Aberdeen Mayor Pete Schave not running for re-election

Three years and four months into the job, Aberdeen Mayor Pete Schave has decided not to run for re-election.

The 70-year-old civic leader, who spent 18 years on the Aberdeen City Council and who worked with Grays Harbor PUD before becoming mayor, wants to retire.

“I’ve probably had enough,” Schave said to The Daily World.

The new mayor will take over starting Jan. 1, 2024.

Schave said the last few years as mayor — he beat Erik Larson, the city’s former mayor in November 2019 — have been tough. From dealing with a worldwide pandemic a couple months into the job, having zero personnel management training and other city issues, Schave dealt with an extensive learning curve.

“Probably right off the bat, when I became mayor, there were some drastic changes because COVID,” Schave said. “We went through quite a lengthy period, as you well know, of just total change in the way we did things.”

Based on what Schave said to The Daily World, it’s clear he couldn’t do his job without the city staff he has behind him.

Schave asked Stacie Barnum, the city’s parks and recreation director, to oversee the COVID-19 protocol and he’s glad he did.

“It wasn’t just that she was available,” Schave said about the city’s parks being shut down. “She’s very, very capable of managing something like that. And she did a fantastic job. And that goes throughout the staff. I’ve asked them ‘Hey, can you do this,’ or ‘check this out,’ and they step right in there and do fantastic work.”

That also leads to the first thing that he mentioned he’d have changed if he could go back in time to January 2020, his first month as mayor. That’s hire a city administrator. He knew a substantial weakness he had, a lack of personnel management training.

“That to me was probably one of the most serious deficiencies that I found in me as mayor,” Schave said. “That’s what really led me to see the light that the city needs a city administrator.”

Schave is happy the city landed on hiring Ruth Clemens, who started in the position Oct. 3.

“She’s done a fantastic job, given the staff direction and focusing on everybody,” Schave said.

One of the accomplishments Schave spoke about was the Aberdeen-Hoquiam Flood Protection Project.

“We knew we had to get this levee project up and running,” Schave said. “When that project first started, we kind of all chuckled, ‘yeah right, we’re gonna build this levee when the cow jumps over the moon,’ because of the cost and price of it. But, look, we’re doing it. We went after it so hard, and one of the things that was such a mental challenge at first is how much it cost.”

Schave said one of the things he initiated was reaching out to Hoquiam and partnering with Hoquiam for lobbyists.

“We got the lobbyist team working in Olympia,” Schave said. “That’s just been wonderful. We enhanced that by also including Washington, D.C. … We almost have the money for the levee project, and that’s gonna change the world here.”

Schave is also proud of his work on the union contracts in November 2019.

“Mayor Larson wanted me to do the rest of the union contracts, so all three unions were getting new contracts that year,” Schave said. “So, I came off the election in November to right here in city hall, working with the city negotiating team. I think I made some good strides. I really believe a person should get paid. You’re working hard to do this job. You should get paid right for it. I think I made some progress with that type of attitude in mind, and so I feel good about it.”

After discussing how when he first moved into city hall in January 2020, he put the artwork in his office, and then “slam-bang,” had to start dealing with the COVID pandemic and all of the developments that had to be done there, it led him right back to discussing the staff that he’s clearly grateful to have.

“One thing about having enough staff to do some of these projects, is we have to hire them out if we don’t,” Schave said. “We’ve never had so many engineers on staff as we do now. They don’t quite, but they pay for themselves.”

Schave mentioned Nick Bird and Rick Sangder, the city’s engineer and city’s public works director, respectively.

“They’re just swamped, busy,” Schave said. “We have the asphalting program, the sidewalk programs, the levee project, the East Aberdeen Rail Separation Project, which was another one of those nobody thought we’d ever fund it and we’ve got all the funding for it. Now, we’re replacing the Young Street Bridge, we got the funding for that. We’re working over there in Fry Creek … you can’t even recognize that Fry Creek area now, from what it was just a few months ago. We’re gonna build the new pump station there.”

The Fry Creek Pump Station is a big part of the levee project. Dee Anne Shaw, Aberdeen city councilmember shared what the pump station will accomplish, being able to pump 130,000 gallons per minute out of Aberdeen’s west end.

As far as developments still to go in the last seven-and-a-half months before he retires from official city work, Schave is glad to get the museum and the Gateway Center project going. The building at 118 W. Wishkah St. is supposed to house both projects. While it requires extensive repairs, it appears to be headed in the right direction.

Schave said he’s also about to start interviewing to fill the finance director vacancy.

One thing he wishes he could have changed about how he handled his mayorship is to be more “progressive rather than reactive.” He said it’s been tough and the city has tried to progress.

“I would like to have police officers walking a beat in downtown Aberdeen, instead of reacting to a phone call or radio call, but we just don’t have the staffing to do it,” said Schave, who’s a big advocate for public safety.

Schave, a born and raised Harborite who graduated from Wishkah Valley High School and then Grays Harbor College, said he got into politics when he started his family.

“When I got married and started having kids, that was the defining factor,” Schave said. “I wanted things better for my kids.”

And now, at the end of his political career, he looks back at it fondly.

“This last three and a half years has made me a better person in many ways,” Schave said, noting how his leadership role at Union Gospel Mission — he’s the chair of the board — has benefited from what he’s learned as mayor. “I’m definitely a better person for leading this city through the last three and a half years.”

Schave had advice for the new mayor when he or she takes charge Jan. 1.

“I think the biggest piece of advice I would say is be open to the city and participate,” said Schave, who described himself as an introvert. “I would say don’t be that way. Get out there as often as possible — daily, weekly, however it is, as often as possible. Go through all these businesses downtown and say ‘Hello,’ to everybody. That kind of stuff. Now that we have a city administrator who’s actually running the day-to-day stuff, the next mayor I hope will get out into the community and visit the businesses and hear what they have to say. Those are the kinds of things I would have liked to do more of instead of running the city’s day-to-day operations.”

Contact Reporter Matthew N. Wells at matthew.wells@thedailyworld.com.