Saturday, February 20, 2010

Seattle Mayor Mike: Early problems about "about style, not substance"

McGinn speaking to reporters Friday.

Chris Crygiel (
An avid basketball fan, Mike McGinn used a roundball analogy to describe the rough patches in his first month as mayor.
"Every time I've moved to a new town...I was always a pickup basketball player," McGinn said Friday during a briefing with the media. "And I would go find the court where people played, that I wanted to play. As the new guy in town, let me tell you, when you drive to the hoop you get a lot of hard elbows. And you have to throw a few hard elbows back, and then after a little while everybody stops throwing elbows and gets back to playing basketball. I think there's a little bit of that going on."

McGinn has upset the City Council with his proposal to ask taxpayers to fund a seawall replacement, a move some saw as a way to kill the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel replacement they favor. He rankled public employees by asking that 200 well paid, non-union staff positions be eliminated in the face of budget deficits (he's backed off on that one). And he's crosswise with the City Council and the region's business and labor communities on the best way to proceed with replacing the 520 bridge.

"A lot of the issues that have been raised to date are about style," McGinn said. "The basic things we're working on, the family initiative, getting light rail, transforming our transportation system, reducing government costs where appropriate. The fundamental policy positions we're pursuing, nobody's been arguing with those, they've been arguing about how we've done it."

While acknowledging missteps, McGinn threw a few hard elbows of his own. He challenged the City Council to back up talk about environmentalism with action, specifically on the 520 replacement. He says most councilmembers favor the option that means more cars coming into Seattle.

"We have goal to reduce our carbon emissions in the city," he said. "We have a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but we're about to get a bigger 520..we're starving transit, we're not funding the bike and (pedestrian) plan. The issue to me isn't what the goals should be, it's what the actions should be. My question to the City Council, or any proponent of this, let's just assume this is the right goal. Let's just seeing how our actions are measuring up."

The state and King County have agreed to a six-lane replacement for the Lake Washington span, featuring four general purpose auto lanes and two carpool lanes that could be converted to transit later. But powerful Seattle neighborhood groups, McGinn and House Speaker Frank Chopp, state Sen. Ed Murray and Rep. Jamie Pedersen oppose the plan, favoring an option with four auto lanes and two bus/transit-only lanes. They also want design issues resolved to mitigate the impact to Seattle neighborhoods at the west end of 520.

"Frankly, the issue is the negotiating ability of our champions in the Legislature - Murray, Chopp and Pedersen - was really dramatically undercut by the City Councilmembers who stood up with the Eastside legislators, to say push forward with A+," McGinn said.

McGinn acknowledged that there's not significant support for his 520 option in Olympia, but said it would be in everyone's best interest if there was more discussion about the $4.5 billion project to replace the Lake Washington span.

"We may indeed find that, at the end of the legislative session, that we're not in the position we'd like to be. What we're likely to see, because they've made clear this is their intention, is the communities impacted by this project will seek to delay the process...the other reality is the project doesn't have funding yet."

McGinn said he disagrees with people the bulk of the political establishment who say - "enough already" on 520 and point out that serious planning has been going on for 13 years.

'I don't think they're right. I think current course and speed on the current process is stalemate. The quickest way to get to a solution might be to get something that is absolutely supported by the public," he said, pointing to polling by advocates that shows a majority of people in Seattle and the Eastside support light rail on the 520 bridge.

McGinn also spoke about the lackluster response to his State of the City speech this week (the City Council will lay out its own, detailed plans Monday) and to comments about his casual style. He said his approach has worked for him so far.

"You'll recall during the campaign ...everyone was telling me I had to shave my beard and work on my hair. Dave Ross told me I had to get my shirts pressed. These all seemed to be very important issues that I needed to address," said McGinn, noting that he was opposed by the city's business and labor power structure. "We were pretty much under estimated throughout the entire campaign, and we did I think there's a little bit of that going on here, too."

McGinn reiterated that thought laying out specific goals for the first 100 days was not the way to go.

"We've announced...very big goals. Reforming education, a light rail ballot measure, walking, biking and transit - transforming our transportation system, more neighborhood planning...On each of these goals we've been taking incremental steps....we're going to try to make sure that we're positioning ourselves to think long term," he said. "I think at the end of the day...I'm not going to be judged on my hair cut or my beard... I think we're going to be judged by how well we did by working on issues that fundamentally affect jobs, the economy, social equity and sustainability."

Howie P.S.: Since The Mayor was trained as an attorney, let me opine like this: if the jury has problems with your "style" it's hard to win your case, regardless of how strong it is.

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