Backus takes reins as Auburn's first female mayor | 2013 Person of the Year

Pacific Mayor Leanne Guier, left, shares a laugh with Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus at Guier’s office this week. Guier has helped her City recover from mistakes made by the prior administration. Backus, Auburn’s first female mayor in its 120-year history, succeeds Pete Lewis.  - Shawn Skager/Auburn Reporter
Pacific Mayor Leanne Guier, left, shares a laugh with Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus at Guier’s office this week. Guier has helped her City recover from mistakes made by the prior administration. Backus, Auburn’s first female mayor in its 120-year history, succeeds Pete Lewis.
— image credit: Shawn Skager/Auburn Reporter

From her earliest days, Nancy Backus threw herself into community-based activities, from grade-school bowl-a-thons and junior high school bike-a-thons to high school DECA.

In time Backus' native inclination blossomed into a full-blown passion for politics, leading her to accept Jeanne Barber's old seat on the Auburn City Council in 2004 and from there to win two successive terms on the council in her own right.

As she'll tell you, however, love for politics has never translated into love for politicians.

What Backus never has been, never will be, she says, is a politician of the backslapping, glad-handing stripe, more in love with titles, honorifics and the perks of office than with getting good things done for people.

"Politician denotes something negative now for most people, and in most people's minds, when you call someone a politician, it's not necessarily a compliment," Backus said.

Which says a lot about how Backus intends to comport herself as Auburn's next mayor.

When Backus takes the oath at the first City Council meeting of 2014 on Monday at City Hall, she'll be the first woman in Auburn's 120-year history to serve as its chief executive.

Just don't expect her to harp on that fact.

"It's an absolute honor to be making history, but I am never going to take this position lightly," said Backus, who along with Pacific Mayor Leanne Guier, are the Auburn Reporter's 2013 Persons of the Year. "I am extremely honored, but I'm also not going to be the type to stand on titles and all that. I'm still Nancy. I'm thrilled to be the mayor and thrilled to be the first female mayor, but along with that comes a lot of responsibility, and that's what I want to focus on."

Many helped her show the way

As mayor, Backus means to draw on lessons her mentors and heroes, especially her parents, taught her.

"Mom and dad were really hardworking people. They gave me a really good work ethic. They worked very hard to make sure that my brother and I had everything we needed, not necessarily everything we wanted all the time, but everything we needed. They taught me how to work hard and make things better," Backus said.

No doubt she'll mix in a spot of wisdom handed down by an aunt who served as mayor of a small Kansas town.

"I think the one thing my aunt told me when I was 7 or 8 years old was that she could make a citizen's arrest. I thought, 'Wow, that's the coolest thing. My aunt is the mayor, and she can make a citizen's arrest.' At 7 or 8 years old, oh my gosh. I always knew I'd be involved somehow, I wasn't quite sure where."

Backus found other heroes and mentors among her teachers at Pioneer Elementary School and South Auburn — now Gildo Rey — at Olympic Junior High, and at Auburn High School, from which she graduated in 1979. In 1981 she graduated from Green River Community College with an AA in business.

"At the time I had what I thought was a really good-paying job working at Piggly Wiggly. I was making more money than my friends who had continued on in college. I was the first female boxboy. I loved that work, loved being around people. Finally, I moved up to Enumclaw Food Center, where I injured my back and was off work for a year."

Backus' worked in food brokerage sale before doing a complete 180 and taking an accounting job with the Boeing Company. After earning her degree in accounting, she moved to auditing financial statements for benefit plans, and then spent 10 years on the company's commercial side. Two years ago she moved into financial planning.

She recalled her first foray into active politics.

"I started on the City Council to replace Jeanne Barber, who was one of my mentors. When she said that was going to retire and would I consider applying for the open position on the council, I didn't think twice about it. It was such an honor that she had thought about me. I loved that woman. She meant a great deal to me," Backus said.

"One of the things about Jeanne was that she had a huge heart, and she cared a lot, but she also knew when to call you on your BS. And she could do it in such a way, that you would almost say 'thank you' when she was done. Just a class act. She taught me a lot about strength," Backus said.

Niceness no weakness at all

Backus is aware that own reputation as a "nice person," may lead some to interpret the trait as a weakness.

"I don't see it as a weakness, I see it as a strength," Backus said. "But if they want to underestimate me because I'm nice, go ahead. But I'm here to serve the city. I do have compassion.

"Mayor Lewis' saying was that he was an ex-banker. So what will be the common thing for Nancy? That she'll get choked up whenever something touching comes up? You know, that's part of who I am. Yeah, I'm going to get teared up from time to time, but it doesn't mean that I'm weak, it just means that I care.

"When I first thought about running, I realized that if I had to change who I am for the job, then it wouldn't be worth having."

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