It’s hard to imagine a greater sorrow for a mayor than a public shooting. Mayor Jill Boudreau has weathered two major incidents—one in neighboring Burlington at Cascade Mall, and one on December 14 in her own town of Mount Vernon. Not only is there the worry for public safety, this one is personal—Mayor Boudreau worked closely with the Mount Vernon police department before her tenure as mayor, and they are like family to her. As of printing, the 30-year police force veteran, father, and grandfather survived but was critically injured with a gunshot wound to the head. He faces long-term rehab. Mayor Boudreau is hanging on with his family, watching for improvements. Because that is what mayors do when they are at their best—they care deeply for their citizens and wish for improvement and healing with each passing moment.
She was on her way to dinner the night the Skagit River Bridge carrying cars across the Skagit River on I-5 had collapsed. “I went to the scene right away.” The first thing on any elected official’s mind is loss of life. When she arrived, the police chief had to repeat several times, “There is no loss of life.” Boudreau was incredulous. “It was a miracle.” The coming months required an unprecedented coordination of local, state, and federal resources, with Mount Vernon at the center. Boudreau’s leadership was key in getting the bridge rebuilt quickly.
Boudreau grew up near Portland and spent summers in Surrey, B.C. Eventually, her parents moved to Mount Vernon, and Boudreau fell in love with the town. When her husband entered the Marine Corps, she agreed to move all over the world with him if she got to pick where they settled when he completed his service. She chose Mount Vernon. And, as she is in her second term as mayor, Mount Vernon chose Boudreau as well.
She has a career of public service, working for Hospice, then the police department. “I was raised with a strong sense of service. It’s just understood in my family as what you do. Most people think ‘Why me?’ For me, it was always ‘Why not me?’” She did concede that she had never imagined a life of politics for herself. “I never thought I’d be an elected official. I liked volunteering for church, and as a military wife, but I didn’t think of myself as political.”
She became interested in politics as a way to serve her community. In 2011, her girl squad suggested she run for mayor, and she knew she had the background and skills to do the job. “I didn’t think the elected leaders were representing all of Mount Vernon. I looked at them and thought, ‘I can do this.’” Gifted with the ability to think above her personal needs and sacrifices in the interest of public service and surrounded by huge support from the police department with whom she worked, Boudreau had a successful campaign. She didn’t take a second of her campaign for granted, though. “Even if I lost that election, at least people would see their values reflected in a candidate, and that would be enough.” But she did win.
Now in her second term, she is building on her early successes, and creating a Mount Vernon that is more than just a pass-through between Seattle and Vancouver, but a soughtout community. “It’s exciting to see the small breweries, restaurants, [and] galleries open and do well here. I see Mount Vernon as a city where people want to visit, people want to stop and enjoy what we have to offer. I want a city where residents are proud of this city and are happy living in a successful community.” She regularly hosts a coffee in which citizens bring their complaints and compliments, ideas and irritations to her directly. There’s something special about a mayor who sits with the public in a casual setting and hashes things out one-on-one. “I love connecting with people.”
Boudreau sees a bright future for Mount Vernon, with technology businesses moving in, agriculture feeling supported, and people choosing Mount Vernon over Seattle for its way of life. As for Boudreau, she is enjoying her job as mayor, and it shows in the way she talks about her job. Her favorite spot in the area is in Little Mountain Park at the bench on the north side. The view from there is of the city she loves, and loves to serve. There may be storms ahead, but Mayor Boudreau will be there with her citizens to weather them.