Bothell Mayor Mason Thompson Shares Vision for Affordable Housing and Livable Communities

Bothell Mayor Mason Thompson discusses his progressive approach to local governance, with plans to increase housing density, improve transportation infrastructure, and address climate change. He emphasizes the importance of community engagement and political courage in driving meaningful change.

Bothell Mayor Mason Thompson Shares Vision for Affordable Housing and Livable Communities

In an in-depth interview this week, Mayor Mason Thompson of Bothell, Washington spoke candidly about the most pressing issues facing his community and his bold vision for addressing them through policy change at the local level.

Mayor Thompson, who eked out a narrow 5-vote victory in his first run for political office in 2019, says he ran on a platform of increasing affordable housing options and enhancing livability in Bothell. "The two things that really bubbled up to the top that everybody likes is the fact that housing is really completely inaccessible to almost everybody that hasn't acquired it a long time ago," Mayor Thompson explained. "The other thing that people talk about a lot is, frankly, the inconvenience of our transportation system."

To tackle these challenges, the mayor is pushing to open up more of Bothell's residential land, currently reserved for single-family homes, to "missing middle" housing types like duplexes, triplexes and small apartment buildings. "Just making more modest housing types legal to build. This isn't a requirement - we're not making it illegal to build a single-family home. But if somebody wants to build something more modest, I don't see why they shouldn't be able to," he said.

Mayor Thompson pointed out that allowing more infill development can help address housing affordability, reduce traffic congestion and commute times, reduce city infrastructure costs, and even fight climate change. "If we allow people to live there, we get everything that makes us human, including probably a car or two, because that's the way that we've decided we want people to get around," he said.

The mayor also hopes to attract more neighborhood businesses to Bothell by expanding the stock of smaller commercial spaces. "The folks that I've talked to want a place where their people can afford to live close to home...So they want to go someplace that there's enough population nearby that likes living there so that they can have employees that want to work for them and want to take advantage of a short commute."

While Mayor Thompson acknowledges that pushing for significant policy change can be challenging and politically risky for local officials, he believes strongly that it's necessary to make real progress. "If we care about meaningfully addressing the biggest challenges that we face, then we are gonna have to change things...Everything that we don't like about the way things are is caused by the decisions that we've made in the past. And if we keep everything the way that it is right now, what's gonna happen is all of our problems are gonna keep getting worse," Thompson said.

The mayor hopes his approach in Bothell can provide a model for other local leaders. "If there's one thing that I wish I had more company with, it's the comfort in actually being with people that are comfortable to actually change the things that are causing the biggest problems we face. And that is unfortunately in short supply."

About the Guest

Mayor Mason Thompson

Mason is the Mayor of Bothell. He grew up in the area, went to the University of Washington, and stayed home to raise his family in Bothell. He found politics a few years ago, and after getting involved quickly realized how much local government needs to change and how resistant the system is to change. So he spends a lot of time talking about issues like housing and transportation to highlight how change is not just necessary, it's beneficial. He's finishing up his first term in office and running for his first re-election this year.

Find Mayor Mason Thompson on Twitter/X at @electmasont.


Podcast Transcript

[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at and in our episode notes.

If you know me, you know that I'm very excited for our conversation today with our guest: the mayor of Bothell, Mason Thompson. Welcome to the program.

[00:01:04] Mayor Mason Thompson: Thank you, Crystal. It's really fun to be here. I really enjoy listening to the show, so it's cool to be on this side of the fence too.

[00:01:10] Crystal Fincher: Thank you. I appreciate it. I have been following you for quite some time - haven't known you personally, but have followed - as you were running, and what you've been doing while mayor, and have just found it really inspiring and interesting. I think starting out - I'm just curious and I think a lot of people are curious about what got you interested in public service.

[00:01:33] Mayor Mason Thompson: I think it is everybody's responsibility to do whatever they can to make the world a better place. And not everybody can, and this looks different for everybody - it's not an expectation I'm putting on people, but I feel a pretty deep conviction that that's my responsibility. And there were basically two things that got me involved in city politics the first go around. The first is that the City purchased a former golf course, and I thought there should be mountain bike trails there. So I joined the Parks Board knowing that I didn't have any decision-making authority, but it gave me access to the conversation and kind of thought - Hey, what can I do with this? Let's just run an experiment and see if I can make this happen. The other thing that happened right around the same time is Donald Trump got elected. And that's just one of those moments in time that make you realize that there is nobody riding in on a horse to save us. And if we don't all do everything that we can to make the world a better place, then people like him do. So I got involved with the City on the Parks Board because I wanted to see mountain bike trails. And then I got involved with the 1st LD as a PCO because I wanted to get involved on the partisan side as well. And because of reasons, nine months later I got asked to run for city council and said yes, and here we are.

[00:02:50] Crystal Fincher: Nice. So what is Bothell like? What's the lay of the land in Bothell?

[00:02:55] Mayor Mason Thompson: Bothell is a suburb that is far enough from the core that we haven't seen housing prices go up to a point where everybody who wants to change things has mostly been excluded. So we're in a really cool position where we have the ability to do things that are a little different that involve some change. And we've seen this since well before I got involved in local politics - our downtown has changed quite a bit and I wasn't in any way involved in that, but I'm also grateful it happened even though the people that did that aren't my traditional allies. So we have a bunch of people in Bothell that want to change the world and want to actually meaningfully address the biggest challenges we face, which involves change. There's no way to status quo our way out of our problems. So I'm really fortunate that I'm surrounded by a lot of really incredibly talented people up here that want to make change and want to make the world a better place for our kids.

[00:03:51] Crystal Fincher: So what was running for office in Bothell like?

[00:03:55] Mayor Mason Thompson: It was terrible. Running for office sucks. My opponent had every advantage - a lot of money, hired great consultants - I did not have a consultant when I ran. And I knew that the only path I had to success was just to work really hard. So I knocked on doors all year - I set my schedule up so I could do it. And on election night, I was down about 86 votes, I think. And so I had the whole ballot chasing experience - three days before certification, we were actually tied for a day. I get to tell the story about how I was knocking on doors trying to get people to cure their ballots, and somebody said on that exact day - Well, I didn't think my vote would actually make a difference. And I got to tell him - Sir, if you had voted right now, your vote would be the difference in this race because as of today, we're tied and certification is in a couple of days. So I ended up winning by 5 votes - we had two recounts because Bothell is in King and Snohomish County. And I didn't find out I won until the middle of December sometime. So I feel like I got the full experience, and I'm ready for an easier experience this go around 'cause that all sucked - but here we are.

[00:05:04] Crystal Fincher: Here we are. And that's really interesting and really curious - sometimes people have this romanticized idea of running for office and it's tough. It's a tough thing to do. Did you learn anything, or did your perspective change or broaden as a result of talking to so many residents while you were running?

[00:05:24] Mayor Mason Thompson: Absolutely. And I tell candidates now that I think it's the most important thing they can do - not just to get elected, but so you truly understand where your community is at and what people think about things. And the great thing about canvassing and knocking on doors is people aren't self-selected by who shows up to council meetings. So you're not getting the standard group of people that know council meetings exist, that have the spare time to do it, that care about certain issues in the community. You get, I think, a much broader perspective of where your community is at. So when I came on board, I had some pretty decent convictions around where my community was at and that gave me a lot more confidence to actually advocate for change because I think the community is behind a lot of the things I care about.

[00:06:11] Crystal Fincher: So what does the community care about? What are the issues that are top of mind in Bothell?

[00:06:18] Mayor Mason Thompson: I'm gonna back up a second because you said running for office people have this romanticized idea of - and running for office for me was mostly knocking on doors and hearing everybody complain about the things they don't like. That is what running for office was. And the two things that really bubbled up to the top that everybody likes is the fact that housing is really completely inaccessible to almost everybody that hasn't acquired it a long time ago. And whether or not you have housing, you have kids, you have family - you know somebody that's trying to acquire housing right now and no matter how bad you think it is, it's probably worse. The other thing that people talk about a lot is, frankly, the inconvenience of our transportation system. And they don't always say that. They'll say things like, "I can't find anywhere to park. It takes me 20 minutes to get to the freeway. Traffic is terrible." And the inherent inconvenience of everybody getting around in cars is something that everybody recognizes and also something that I feel like we need to address - because we've already paved almost 18% of Bothell for people to drive on, and I think that's enough. And we should do better - not just try the same things even harder than we already have - because those things have caused all of the problems that people told me they don't like when I ran.

[00:07:39] Crystal Fincher: How has the reaction been to the approach that you're taking?

[00:07:44] Mayor Mason Thompson: Not universally positive. Anytime you want to make change, you're going to rile some feathers, especially folks that have been involved in creating the status quo or folks that benefit from it. But honestly, I think that the general electorate is a pretty long way ahead of where most elected officials and most government structures are in terms of the actual things we need to do to change our problems. And when you have a quick second to chat with somebody and you can ask them what they really care about, everybody wants something to change. And all of our systems are set up to bias toward keeping things exactly the same. Mostly, I think people are pretty on board with a lot of the things I want to do and I hope that, because I'm taking everything I learned from them when I knocked on a lot of doors and just putting that into practice.

[00:08:35] Crystal Fincher: So that's interesting that you talk about - whenever you want to change, obviously some people are not going to be happy about it and there's going to be some opposition. We see in a lot of jurisdictions and in a lot of different ways, leaders who run on principles who say they truly believe in making change and they have a vision on what could happen. But when opposition comes, they fold. How do you approach still maintaining your values, working despite opposition to achieve the kind of change that you want?

[00:09:11] Mayor Mason Thompson: The governor recently quoted John Lovick as having said something like, "The only thing we hate more than the way things are is the possibility that those things might change." And change is scary, change people see as loss, and change is unfortunately also the only way that we're going to actually meaningfully address any of our problems. And fundamentally, I think that is the job of every elected official - is to meaningfully address the biggest challenges that we face. But when you try to do that, it requires change and that is always uncomfortable because there are always things that we won't know about what the future looks like with change. And people will bring up all the different things that we don't know that could possibly happen, instead of prioritizing fixing the negative things that are happening right now. So you get all of these voices - some people saying, Do this, some people saying, Don't do this. And the easiest thing to do is to try to make everybody happy. And usually what we wanna hear is - Yeah, I care about all the things that you care about, but I also care about keeping things in a way that you're comfortable with. And it's really hard, I think it's impossible to walk that line. So I just don't try - I am here to make the world a better place.

And I will happily tell people my convictions around righting historic wrongs around climate, around actually fixing some of the problems that we have. And I'm not here to say anything negative about the path that other people take. But I will also say that when you do run for office and you win, there's a significant amount of pressure to go along to get along. There's the cool kids elected club, and you go to different organizations that are groups of cities and everybody circles the wagons. And it's really, I think, a way for people to belong to something, which is important, which is something we all care about. But I keep my eye on the prize and think that my job is to meaningfully address the biggest challenges we face. And there's no way to make everyone happy. So I'm not gonna try.

[00:11:20] Crystal Fincher: That makes sense. There really is no way to keep everyone happy, but making changes certainly can keep people happier over the long-term - seems like you're absolutely willing to do that. You talked about housing. What is the current housing situation in Bothell? What's your split between homeowners and renters, and home prices? What is the housing situation in Bothell right now?

[00:11:43] Mayor Mason Thompson: The median single-family - or the median home price, not single-family home - the median home price in Bothell, I think, is just under a million dollars right now. It was a little over a year ago. And if you've got $200,000 to put down and can afford a $5,000/month house payment, that's attainable for you. And if you can't - good luck, I guess - move somewhere else. And we reserve about 65% of our land right now for the most expensive housing type that is the most expensive for the City to upkeep, that pushes tax pressure upwards because the maintenance cost for that built environment is really high. And those areas produce the most children and having children is creating demand for new housing. And we limit our growth mostly to the 35% of the area where we allow different housing types. And I'm working really hard to change that because that's at the root of everything that my community told me they cared about. If you want traffic to get better, the answer is not to push everybody out farther apart and only allow one type of thing in the neighborhood. All that's doing is requiring people to drive farther on your roads, which is more maintenance costs, which is more traffic, and you get all of people's cars and none of their humanity. If we allow people to live there, we get everything that makes us human, including probably a car or two, because that's the way that we've decided we want people to get around.

[00:13:12] Crystal Fincher: That's an interesting talking point. And I think Seattle, certainly in King County - largest city in the county, largest city in the state - and has a finite amount of land that can be built within. That's different than a lot of suburbs in the area where it is possible to build out. The challenges come with sprawl when you build out. What are the economic impacts, the impacts to city infrastructure? What is the cost of continuing to not use your land effectively and efficiently, and continue to expand and build single-family homes and developments seemingly without end?

[00:13:57] Mayor Mason Thompson: Before I get into the costs, I guess I'll just say that everything that we don't like about the way things are is caused by the decisions that we've made in the past. And if we keep everything the way that it is right now, what's gonna happen is all of our problems are gonna keep getting worse. And we have a ton of problems - every city does. I'm not aware of any city that has an actual plan to maintain their roads over the long term. We have what's called a Safe Streets and Sidewalks Levy, and we have enough roads in Bothell to reach to Spokane. And those are just our city-owned roads, not the three or four different state highways that go through town. And those were all built out - about half of Bothell was built out when it was unincorporated. Most of Bothell was built out - '70s, '80s - and we're reaching the end of that infrastructure life cycle. And we have a levy that is around, I think, a third of the total property taxes that people pay to the City. And almost all of that, we're just using to maintain roads - and it's not enough. So the more people drive, the more they are traffic - because traffic is just people driving cars - but there's also a pretty significant infrastructure cost that we're gonna have to find a way to pay for someday.

And when you're in my position, going back to the voters and asking for more money every couple of years - that's not a great, it's not great for your career prospects. So one of the things I'm really interested in doing is trying to solve multiple problems at once - where we allow more housing in between all of the other housing that already exists on roads that we already have an obligation to maintain, and we can realize more tax revenue per acre in the land that we have without requiring any more infrastructure. And so if you can add revenue and reduce the amount of added costs, then we've got a chance at structurally fixing this thing that is broken. And we had a company called Urban3 come out and do a land evaluation for Bothell. And we know that in Bothell, the average fourplex kicks off double the tax revenue per acre that the average single-family home does. And most of those fourplexes were built in 40s, 50s - back when they were legal - and they're old and run down. And the single-family homes are a lot newer, a lot nicer, and that fourplex still outperforms the single-family home from a tax revenue per acre. It doesn't matter - I guess the cost of the road frontage and maintaining it is the same no matter how many people live behind it. And the more people that live behind it, the more hands we have on deck to help pay the bills - and many hands make light work.

[00:16:28] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. So what are you doing to try and make and keep housing more affordable in Bothell?

[00:16:36] Mayor Mason Thompson: I guess the first step is simply opening up that 65% of Bothell's residential land that we've deemed untouchable for any future development. We have a middle housing code amendment that's going on in parallel with what's going on at the state right now. And we're paying pretty close attention to what's going on with the state, because - boy, if they pass something, it'll be a whole lot easier for us. But if they don't, we're ready, we're working on it. And honestly, just making more modest housing types legal to build. This isn't a requirement - we're not making it illegal to build a single-family home. But if somebody wants to build something more modest, I don't see why they shouldn't be able to. So we also have some different growth centers in town that we're looking at, and we have our comp plan coming up. And we are looking at different ways to integrate residential and commercial to reduce the amount of times people have to get in their car. 'Cause there's really only two ways to make traffic better - either people take fewer trips in their car, or they have to drive less for the trips that they do take.

So when I look at how to make all of our problems better - allowing infill housing and building more housing in between all the housing that already exists makes housing less expensive and makes traffic better, because people have to drive fewer miles and take fewer trips in their car. It reduces the upward pressure on taxes because we have more folks to help pay the bills. Another thing about infill housing - we are limited in property taxes to raising it 1% per year. Inflation was 10% last year. So the City took a huge haircut, bigger than we normally do. And we need to figure out how we're gonna pay for stuff, and how we're gonna reverse this upward pressure on property taxes that we have 'cause nobody likes that. And when we build new housing - that's not subject to the 1% - we get to take all of that. So we've really got a way to address almost all of our biggest issues - and I haven't even touched on the climate impacts, my gosh. But just by allowing more housing closer to all the other housing, we touch just about every issue that people in Bothell find important.

[00:18:44] Crystal Fincher: Do most people live and work in Bothell? Do they commute out and drive back? What is that situation like?

[00:18:52] Mayor Mason Thompson: Most people commute out and drive back in Bothell. We do have a pretty substantial group that lives in Bothell, but they're definitely a minority - that live and work. And we have people that go in every direction. We have people that go north toward Everett, Snohomish County - think Boeing employees. We have a significant amount that will take 522 into Seattle. And we have a significant amount that work on the Eastside. But we're mostly a commuter suburb, and we have also a significant amount of people that live outside of Bothell that come into Bothell to work. Now, if we can build housing for those people - to me, that looks like a capture opportunity, because we already have their cars. They're already driving here, they're already parking here, they're already adding maintenance costs to our roads every time they drive through it. Why shouldn't we realize some tax revenue and some of their humanity at the same time? One thing I think gets lost in the conversation about adding more residents is that - yeah, when more residents come, they're probably gonna have cars. And they might be traffic sometimes, like you, because they drive them. But that's not all you get from them. You get more kids for your kids to play with. You get more people to go on a walk when you see. You get more folks to hang out on long summer nights, and maybe crack a beer, and chat with a neighbor. People don't just bring the things you don't like. They bring their full humanity, and I think that more people makes for a stronger community not a weaker one.

[00:20:25] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. So what approach are you taking to try and capture more of those people? You talk about infill housing, allowing more housing. Is there anything happening on just the attracting businesses front? What does economic development look like in Bothell?

[00:20:43] Mayor Mason Thompson: Economic development - Bothell has decided over the years that we wanted to stay this quiet suburb, that we don't wanna be a place where all the chain stores go. So we don't have - I think, fortunately - as much sort of strip mall retail as a lot of our neighbors do. I'm keenly interested in small neighborhood businesses, or even just small businesses in a downtown neighborhood - and having more small retail space so we can have that incubator where residents who wanna start a business can do so in Bothell. This drives me nuts because we have two residents that I know personally that have started businesses in the last couple of years - one went to Mill Creek and one went to Woodinville. They both wanted to be in Bothell, but we just don't have small, accessible retail space. So I think that's a big part of economic development.

Another part is that we need to go out and tell the story about why people like living in Bothell so we can try to attract larger businesses. Because on a budget economic development side, they make a much bigger difference. We have the Canyon Park Business Center with a huge biotech hub. We have North Creek with a lot of different technology in it. And I want to see more larger companies try to utilize those spaces and take advantage of, honestly, a lot of the different housing opportunities that are coming to Bothell and the fact that people like living here - so we can get more economic development and more money from those folks so we can, again, reduce that upward pressure on taxes that we see from current residents, and pay to make Bothell a cooler, more vibrant city.

[00:22:13] Crystal Fincher: How do businesses respond to attempts to make Bothell more livable, more walkable, suitable for people using all different types of mobility options? Are they pretty welcoming with that? Are they open to removal of parking and more mobility infrastructure? How has that been?

[00:22:35] Mayor Mason Thompson: Businesses follow people and businesses want to land someplace that their folks want to live - that is attractive - because that's gonna help them compete for a scarce resource of talent. And we have a lot of talent in the area, but we also have a lot of companies competing for it. So the folks that I've talked to want a place where their people can afford to live close to home. I forget what the number is, but there's some massive dollar amount difference that you have to earn to have the same level of happiness depending on the length of your commute. So they want to go someplace that is - A) there's enough population nearby that likes living there so that they can have employees that want to work for them and want to take advantage of a short commute.

Parking minimums - I have yet to talk to a business that is really excited about us making them subsidize our problem against their will. And parking minimums are a tax that we place on housing and businesses that we use to subsidize getting more traffic and climate change - they're a bad deal. The promise is that - I'll back up a little bit - nobody likes other people's cars. Their car is the only righteous car, and other people's cars are traffic and in the parking spot that they want to take. Everybody agrees on this. The problem is that when we say our solution is that we're gonna mandate people to give more space to cars, what we get is more cars. If we turned Bothell City Hall into a pizza restaurant and we gave away a thousand pizzas a day, do you think Bothell would eat more or less pizza?

[00:24:14] Crystal Fincher: They would eat more pizza.

[00:24:15] Mayor Mason Thompson: Right? It's pretty obvious. So if we force people to build a lot more parking spots and we force a lot more infrastructure for cars and then we give it away to them for free, do we think people are gonna use more or less of it? It's the same question. They're gonna use more. This idea that there's a fixed amount of demand for people driving is silly because if nobody ever built a road, we would not have any cars because there would be no place to drive them and then we would walk everywhere 'cause it would be easier to get around. So the problem is - is when we expect business to solve our problem of too many people's cars by creating more space for them, we really just make our problems worse. And it's not just the problem that we're trying to solve for there, it's all of our other problems. Because there's a finite amount of space in cities and we have to choose - what do we want here? Do we want parking here? Do we want housing here? Do we want businesses here? And every time you choose one thing, you say no to something else. So we haven't tried to address parking minimums citywide yet in Bothell - I personally believe that they are harmful and shouldn't exist.

[00:25:22] Crystal Fincher: That makes sense. Now you referenced climate earlier - what is Bothell doing to try and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution of all varieties?

[00:25:33] Mayor Mason Thompson: We're trying to make it legal to build more housing closer together. And it's not just the middle housing - we have a few different areas that we have recently upzoned quite a bit, like Canyon Park we finished the master plan up for, we've allowed micro housing citywide in the - I shouldn't say citywide - in that 35% that we allow people to do it in.

[00:25:51] Crystal Fincher: So you mentioned climate change earlier and the impacts that not allowing diverse types of housing - restricting development and the impact on both city budgets and climate change that has. What else is Bothell doing to address climate change and pollution?

[00:26:09] Mayor Mason Thompson: I don't want to minimize the impact that building more housing in between all of the other housing that exists has on climate. It is one of the best things that we can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and that's a big part of our strategy. We are also adopting the provisions of what used to be 1099 - I think it's 1181 this year - and we're doing that with a grant from Commerce. And we've also recently - over the last say, 5 or 10 years - preserved a lot of open space in Bothell. We have the Wayne Golf Course that I mentioned earlier, we have the North Creek Forest. There's another organization up in Snohomish County Bothell - there's a parcel land up there, Shelton View, that we haven't acquired but we are keenly interested in doing so if there's a path. So I will say from a preservation point of view, we're working on that. But also just an understanding that building more Bothell in between the Bothell that already exists - isn't just the best thing we can do to address our biggest problems that we see every day as a city, it's also the best thing that we can do for the long-term problem of climate change.

[00:27:14] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. What does homelessness look like in Bothell?

[00:27:19] Mayor Mason Thompson: I wasn't expecting this question. I think homelessness in Bothell looks a lot like it does in every other suburb - where Seattle is the only city that is trying to do something about it, so everybody goes there - we offload our homeless problem to Seattle because there are resources down there, and then we blame Seattle for the problem that we had a hand in creating. There's not a lot of visible homelessness in Bothell - a one-bedroom apartment I think is around $2,200-2,400 right now as a median rent, so the median rent isn't much different than in some of our bigger, traditionally more expensive neighborhoods. But again, homelessness is a housing problem. And I wanna be part of the solution to homelessness, regardless of whether or not there's a lot of visible homelessness in Bothell, because people are suffering and people need places to live. So I will just say that those micro units that we've allowed - those smaller, traditionally more affordable types of housing that don't cost as much to build - are a really, really, really important part of dealing with homelessness.

Because homelessness comes with a lot of comorbid effects - if I lived on the street, I might wanna do something to get away too. And I have an incredible amount of sympathy for those folks and want to build enough housing for them. I will also say that I ran the year Seattle is Dying came out, so I got a ton of questions when I was doorbelling about people that are homeless. And I'll just repeat my stock answer here to that question that I figured out over time - I am a man of faith, I'm a Christian. And if you look at the parable of the sheep and the goats, where Jesus really delineates who's with me and who's against me - Jesus doesn't talk about your theological beliefs, Jesus doesn't talk about how often you go to church. Jesus says - that which you have done to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done also unto me. So Jesus said - Take care of the people in society that are the most vulnerable and have the most need. So if I see somebody waking up underneath a bridge with a needle in their arm, I see Jesus. And I will support policy that treats that person with all of the dignity and compassion that I would treat God.

[00:29:35] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely, I think that's the way to be. We're in a time where there's a lot of people - a lot of people who even call themselves Christians - who don't take that view. And we're seeing attacks on the trans community, the entire LGBTQ+ community, different racial communities - and it is a scary fraught time for a lot of people. And not just in terms of rhetoric, but in terms of policy being passed in a lot of places. What is Bothell doing to make all of its residents feel welcome and included, and how is that going?

[00:30:17] Mayor Mason Thompson: There's always a temptation during interviews like this to highlight the things that you're doing really well, 'cause we all wanna make ourselves look good, right? I'm not sure we're doing enough, to be blunt. We have resolutions - we can make public statements supporting Black and Brown people, supporting the trans community, supporting these groups that are traditionally marginalized - but I don't know that we're doing enough. And that pains me greatly. I could just talk about housing here and how, quite frankly, anybody that is in a traditionally marginalized group typically has less money than people who look like me. So creating more housing is the answer to a lot of questions, but I don't wanna just lean on that all the time and pretend like that's enough. So if anybody's got any great ideas, I'm here for them. And we have a couple of councilmembers that have some lived experience with this, and I lean on them heavily when it's time to make decisions - because they understand this a lot more than I do.

[00:31:16] Crystal Fincher: So if someone is interested in getting involved in the community, involved in policy in Bothell - what advice would you give them?

[00:31:26] Mayor Mason Thompson: If you are empathetic, if you care about other people, if you're curious, if you wanna figure out why things are the way they are, and if you're willing to do the work - both to get elected as well as to change the world once you are - you are completely qualified to run for office. Because nobody has any idea what they're doing. We are all guessing, we are all faking it - because we are all trying to solve problems that there isn't a playbook for. The built environment that we have is less than a hundred years old. We've reached the point in time where we know what doesn't work about it. And this hasn't been done before. We know things need to change, but this isn't a math problem. This isn't two plus two equals four. This is a really messy process - trying to unwind a whole lot of things that are really expensive to deal with and really problematic, and it requires a lot of change that makes people uncomfortable. If you're empathetic, if you're curious, and if you're willing to do the work - do something, do whatever you can do to make the world a better place. And if that looks like bringing a meal to a neighbor when they're having a rough day, do that. If that looks like running for office, do that. But plug in where you can and start doing the work. And if you start doing the work of trying to make the world a better place, other things find you at that point in time. So I would just say to anybody listening - don't underestimate yourself and don't overestimate the people that are already sitting in these seats because we don't know what we're doing. We're trying to figure it out. We're trying to make the best decisions we can to make the world a better place and we need help.

[00:33:07] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. I appreciate you bringing that up, especially that - hey, the people sitting in the seats of leadership right now don't necessarily have all the answers. I think a lot of people are used to seeing City of Seattle, our Legislature, Congress, and they see that they have these full staffs and policy people and an office full of people to help them wrap their arms around policy. That is not the case in suburbs - you are rolling up alone. It's considered a part-time job. In reality, if you're doing a good job at it, it usually is much more than a part-time job. And usually there's a stipend of less than $10,000/year, I think mostly less than $5,000/year. Yet we're tasking these people that we elect with managing sometimes multi-billion dollar budgets with that, and people are just rolling up with the knowledge that they have or had and doing whatever they're doing. There is not a lot of guidance. There's no person who has all of the expertise and all of the research and policy documents ready to hand to you. You have to seek that out to yourself, which is also a note - to people advocating for policy, advocacy organizations - that my goodness, if you get involved in suburbs, you can make such a huge difference and so many don't. What advice would you give to electeds at the local level - other mayors, other people on city councils - for the approach that they should take, or advice that you have for them on making the kind of change that they ran to make?

[00:34:42] Mayor Mason Thompson: Oh, you're gonna get me in trouble here. Do your best to meaningfully address the biggest issues we face. There's this idea that there's a difference between local issues and state issues and federal issues. And I have never heard anybody talk about policy that they support by saying - a different level of bureaucracy should handle this. And if we care about meaningfully addressing the biggest challenges that we face, then we are gonna have to change things. But you just laid out all of the reasons why that's so hard and why the system itself is so biased toward keeping things exactly the way they are right now. We hire part-time amateurs to make our most important policy decisions in almost every jurisdiction around here. And if you think about the experts that we're listening to - senior staff who give council their advice - they've been doing this for a long time. If you're a director at a city, you've had a really good career and you're really good at doing things the way that we're doing them right now. And most part-time councilmembers aren't gonna show up on a random Tuesday night and disagree with subject matter experts that have been doing this for decades, even if we know that we have to change things in order to get different results - because we don't know what we're doing, we rely on them. So I guess this isn't really advice, it's more just if you listen - well, this part's gonna be advice. If you listen to your community and you know that things need to change, have the courage to follow through and to actually change things instead of just making sympathetic noises toward our biggest problem and then fighting to keep everything exactly the same.

And I'm incredibly sympathetic to people in different jurisdictions because our job interview process is nine months long, it's all done in public. People will take anything you've ever said and try to take it out of context and use it against you. It requires an incredible amount of privilege. And the more wealthy your network, the easier it is to raise money. The more flexible your job is, the easier it is to both get and do the job. Folks in our community who are struggling just to get by - and there's a lot of them because of the way things are right now - they're busy trying to survive. Everybody should do everything they can to change the world, but if you're busy trying to survive - you can't do anything to change the world and that's okay. So I guess the advice that I would give is - recognize the amount of privilege that you have. And when the voices that we talk to - mostly as people who own homes, people who are comfortable, people who have the privilege to be able to do this work that pays us next to nothing, and will take as much time as you give to it - all of our friends are the same way. My friends are all pretty comfortable in life. So if we listen to the concerns of the comfortable and we only address the concerns of the comfortable, we're missing the biggest problems we face as society. Because all those big problems that I talk about, I don't face them - my life's pretty good. But we wanna actually make change, we have to make change, and we're gonna have to make some people uncomfortable - but I think it's really important that we talk about why, and we talk about shared values, and we talk about who we want to be rather than what we want to do.

Because I'm really petty and what I want to do is not always who I want to be, but who I want to be is somebody that cares about the people in society who need it the most. I wanna be bold enough to be able to make change that's necessary. I want my kids to be able to afford to live in Bothell - if they want to - down the road. I want to leave them a habitable planet. The way things are have caused all the things that are wrong with it. And this idea that we can nibble at the edges and not fundamentally change the way we do things and expect different results is wrong. So I don't even remember what question I was talking about - I was rolling and you didn't stop me - but I guess just have the courage to make change. And I know that it's really hard, and I know that people show up and yell at you in council meetings - and I don't know every other community, so I am really reticent to criticize any other elected official. But if there's one thing that I wish I had more company with, it's the comfort in actually being with people that are comfortable to actually change the things that are causing the biggest problems we face. And that is unfortunately in short supply.

[00:39:28] Crystal Fincher: Completely agree. Thank you so much for your insight today, information - glad we get to learn more about you and Bothell. Thank you so much, Mayor Mason Thompson.

[00:39:40] Mayor Mason Thompson: It's still weird to hear that title, but thank you very much, Crystal. And thank you for the work you do - I really appreciate it and I really enjoy listening to the show, and I'll probably listen to this one with a little more critical eye than most of them.

[00:39:52] Crystal Fincher: Much appreciated. Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks, which is co-produced by Shannon Cheng and Bryce Cannatelli. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at and in the episode notes.

Thanks for tuning in - talk to you next time.