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A Calling for Service 

Article by Allison Holm

Photography by Photos provided by City Hall

Originally published in Kirkland Lifestyle

Amy Walen has a lot on her plate. To be mayor of Kirkland, Washington, which has grown to more than 80,000 residents and is now the 12th largest city in the state, requires an incredible amount of time and dedication. Amy is up to the challenge.

Amy continues to rise to the occasion, and this is not the only challenge she’s overcome. The Oregon native completed treatment for breast cancer in 2005, the same year that she and her husband, Jim, arrived in Kirkland to acquire Ford Hyundai of Kirkland. Grateful to be alive and for the wonderful treatment from Evergreen Hospital, Amy wanted to give back in some way. She became involved in awareness organizations while shuttling her friends to and from chemotherapy treatment. After the loss of several of those friends started taking its toll, she sought a different way of giving back. Amy was encouraged to run for office by one of her mentors, former Kirkland Mayor Mary Alyce Burleigh, after delivering a speech at the Kirkland Chamber of Commerce. Amy wasn’t confident that she could win as she had just moved to the area and had spent much of her first year in treatment. In addition, there weren’t many local business owners on city council. Amy decided to go for it anyway. She won and was elected to the Kirkland City Council in 2009. She has been re-elected three times and was selected by her colleagues on the council to serve as mayor in 2014, 2016 and 2018. Amy, in her own words, has been “having fun ever since.”

A Love for Kirkland

Amy adores the small-town feel of Kirkland. She loves having friendships with neighbors and many local business owners and being part of such an active community.

“Our community loves to celebrate our city, to show it off. Events like Summerfest, Oktoberfest and the Fourth of July Parade are organized by volunteers who support our city.”

Amy acknowledges that though Kirklanders may not always agree on everything.

“We support each other and always work together to find a solution. We’ve got amazing neighborhood associations, our local Chamber of Commerce, a very involved city government, and everyone knows everyone. If you want to be involved in Kirkland, you can. We live in such a special place.”

The physical beauty of the city certainly isn’t lost on Mayor Walen. She comments on the uniqueness of the lakefront park system.

“Residents have stepped in to preserve the land and invest in the quality of life with the Cross Kirkland Corridor and our local parks.”
This quality of life will be preserved for future generations.

A Smart-Growth City

Amy describes Kirkland as a welcoming and vibrant community. After presenting a proclamation declaring Kirkland’s commitment to being a welcoming, safe and inclusive community, she is proud to have passed a complementary ordinance. This ordinance puts into law the city policy to provide everyone in Kirkland with all city services, “including police and fire services, without discrimination regardless of race, ethnicity or immigration status.”

“The proclamation was community-driven, not political,” she says, and was presented along with a citizen petition, signed by more than 750 people expressing their support.

In terms of growth, Amy acknowledges that any process of change in infrastructure can bring growing pains. There’s a fine balance of supporting healthy growth while preserving our small-town feel. Juanita Village is an example of an appealing combination of residences, services and parks.

Amy is also excited about the economic development and revitalization of the Totem Lake Business District which has been transformed into an urban lifestyle village on the Eastside.

When restoring the former railroad tracks of the Cross Kirkland Corridor, Kirkland was the first city and the front-runner in our region to pull up our section of the rails. Redmond and Bellevue have subsequently done the same. The Cross Kirkland Corridor serves as an interim trail that will be developed into a multi-use transportation corridor. What was once unused, unpopulated space is now filled with people walking, biking and enjoying the city.

For future growth, the mayor discussed preserving the beautiful lakefront for all to enjoy and maintaining a walkable community by limiting building heights around the lake.

“We are a smart-growth city. Kirkland is so unique. There’s no place like it,” Amy says.

It is important to welcome growth and diversity through strategic development and smart transportation infrastructure to avoid the congestion and challenges that often come with such growth. This approach allows us to accept growth while preserving the Kirkland that we love.

A Day in the Life

In addition to being our mayor, Amy holds the title of full-time Ford of Kirkland CFO, wife and mother of three. After her sister passed away, Amy and Jim became the legal guardian of her sister’s youngest son, who just graduated from Lake Washington High School. Amy touches on the fact that she and Jim are soon-to-be empty nesters, leaving them with an empty, “but cleaner” house.

Monthly subcommittee meetings and weekly briefings from the city manager keep Amy up to date on all things local. She is also the president of the Sound Cities Association, which represents 38 cities of King County (excluding Seattle). Initiated as an effort for cities to collaborate on regional solutions, it is a valuable platform in which more than 1 million people can share one voice.

Around Town

Amy enjoys walking her two dachshunds around Kirkland, exploring the network of paths that connect the parks and lakefront. Cooking is also a passion, and she loves the local farmers' markets and natural foods stores that make fresh and seasonal produce available, acknowledging that “having choices and variety in a city is important.” Amy also likes to travel, and she admires how the little towns and century-old cities in Europe can change without losing their essential identity. This reminds her of Kirkland and reassures her that through the inevitable growth and change the future will bring for the city, the essence of Kirkland will remain the same.  

Looking Forward

Amy considers being mayor of Kirkland “the best job in the world,” but that hasn’t hindered her from stepping into a different realm of the political ring. She decided to run for the Washington State House of Representatives in the 48th Legislative District following the Parkland school shooting in Florida. With the announcement that current Rep. Joan McBride will be retiring, Amy knew this was an opportunity for her to advance her leadership and make a larger impact in the areas of reducing preventable gun violence, addressing housing affordability, advocating for environmental protections and investing in proven mental health and addiction services. Amy knows that certain changes must be enacted at the state level, and she enjoys hosting town halls and hearing from community members. She acknowledges that it’s hard enough to make a living and raise a family and that not everyone has the time to get involved in politics. She fondly remembers a quote from one of her dearest mentors: “We must always remember that we represent all of you. All of the people who are here, and all of the people who aren’t here.” She is looking forward to taking her local leadership to the state level and is excited by the results of the Aug. 7 primary election where she received 76.14 percent of the vote. 

We thoroughly enjoyed chatting with the mayor and look forward to seeing her around town discussing local change with community leaders or walking her two dachshunds along the waterfront.