population’s transportation needs, but no longer. The new Light Rail is coming through Lynnwood. There will be two stations, establishing Lynnwood as a very important hub through King County in the Puget Sound area.
According to Mayor Nicola Smith, “Our future generations, my grandchildren and your grandchildren, will have a way to quickly get around the region to take care of work and school in their day-to-day lives.”
Running for a second term in a non-partisan election this November, Mayor Nicola Smith is favored to win. City Council member and local business owner George Hurst is opposing her in the 2017 Mayoral election. Mr. Hurst has received support and encouragement from Don Gough, who is the previous Mayor of Lynnwood that lost in the surprise landslide resulting in Nicola Smith’s upset victory. Despite Don Gough’s loss, he has continued to be a vocal and litigious opponent of the current mayoral administration. His criticism of Mayor Nicola Smith has been widely reported in the Everett Herald and other local press. He has made many allegations of fiscal mismanagement, even though under Mayor Smith’s leadership the city of Lynnwood has had its first clean audit—with no findings—since 2008.
The facts speak for themselves: the first clean audit occurred after Gough’s tenure as Mayor was finished.
In addition, under Nicola Smith’s leadership, the city’s municipal bond rating status has been upgraded from A+ to AA+. Given Don Gough’s continued public criticism of Mayor Nicola Smith and his support of George Hurst it can be surmised that he is intent on unseating her, and that smacks of cronyism.
When Mayor Nicola Smith announced her bid for re-election this past May, she affirmed her commitment to Maintain the Momentum. “I am seeking a second term to be your mayor so that Lynnwood continues to have success and be a great place to work, to live, to play, to do business and be healthy.”
If you ask Nicola Smith how she describes her leadership style and why she has been able to get so much done in such a short period of time, she describes herself as a servant-leader. Along with being a resourceful and efficient program builder, she possesses a deep understanding of how to motivate, empower and manage people. When you interact with her, what you will immediately notice is her ability to stay focused, listen well and above all else, she exudes what is missing in most politicians—warmth.
Mike Schindler with Operation Military Family Cares worked with the Mayor on her Victory for Veterans initiatives. "Nicola is a mayor with heart!” he said. “The dedication of the veterans’ museum was really moving. Her commitment to serving the residents of Lynnwood and beyond is impressive."
Instead of taking credit for Lynnwood’s transformation from small town to regional leader, Mayor Nicola Smith credits her staff. “The city’s staff is the most valuable resource that has contributed to the city’s growth and development in the past four years.”
In a recent League of Women Voters’ radio interview with her opponent George Hurst, he criticized her for the same qualities that others had attributed to her successful leadership. Hurst claimed that she deferred to her department heads because she must not want to be a strong mayor.
Nicola Smith is certain that when running a complex organization, delegating areas of responsibility empowers good people to do their jobs. This is the essence of good leadership. Past Mayor Don Gough’s leadership style often drew scrutiny for his brusque manner that was more combative than collaborative. George Hurst defines his leadership as derived from being a small business owner who has been fixing complicated lighting problems for thirty years.
Mayor Nicola Smith has been favored by the Lynnwood business community in her bid to seek re-election. Her long affiliation with the Rotary has helped her to build a network of allies. During the Lynnwood Rotary’s 30th Anniversary year, she served as the club’s 3rd woman President. So when Nicola Smith burst on the scene in 2013, her candidacy to become Mayor of Lynnwood might have seemed to be a spur-of-the-moment decision. But the reality is her long track record of knowing how to connect the dots to bring the right people to the table has led her to this place and time. Running for public office and making a commitment to be a life-long servant leader is her destiny. It is also Lynnwood’s destiny to have a Mayor who works hard to give a greater quality of life to the people who live and work here. She said, “My vision—Lynnwood grows into a place that is welcoming and inclusive, where we have responsibly managed our growth.”
Nicola Smith is part of a nation-wide, grass roots movement where a new generation of leaders is emerging to create effective change. Instead of bluster and crony tactics, coalitions are formed based on collaboration, mutual respect and the recognition that only a commitment to stewardship will build sustainable communities for the future. Mayor Nicola Smith, admittedly likes being congratulated for things she did well, but has a hard time taking all of the credit and instead gives credit where credit is due—to the whole team. For Don Gough and his allies like George Hurst, there is no turning back the clock. Lynnwood is a city that is moving fast forward into the future. And it needs the type of leadership of a Mayor who has a good head on her shoulders and the heart to look out for everyone in the community.