A conversation with Bothell Mayor Andy Rheaume
"Twenty-five years from now, that piece of land (Wayne Golf Course) is going to be huge for Bothell."
Andy Rheaume, 40, is a diehard Bothellite who’s never lived anywhere else. He got into local politics when he eyed a local problem. Now the watershed ecologist is in his first year as the mayor of Bothell. Rheaume sees his city’s future looking nothing like the place he grew up in. I sat down with him recently to find out more.
Andy: When I was a kid we hated Bothell. We’d go to Kirkland and Bellevue and anywhere that had things going on because they had things people wanted. I always thought Bothell was asleep. There are still people who say: We don’t want any growth. Leave it like the way it was in the ‘70s. That’s just unfortunate. The majority of people want change, they want to see growth, they want to see new things come in.
Gene: I’ve been taken with your efforts to create a downtown. Tell me about that.
Andy: We have two roads that have been around for 100 years. One that goes north to south from Bothell to Everett. And the other, 522, from Seattle all the way over to Woodinville.
We still have 527, the north and south route to Everett. But when Bothell moved the roads that basically wiped out the businesses along 522. We lost a lot of our core.
But now, finally, we’re changing that. We’re in the process of buying a bunch of properties to create a new downtown. There’s an exciting visioning process going on: transit-oriented with retail on the first floor of beautiful buildings with three stories of apartments and townhouses on top. Now I want to get it done so we can move on and focus on all the other needs of the city, like all the essential services, including parks.
Gene: Speaking of parks, let’s talk about the Wayne Golf Course, 89 green acres right next to the new downtown. You were on the Bothell City Council when it was almost lost.
Andy: I was there when the owners offered us the back 9 to purchase. We didn’t. I remember thinking, if only… Well, after a lot of twist and turns it worked out, thanks in large part to Forterra.
Gene: With Forterra now completing the purchase of the golf course, and working with the people of Bothell to protect it as a park, there’s a new chapter for Wayne. How do you see Wayne working with downtown and the neighborhood?
Andy: Have you been to Boise? They have something called the Greenbelt, along the Boise River there, through the city. I think that’s a good comparison to Wayne, along the Sammamish River through Bothell.
Gene: As Bothell develops, the park’s going to become more and more of an asset.
Andy: Twenty-five years from now, that piece of land is going to be huge for Bothell. You can actually go there and recreate and canoe and ride a bike. I personally would love to have a civic center there on the 4 acres that are buildable.
Gene: We’re with you on that. We really hope to activate it.
Andy: There could be restaurants and places to stay downtown and the synergy between Wayne and downtown Bothell would then brand the city in a way that wouldn’t have happened if we had lost the golf course.
Gene: Exactly. The two are greater together. You grew up in Bothell. How come you’re still there?
Andy: It’s a good location for me. My (oldest) son has always lived in Edmonds (because of divorce). I’ve always worked in Redmond. It’s right in the middle for me. That was really the main reason why I stayed. I guess I’m just comfortable there. I know this place inside out.
Gene: The fact that you have 40 years of history with this city, does that make you a better mayor or does that get in the way?
Andy: I have connections with so many people in peculiar ways—I rode bikes with that person in junior high, for example. It’s hard to paint me into a corner.
Gene: What was the biggest learning moment in your four years as a council member?
Andy: The Wayne golf course experience was huge in showing what can happen when the public isn’t well informed. Because if the city is taking direction without input from the community, it could go sideways really fast.
Gene: A more informed electorate makes your job more successful.
Gene: Who’s your favorite mayor in the region?
Andy: My boss John Marchione is a great mayor. I want the city of Bothell to be more like the city of Redmond, from a regional connectivity standpoint alone.
Gene: I don’t think John is flashy. But he’s really solid. He gets the values of his city.
Andy: He understands what the city is and what it’s not.
Gene: Can you see yourself living in Bothell forever?
Andy: I didn’t intend to be involved with politics. I was a public works guy who noticed construction sites were out of control; mud was going into creeks and into the road. So I went to a public comment period and I was shaking and I said, You’re not doing what you need to be doing to protect the environment. And two members actually made snippy, rude comments. I sat down and thought, Who the hell are they guys?
I became a planning commissioner. Then I ran for office. And here I am: Mayor. I really do like the role of helping people. I like that feeling about making connections and moving things forward for people.
Gene: What’s the hardest part about being mayor?
Andy: Losing time with my family.
Gene: Twenty years from now, what would you have liked to see put in place during your term of mayor?
Andy: I think Wayne could be something to look back on. I mean talk about a legacy to leave for the future.
The other thing, which isn’t as nearly as interesting, is to try and fix our road system. We’re $54 million in backlogged repair. If we fix that, it’ll be one of those things that I’ll care about very much.
This interview has been edited and condensed.