Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Connelly on Hizzoner McGinn: "create chaos, then conquer."

Chris Grygiel (
One gets the feeling that if Mike McGinn were an advisor to Napoleon, he would've told the French emperor that the British, Spanish and Russians weren't enough of a challenge. Why not take on China and Japan as well, just to make things interesting.

Seattle's mayor on Wednesday forcefully renewed his objections to the $4.2 billion tunnel replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct, saying he'd veto a technical agreement between the city and state that will likely be signed in the next few weeks. McGinn, who is fighting battles on multiple fronts right now, wants a controversial provision requiring Seattle to pay for cost overruns removed from the legislation state lawmakers approved two years ago. Considering the city's precarious budget situation, the mayor says it would be irresponsible to move forward with the provision in place.

"Don't you wish that someone at Washington Mutual had said, "Maybe we shouldn't make those sub-prime loans?'" McGinn said during a briefing with reporters. "That is where we are right now."

Nonsense, say City Councilmembers and Gov. Chris Gregoire.

"I think this is just another effort on McGinn's part to try to slow down and stop the project," said Tom Rasmussen, chairman of the City Council's transportation committee. "If there are cost overruns - and we're doing everything we can to prevent that - the state would have to take further action to make Seattle area property owners pay for those...I wouldn't stand for a veto, I wouldn't support a veto. We're working to develop agreements with the state that will protect the city's interests."

Viet Shelton, Gregoire's spokesman, said the mayor's delaying action "actually increases the likelihood of increased costs and overruns."

McGinn is also battling the Council and Gregoire right now over the State Route 520 bridge replacement. Most Councilmembers and Gregoire favor a six auto-lane option for the Lake Washington span; McGinn wants two auto lanes now dedicated to buses and carpools reserved for buses only and wants greater assurances that 520 will be able to take light rail in the future. And he and the Council are engaged in an increasingly testy war of words over Seattle's busted operating budget, which is at least $120 million in the red through 2012.

The mayor cast his latest objection to the tunnel as an appeal to frugality. If the project goes just 1 percent over budget, city taxpayers could be on the hook for $31 million, he said. If it goes 50 percent over cost estimates, the bill could be $1.5 billion - which exceeds the city's operating budget for this year by more than $600 million.

Unlike last month's debate over the aggressive panhandling bill, this is a fight McGinn is unlikely to win. He vetoed the panhandling bill and the Council seems unable to muster the six votes needed to overturn McGinn's rejection. On the viaduct tunnel, it looks like there will be enough votes to stymie a mayoral veto. McGinn acknowledged this fact Wednesday. "If the Council votes to proceed under any circumstances, I am bound by their vote."

What the mayor is trying to put his rivals on the Council in a politically awkward position. He wants them to own future cost overruns by reserving the right to say: "I told you so."

Not surprisingly, this is driving his many critics nuts. The Council played nice with Gregoire on the 520 bridge. Not without justification, Councilmembers point to the significant concessions state planners made to the city in final bridge design unveiled last month. Its better to work with people, not against them, they say.

City infighting about the tunnel is counterproductive, according to Councilmembers.

"It's a huge benefit for Seattle to get this thing done," said Council President Richard Conlin. "The surest way is to create cost overruns is to create delay."

The viaduct fight makes everything else that much more difficult, Conlin said. "We really need to work together. This budget is going to be a huge challenge. It's just not helpful when we have this kind of cross purposes."

The problem for Conlin and others is the mayor is most happy when he's duking it out. And this latest skirmish brings McGinn back to his original campaign issue. "I don't like the tunnel. I never liked the tunnel," the mayor said Wednesday.

My colleague Joel Connelly has described McGinn's overarching strategy as "create chaos, then conquer." He has succeeded with the former. Whether he can accomplish the latter remains to be seen.

Howie P.S.: Once again the comments are instructive. And Erica C. Barnett (Publicola) tells the story; the headline is "McGinn Says He’ll Veto Tunnel Agreement; Council President Says Mayor is “Grandstanding.”

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