Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Mallahan: "McGinn, all about 'opposition,' wrong for Seattle"

Chris Grygiel (Strange Bedfellows-seattlepi.com):
A funny thing happened on Joe Mallahan's way to challenging Mayor Greg Nickels in November.
Nickels was defeated in the August primary by Mike McGinn and Mallahan. Now Mallahan, who was among the incumbent's most forceful critics, finds himself allied with Nickels' biggest supporters in a race against McGinn defending one of Nickels' signature issues - replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel.

Just as criticism of the unpopular Nickels dominated the primary debate, the $4.2 billion viaduct tunnel has become the signature issue in the general election campaign. In many ways the November vote has become a referendum on Seattle's civic culture. Mallahan says after eight years of discussions, McGinn's opposition to the tunnel is a move backward at a time when the city can't afford to stall in improving its transportation infrastructure.

In an interview with seattlepi.com at his Eastlake campaign office, Mallahan talked about the race, why he thinks now is not the time for a leader like McGinn who has spent his career "organizing groups to oppose things," why Nickels' previous backers have endorsed him and why his background as a native Northwesterner, executive at T-Mobile and community organizer make him the right fit for Seattle.

You were running a strong campaign against Mayor Nickels in the primary. Obviously, things have changed. With Mr. Nickels out of the race how does that alter your message and what you're trying to do?

I got into this race because I felt that city government had become inefficient and ineffective at delivering the basic services. Because we were at risk of moving backward. I got in because I've got a lot of management and leadership experience and I share the same values as the people of Seattle. I was born and raised in a working class family - hard work, integrity, service to others. I think my values and my leadership experience were the right mix to lead Seattle forward. The fact that there's a different candidate doesn't change my message very much.

Mike's got his own agenda and I need to respond to that. I do think his opposition to moving forward on our infrastructure is a defining point for him and I've certainly responded to that.

You were critical of the mayor for moving forward with the Mercer Street project, saying the money could be better used elsewhere. The memorandum of understanding the city signed on the viaduct tunnel replacement includes completing the Mercer plan. What should be done with Mercer, considering its connection to the viaduct.

There was a letter of understanding that was a framework for the legislation funding the tunnel. It included projects going forward - Spokane Street..Fourth Avenue Off ramp, and also Mercer. That's all an integrated plan to keep people and goods moving through Seattle. I expressed opposition to breaking ground on the Mercer Project because I felt the mayor and the City Council hadn't given adequate consideration to what the local land owners in South Lake Union should be contributing. With a major project where there's a specific benefit that accrues to landowners, there's an opportunity to ask those landowners for a contribution through a local improvement district. I think that's still the appropriate thing. I also expressed concern about turning dirt on the project before it was fully funded. It's still $50 million or more underfunded. We've applied for a tiger grant, for that money, and that's appropriate. But we've got to get it fully funded. But I would like to take a little time to figure out the appropriate amount for landowners to contribute.

Is that something you think we should look at for the viaduct tunnel as well, having downtown business owners who might benefit from opening up the waterfront contribute more to the project?

The tunnel itself is fully funded by the state. The Legislature got that bill all the way through in the last minute, but appended this idea about Seattle paying for cost overruns. That's a state highway project. The state should pay for its highway project. I've talked to a number of members of the Seattle delegation and I think we'll be working with the Legislature to remove that stipulation. We had consensus - there aren't good reasons for that stipulation. I plan to be a mayor that works closely with Olympia and collaboratively. I think people in Olympia get that. But one of the things I will be asking for is the removal of that provision.

The city has to come up with $930 million for its share of the tunnel project. They're not there yet. Should substantial work begin on the tunnel before the money is in hand?

This project is too important to the economy of Seattle and the environment to delay. People talk about the $930 million. Again, the letter of understanding between the governor, the mayor and the county executive, talked about the city paying for certain things - like the seawall. And Mayor Nickels, in earlier years, tried to make the case that the seawall was related to the replacement of the viaduct and tried to get the state to pay for it. And I appreciate him trying to get that done, but it's the city's seawall and it would be irresponsible for us not to move forward with replacing that seawall. In a major earthquake that seawall could fail. It would be an economic disaster as well as an environmental disaster. We need to own up to what our responsibilities are.

Another project in that $930 million was a First Avenue streetcar. I've said I'm opposed to that. The mayor's budget reflected moving away from the First Avenue streetcar...we have to be pragmatic about our decisions and the First Avenue streetcar just isn't essential.

I asked Mr. McGinn this same question, setting aside the viaduct, which you guys disagree about, what's the biggest difference between you two in the way you're approaching the race and the way you would approach being mayor?

Well, I have a long track record of bringing people together, diverse groups of people together, to reach a consensus and move forward. I'm open, I'm accountable, I listen. I lead through the force of my principals, and by virtue of the fact that people who work with me know that I make principled decisions. I'm not closed minded, I guess is the best way to put it.

Mike has had a successful career but a lot of his career has been about opposition. I'm not making judgment of whether his opposition has been a bad thing, but if you look at the two candidates and their management credentials and their leadership style, Mike has been most effective at organizing groups to oppose things. And I think Seattle, with the economy the way it is, it shouldn't have taken us eight years to get to a consensus on the Highway 99 project. But we have consensus - it's broad - the governor, the Legislature, the previous county executive, I'm sure the new county executive and the City Council. Everybody's in agreement and Mike wants to rehash that. It's a little bit irresponsible. We have to recognize that process is good, but it shouldn't have taken us eight years. It's a huge economic risk to one of our key transportation corridors.

I do think that my leadership style and my management experience are the right combination to move us forward.

You've received most of the business and labor endorsements. Labor opposed you in the primary, largely because your company, T-Mobile, was perceived as hostile to union organizing. If you were elected mayor would you support the efforts of the Communications Workers of America to organize T-Mobile employees?

The reason labor opposed me was they didn't know me. I don't think they knew my working class background. I grew up in South Everett. The vast majority of my friends and classmates were kids from union families - Boeing, Weyerhaeuser, Scott Paper - and it wasn't lost on me growing up that the middle class lifestyle we all enjoyed was a result of strong unions in America. I'm a lifelong Democrat, social justice Democrat. When I had an opportunity to let people get to know me, they supported me overwhelmingly. It is interesting that endorsements from across the city, in every neighborhood and every sector, the endorsements are for me. Mike has picked up virtually no endorsements, the Sierra Club which he led for a long time endorsed him, and I respect and understand that. The Cascade Bicycle Club. I don't know of other endorsements beyond that. It might speak to people's understanding of what kind of leader we need going forward.

The mayor does have a bully pulpit. If you were mayor, would you support unions' attempts to organize at private companies like T-Mobile that are not unionized right now.

I believe it is the role of the mayor of Seattle to be a proponent of organized labor. It's my own personal ethic and as mayor I will bargain in good faith with the city employees and protect their rights. And in the private sector I will be a moral voice for the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively.

They mayor has proposed a gun ban at many city facilities. What do you think about that? Would it even work? Is it practical?

I think we need to be very careful to have a practical solution. I do support banning assault weapons. That just makes sense. It stands up, constitutionally, quite easily. We have to do every thing in our power to get gun violence out of our culture. Particularly youth gun violence. I think one of the places we can go there, is to understand what are the consequences of youth gun possession. In our current gun laws, we already have hundreds of weapons violations. I think we have to be strategic about what to do about that. When you have a juvenile, age 16, gun in his backpack. What are the ramifications there? I don't think we're serving youth well or our neighborhoods well if we don't ensure that there are clear ramifications. I think an automatic weapons ban and focusing on how to enforce current gun laws are the clearest opportunity for improving public safety.

Last time we had a budget squeeze in 2002 the mayor underfunded the youth outreach model. He used the family and education levy to try to fund that, and all the programs that weren't focused on youth in schools - half the youth at risk weren't in school - we basically abandoned those programs. Every child that's a victim of gun violence is a child of every Seattleite. As a community, we need to work together to be pragmatic and principled to get back to where we were, pre-2002, where we had low youth violence and gangs weren't an issue. It's a matter of investment.

You were critical of the mayor for his administration's use of high-priced advisors and consultants. Some of Mayor Nickels' consultants and advisors have worked with you on your campaign. If you get elected, are these people out of luck in trying to get work?

There will definitely be some consultants who are out of luck, yeah. I'm not making these statements cavalierly. I have a lot of experience in the corporate world, where I see leaders use management consultants to distance themselves from decisions that they should be making. I talk to Seattle middle management, and they talk about how 'the person to the right of me and the person to the left of me are both consultants and they're charging fees that are three or four times what I earn and they do the same work.' And quite frankly I have seen this in corporate America. I used to be a management consultant myself.

Management consultants come in and sell a project where they've got subject matter expertise and they look at how else to add value, but very often I have seen very often in corporate America where consultants become entrenched and they aren't adding value. It's my estimation that there's something like $60 million worth of consulting going on in City Hall.

You'd get rid of a lot of that?

Yeah. There's time when you need consultants. But my estimation is that City Hall has become far too reliant.

Early in Mayor Nickels' administration there were complaints about the siting of cell phone towers in residential neighborhoods. The city basically made it difficult to put towers there. You have a lot of experience in the cell phone world, is this something you would revisit?

I can't imagine that being anywhere near the top priorities of my administration. It is interesting, as a technology guy, for me to hear Mike McGinn talking about building a municipal Wi-Fi network (McGinn has said he wants to build a city-wide fiber optic network). That to me is just not pragmatic. People in suits and ties sipping lattes having Wi-Fit access, I think we've got that covered. We've got to make sure there's Internet access for poor people, in public facilities, in libraries, keeping libraries open...Muni Wi-Fi is not the most important thing for economy, and I don't think Mike gets that.

Last question. You have an extensive business background, you've been a community organizer, you've worked abroad. You have a month to convince Seattle voters you should be their mayor. What are you going to tell them and what in your background makes you the right guy?

Over my career I've created a long track record of open and accountable management and effective leadership. We're facing tough economic time and we need pragmatic leadership and also leadership that brings people together. We're at a historic moment where people have come together to move Seattle forward and we're at risk of going back and rehashing a bunch of decisions. We have real economic stress in our city. Ten percent of our residents are out of work. I think both my business background, my international experience studying economies and my community organizing make me well rounded and have given me the skills to be a very effective leader in the private sector and city government and corporations aren't the same thing, but open, accountable effective leadership does transcend the private and public sector. My values, which are Northwest values, and my leadership skills make me the candidate best suited to lead us forward.

Thanks for your time.

My pleasure.

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