Wednesday, October 28, 2009

John Fox: "A longtime Seattle activist's thoughts on the mayoral race"

John Fox, head of the anti-homelessness group, the Seattle Dispacement Coalition (Seattle PostGlobe):
Last week I reported on our meeting with Mike McGinn and offered some of my impressions. This week, I report on our meeting with Joe Mallahan and close with my final reflections on both candidates

First a report on our meeting with Mallahan held last week:

Our meeting with Joe Mallahan last week began right at 1130AM in his campaign offices and lasted 45 minutes...up from the 30 minutes he originally have us but still not long enough to cover the breadth of issues and concerns we had hoped to discuss with him. Those attending included Justin Simmons (Metropolitan Democratic Club), Sarjane Siegfried (46th District Democrats), David Bloom (Displacement Coalition and Council Candidate), Bill Kirlin-Hackett (Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness), Julian Wheeler (43rd District Democrats) and Joshua Okrente (Low Income Housing Institute). Former Seattle City Councilmember Tina Podlodowsky (and likely Deputy Mayor) joined Joe at our table.

Note that the organizational affiliations listed above are for ID purposes only. However, everything that follows below, I get 100 percent of the blame, as the case may be, especially the last part where I compare the candidates - it is all my own...

Our meeting with Joe Mallahan first was scheduled three weeks ago but canceled. After some of our supporters raised a stink and reporters covered this fact, Mallahan rescheduled it for last week. At the outset of our meeting with him, he more or less apologized for these difficulties saying it's just that he's been completely inundated with requests.


We ended up spending a good 20 minutes or more discussing the question of "access" and "openness". Would he simply reprise the Nickels regime or offer a real change in terms of ensuring access for folks such as us and the neighborhoods? We referenced how housing and homeless advocates, neighborhood groups, and other grassroots organizations have been completely cut off from this current Mayor and referenced even cases where some members of this Mayor's staff promised retribution (cutting off individuals and groups from access or even funding if they didn't cooperate/support the Mayor's pre-determined agenda).

For the Nickels regime, everything was top down. How would Mayor Mallahan do things differently? Would you, Joe, give us and groups like those of us represented around the table access before you made decisions which affected them and issues they represented. He pointed to his management style and his background as an organizer - he said top down was not how he worked and gave examples of that. He assured us that we and groups currently left out would be sought out. There would be an open door and he'd not act on matters directly affecting these constituencies without first hearing from them.


Then I pointed out that he had chosen to give support to Burgess's anti-panhandling proposal publicly at last nights KUOW debate without first hearing our side or from homeless people who would be directly affected. I then handed him a cogent legal brief on its UN-constitutionality from the ACLU, Columbia Legal Services, and the ACLU, our criticism of the Burgess proposal, and a list of the dozen or so laws already on the books to address truly assaultive behavior. I then quoted directly from Inter-Im Police Chief Diaz saying the last thing we don't need another law.

I also referenced the fact that he had spoken out in favor Children's Hospital expansion without first hearing the community's side. (Note McGinn opposed the Burgess Law but has said he supports Children's expansion). Mallahan nodded and then acknowledged that he spoke too soon on such matters and more or less apologized - said he wanted and would ask to hear our side first in the future before giving such definitive positions on these and other such matters. (The Seattle Times and several other media outlets have turned the Burgess law into one of the defining issues of this campaign - McGinn as taken a better position on this so far).

By now we had eaten up 30 minutes of our 45 minutes of our meeting with Mallahan. At this point, he said he wanted to hear more from us about concerns we had with the budget process vis a vis funding for human services and housing. First though we talked about tent cities and Nickelsville - would he help them find a permanent site on public land if necessary.

Tent Cities:

We clarified that by a permanent tent city site, we meant a place that so long as we had a homeless crisis with thousands on our streets after all shelter beds are full, the city should allow tent cities to remain open or even encouraged in appropriate locations - something like Dignity Village backed by the Portland Government. Bill pointed out it didn't even have to be that permanent. There the city allowed Dignity Village to construct even makeshift shelters from wood. (The other day I heard Richard Conlin actually make the outrageous claim there were enough shelter beds in our city..ooops I'm straying from the topic at hand). Note that Mallahan often has said he will insist that his administration including the police "always treat everyone including homeless with dignity". Here was a way, by sanctioning tent cities, he could live up to that promise.

Mallahan said he had great sympathy for the homeless, would make that a priority, but had some concerns about the concept of tent cities. We didn't have time to really delve into what those concerns were. He asked questions about who lived in the tent cities and then said he really regretted not yet having time to tour these facilities or talk with folks who live there leaving us with the impression he intended to do so soon if elected. He indicated that the notion of sanctioning encampments like this was something he would certainly consider but gave us no commitment. Note that McGinn has been favorable to tent cities and been more explicit in giving them his support.

Then we talked about the budget and let him know that we wanted him to be strong in protecting human services, shelter programs, and other human services from any budget cuts now and in the future. This was as important as the issue of funding for the police and public safety. He clearly was up on the budget process and said he was exactly on that page with us. He also said that coordination of services is needed and can bring efficiencies. We added that these savings are very small compared with the expense of policing and public safety.advocating to restore the cuts in the city budget for advocacy and human services coordinating, particularly the need to coordinate the food banks, which is eliminated. He did engage us a bit here though insisting that public safety to him was as important and should be viewed as an important social justice issue (not withstanding many comments he'd heard from the African American Community leaders telling him as far as they were concerned, there were more than enough police in SE Seattle - perhaps for these leaders police accountability was more important - something unfortunately we did not have time to discuss nor has either Mallahan or McGinn spent much time adressing - neither seems up to speed on this).

The Budget:

Mallahan made it pretty clear here that the budget was a special area of expertise and concern for him. He knew the city was hurting financially and that it had exhausted nearly all of its "rainy day" fund and that next year there was a likelihood of facing even deeper cuts. He made it clear he'd be sensitive to the need to maintain funding for human services, asked some questions here about the dust-up with Share/Wheel over bus vouchers, and tried to assure us that with his management style these kinds of conflicts could be avoided. It was somewhere about here in our conversation that he spoke confidently about his abilities to manage budgets pointing out how he took a small department in his job at T-Mobile and grew it into a project with a 12 billion dollar budget, managed it with efficiencies, a more interactive collegial style etc etc...this was something he said he was very good at.) He also somewhere in here warned that while he was not going to cut services and programs for those in need, he would carefully look for and find efficiencies, remove administrative and staffing costs while still delivering programs and serving the same numbers or more.... Again this was something he expressed great confidence that he could do.

Now we were really running low on our 45 minutes. I took a long gulp of air, then raced thru two issues in about five minutes with him. I handed him our petition opposing Mercer signed by 20 groups and 150 community leaders. I showed him a letter from the Freight Haulers stating that freight movement would not be improved one iota by Mercer and that it was not an adjunct or needed to support the bored tunnel. How could it be an adjunct to it when the current design including Mercer West is the same design essentially from 8 years ago long before the bored tunnel option was put on the table.

Mercer and Impact Fees:

Mallahan said he has remained consistent on Mercer. I am not sure he has but we had no time to remind him of that. He said he believed the project was fine so long as property owners who benefited would help foot the bill. Here too he seemed to think (erroneously) that the recently revived second 100 million plus phase of Mercer involving improvements West of Dexter to Queen Anne was a needed adjunct of the bored tunnel. I said the LID idea he was proposing would likely not fly because it requires 60 percent approval from abutting property owners (meaning Vulcan) and Vulcan simply would veto the idea. He professed and it seems pretty clear he really didn't understand how LID's worked. I said if you were really serious about the idea of making developers pay, he say he supported the imposition of impact fees that would require all new development to pay fees in proportion to the size and amount of space in their developments. The Growth Management Act (GMA) allowed it and nearly every city in the region made use of impact fees except Seattle. He told me to send him a memo on this...(He didn't say "send me a memo" flippantly and seemed sincere about giving this consideration)

Growth, Density, and '1 for 1' replacement:

Then I took another gulp and asked him why when he got up and talked about the need for more density in our neighborhoods as a solution to our housing crisis why he didn't also air caution that growth can also cause displacement and gentrification. Would he support and call for in the future and 1 for 1 replacement policy. Here he strongly asserted that he had been airing that concern on the campaign trail and giving support to "1 for 1", ie., requiring developers to replace housing they removed at comparable rent. Again he seemed sincere here as much as one could tell. Our 45 minutes was up...and he quickly left to another engagement.

My Final thoughts on Mallahan vs. McGinn

I seriously thought about voting for McGinn until his flip flop on the tunnel. It's the largest colossal blunder by a local candidate that I can recall - at least since the late 70's when Chip Marshall (left progressive former anti-war activist) in a close race with Michael Hildt decided to endorse use of hollow point bullets. Marshall got the endorsement of the police guild he was seeking but his progressive base left him in droves and swing voters saw him as an opportunist. Hildt won in a landslide. McGinn has effectively done the same thing here but worse, he's jettisoned his core issue (and a huge chunk of that 25% who got him thru the primary) in hopes of capturing a large pool of undecideds. First he's alienated many of his supporters. And most swing voters we'll simply view him as the consummate flip-flopper (and opportunist) his actions say he's become. He certainly lost any chance of getting my vote and thousands like me and I firmly believe cost him any chance at all in the race.

The other reason I could never support or vote for him - no true progressive or populist who'd simply want to open the floodgates to development without expecting and calling for developers to pay their fair share of the cost of that growth. McGinn told us point blank he opposes those things. Like Michael O'Brien, he is part of the new wing of the corporate liberal establishment - the wing that wraps their developer driven agenda in a thin patina of pseudo environmentalism.

Mallahan also has his problems on this question. But he appears to be old school corporate liberal establishment, ie, "I support more development and density because that will expand supply and housing will "trickle down to the poor?" This of course is transparent baloney but it's old baloney that no one now really believes. McGinn's position is of greater concern because its less honest - the "warm and fuzzy" strategy for packaging development that is gaining far too much traction especially among gullible enviro's (and thus is a greater threat to those of us calling for managed and responsible levels of growth and policies that require developers to pay their fair share). Mallahan also appears open to use of impact fees, has said at least that developers should foot more of the bill for Mercer and said he supports as a condition for growth requiring developers to do 1 for 1 replacement.

I do agree however with Mallahan critics who say he's too cozy and too close to the establishment. We're no doubt facing the prospect that he will be filling his administration with pre-Nickels insiders dating back several administrations. However, after sitting down with both McGinn and Mallahan, I strongly believe that of the two, Mallahan is more likely to meet with us and especially neighborhood groups when it comes to growth questions, listen to their perspective, and on occasion respond especially on the key question of how much growth our city should absorb. (admittedly, if Mallahan allows these establishment types to run him - this could be washed out to be sure)

Mallahan readily and refreshingly acknowledges he has more to learn including from us, the neighborhoods and across a range of issues. McGinn I see as darn inflexible and not just on this key issue of growth. I sure saw that when he blindly supported the recent TOD bill sponsored by Futurewise and openly criticized our efforts to restrict the runaway growth that bill aimed to promote. McGinn seems very closed minded here and less likely to support mitigation to protect trees, open space, streams, and our existing low income housing stock. I think that will cross over to other issues too. He's a know-it-all and not in a good way. I also can't help getting the feeling that McGinn just is not competent enough to do the job nor are the people he would hire as his staff, whereas with Mallahan for better or worse that simply is not the issue -he is very competent.

I guess my bottom line though is this - even though McGinn (and OBrien) are not fans of the "Sidran Laws" and more favorable to tent cities, (all to the good), on core development issues - the forces that give rise to displacement, and homelessness and inequality (and erode liveability and physical character of our city in the first place), Mallahan I believe is likely to be more responsive, flexible, and open.

So that's my two cents on this race. Ever onward!

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