Not long ago, Sammamish residents were most likely to find their bubbly neighbor John Curley on Evening Magazine. Now the evening show where you are most likely to catch Curley starts at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday nights at .
Curley won election to the Sammamish City Council in 2009 and has embraced his new role with the same energy, wit and curiosity he brought to the KING-TV show he hosted for 14 years.
Along with other members of the city council, he is grappling with issues mostly aimed at preserving the quality of life that attracted many to this suburban city perched on the Plateau. On the top of the list are the proposed aquatic center, historic Freed house, reopening the street grid, more ball fields and, always, shoreline management.
"It's just like real government," said Curley, flashing his trademark grin during an interview.
On TV, Curley's goal each week was to make sure the audience liked him. The city council is a different story.
"Now people can dislike me for a real reason," he said. "But I vote my principles. This is a representative democracy and I stay true to that. I really look forward to Tuesday night city council. TV is ephemeral, it is gone. On the city council, I can make a difference."
State Attorney General Rob McKenna nudged Curley into the political arena. Curley admits a passion for politics. "Politics are my sport," he said, but had never considered running for office.
"I was flattered that he (McKenna) suggested it," said Curley, hinting that higher office might be a future consideration.
Curley quickly learned that the key to council success is to work with other members to build consensus.
"You can give an impassioned speech for a minute, but it isn't worth anything unless you are able to convince a majority of the others to see your side. You have to be able to sell your point," he said.
Curley soon gained a reputation as the "numbers guy" on the council. Since the city is considering a , for example, Curley wants to know how much it will cost per user.
"Maybe it will cost less to just build a swimming pool in the backyard of anyone who plans to use the aquatic park," he said. "Let's break down the numbers."
Michele Petitti, who also serves on the city council, reflected that Curley studies the topics at hand. "He has listened and learned about the many issues facing our citizens and how we work to find the best solution for our community," she said in an email. "He has done a good job walking the center line."
Making the transition
Curley stretched languidly in a leather chair next to the fireplace in his lodge-like living room. Sitting still doesn't seem to come naturally. After a few minutes he was on his feet again, grabbing another cup of coffee, letting the dog in, shooing one of his bold chickens away from the sliding glass doors, and helping daughter Charlie, who is nicknamed "Chuck," find a book she needed.
The Curley house is for sale. Suddenly the 4,000-square-foot home feels too big, too expansive for the more self-sufficient lifestyle he and his wife Lacey have embraced in the past year. They have their eye on a smaller, cozier place nearby. They have no plans to leave Sammamish.
"I can't, I'm on the city council," said Curley, adding that he loves the city, and can't imagine being far from where he swims daily during the summer.
The city council position pays about $800 a month, plus dental insurance — critical when your smile is part of your livelihood. But health insurance doesn't come with the job.
Like other families weathering the recession, the Curley family has adjusted its priorities and has come to a clearer understanding of real values.
"People are starting to realize that things are less important. It is our relationships, our families and people that are really important," he said.
Curley keeps busy and makes ends meet with his auctioneering, something he fell into accidentally while trying to find his future. He typed in some of his qualities and qualifications into Google, including "talking" and "fast."
"Auctioneer" popped up and Curley was smittened. He started practicing hours a day, even auctioning off the breakfast cereal to his kids, daughter "Chuck" and son Ry.
Curley is in demand as a fundraising consultant, scheduling 100 auctions a year. He already has engagements on his 2014 calendar. Auctioneering to raise money for health groups, hospitals, social services and nonprofits also turns out to be a passion.
"My auction business is vital to my soul. If I can get one more bid, that might be the bid we need, the dollars we need to save a life or find a cure for cancer," he said.
Curley learned early to talk fast. It was his way of dealing with dyslexia. He started professional life selling medical supplies on the East Coast. A chance meeting with George Takei, who portrayed Hikaru Sulu on the early Star Treks, gave Curley new direction.
Curley lowered his voice and, with a dead-on Sulu impression, he deeply and earnestly repeated the actor's advice: "You should become a TV weatherman."
Curley took Takei's words to heart and within three years was a weatherman in a top 10 market, then was asked to host a morning talk show. Despite his difficulty reading long pages of scripts or teleprompters, he was a whiz at ad-libbing and putting people at ease. His cheeriness was just what Washington, D.C. viewers needed to start their day. Seattle producers took note and Curley was lured to the West Coast.
With his fast talking and easy way with people, along with his strong name recognition and genuine passion for "doing good," Curley won his council race. He relished meeting voters, but balked at setting out campaign yard signs. He instead committed to planting a tree for every yard sign set up, in the end donating $360 to AmericanForest.org.