The Un-Mayor Speaks
About youthful idealism, sagging seawalls, rookie missteps, and how the blinkered pundits just don’t see how Seattle is changing.
(I MET MAYOR Mike McGinn in his office on the seventh floor of City Hall on the morning of April 2, one week after Seattle Times columnist Joni Balter called him “the un-mayor,” a “stumblebum” who is “the most immature politician I have ever encountered.” McGinn, evidently unfazed by Balter’s lament that he “dressed like a schlump,” wore casual slacks and a zip-up turtleneck. Alison Burson, his executive assistant, darted in barefoot to update him on his schedule. The spring winds blew so hard that the windows beside us shook and the deck chairs rattled on the lanai behind them—a fitting close to McGinn’s stormy first three months in office. This is an unabridged, minimally edited transcript of our conversation.)
SEATTLE METROPOLITAN: Hello, Mr. Un-Mayor.
I hear you used that with the PSRC.
McGINN: Yeah, I cracked a joke. When they introduced me as the mayor of Seattle I said, no, if you’ve been reading the papers my correct title is un-mayor. A few of them laughed. They read the papers, so they saw Joni’s column.
It looked like a pretty serious meeting, other than that.
It’s interesting…. There were a few things that struck me about that meeting. The Puget Sound Regional Council was approving something called Transportation 2040, a long-term vision for the region, a transportation future. And the Puget Sound Council is not a well-known body in local politics. It’s composed of elected officials from around the region. We have votes on the body according to the population of the places that we represent. The point of it is that it exists to plan for the region and chew around land-use and transportation issues. On the plan that was before them—prior mayor Greg Nickels had sent them a letter, signed by city council members, which pointed out how deficient Transportation 2040 was in light of the goals that the region had set for itself in terms of sprawl, social justice, reducing global warming emissions, transportation outcomes, there not being sufficient transit.
When they introduced me as the mayor of Seattle I said, no, if you’ve been reading the papers my correct title is un-mayor.
And all the council members voted for it this time.
They did, the same council members voted for it. They had asked for amendments to the plan, and they were good amendments they were asking for, but you know…. Those amendments didn’t change the fundamental flaws of the plan.
There was a desire by the leadership of the PSRC that it should be a unanimous vote. And I didn’t see why I should vote for a plan that didn’t meet those stated goals.
You and the mayor of Port Orchard. (Port Orchard Mayor Larry Coppola cast the only other nay vote, for very different reasons: because the plan included tolls, was unfair to car owners, and represented rampant “social engineering.”)
That’s right, me and the mayor of Port Orchard.
I don’t know the mayor of Port Orchard, I would look forward to talking with him. His objections were to tolls.
There’s a huge gap between our stated goals and our actions when it comes to transit, when it comes to reducing pollution, when it comes to fighting global warming.
That’s the phrase you hear about Barack Obama, that his actions don’t match his stated goals.
Well, delivering results is hard, but trying to stay to true, working for those results, really just standing up for what you believe in, shouldn’t be that hard. But it does get—look, here’s what the PSRC does, just so you know. It has a project list, and every elected official wants something on that project list. And by the time you’re done putting everything on that project list, you’ve got billions and billions of dollars of unfunded projects that will contribute to sprawl, that will contribute to global warming, that don’t support good land use patterns, and that don’t provide affordable transit to those who need transit the most.
Do we need another kind of transit governance, a transportation super-board?
People put out different ideas. I personally am open to looking at transit governance in the region, because things aren’t working now. So I’m open to looking a different way for how we make decisions about transportation. We really need to integrate our decision-making with regard to regional transit, local transit, local streets, and state roads. All of those four have different governments and different taxing sources, and don’t make decisions that complement each other or work with each other. That’s one of the huge challenges we face, having integrated planning and financing for our transportation system. It’s not an accident that 520 currently has no real light rail component to it, even though state law says it has to be six lanes designed to accommodate light rail in the future. Right now it’s six lanes designed to preclude light rail in the future.
Because of the Montlake interchange?
You only have one chance to get it right if you want to get through the west side. It’s a very sensitive corridor because of the environmental constraints, because it’s densely populated. There aren’t many roads that intersect with it, you have Montlake, the bridge, the city street there, and then you have the top of Capitol Hill and I-5. You pretty much have one chance to get it right. If you build a big six-lane highway through there, there’s no room for light rail. You pretty much have to design it for light rail from the start. And that has not been done.
Are you disappointed that you haven’t gotten more support from the city council on that?
Oh you know, I think the city council… I think the city council doesn’t think it’s possible to break through and come up with something better—as a whole. I know individual councilmembers do. I think there’s a spectrum of belief as to what’s possible. I think the public thinks something better is possible, and we should respond to that public desire to build a good transit system, including light rail over 520. That’s what elected officials are supposed to do—figure out how to make things possible, not conclude they’re impossible because somebody in Olympia says, “It’s not possible.”
You said before sticking to principles should be easy but delivering results is difficult. Do you have—
I’d say not so much sticking to principles but taking action, working to advance your principles. It’s a slight difference.
There’s a huge gap between our stated goals and our actions when it comes to transit, when it comes to reducing pollution, when it comes to fighting global warming.
On the second part, delivering results—you asked your department heads to describe their greatest achievements and biggest challenges, I believe in your state of the city speech.
(Pauses.) Oh yeah, that’s right, we did ask them.
Could I ask you to do the same for your first three months?
(Laughs). Okay. I’m really proud of the Youth and Families Initiative. We’ve had—co-chaired by former mayor Norm Rice, former deputy mayor Bob Watt, and Stella Ortega, director of El Centro de la Raza. We’ve had five public meetings that have been very well attended by a very diverse set of residents. We’ve had 75 to a hundred small group caucuses leading up to a Youth and Families Congress. And I feel like we’ve really gotten that one launched at building and mobilizing. We’ll be able to identify the most important problems we face and mobilize the community around change. And these are problems facing youth at succeeding in life.
For three months, there’s been a lot of foundation laying here. But we’re putting together a strong team in the mayor’s office and developing relationships for the city employees and department heads. And we will be coming out soon with initiatives with respect to transforming our transportation system to make walking, biking, and transit the easiest choice for as many Seattle residents as possible. And we’re working on a jobs and economy set of actions as well.
Will this be green manufacture or—
It’s a mix of things. It’s infrastructure investments, it’s workforce development, it’s support for small businesses, from capital, where we have—we some amount of capital to help small businesses—as well as permitting and regulatory issues.
Will Darryl Smith help with that, coming from the Rainier Chamber of Commerce?
Yeah, absolutely, and Steve Johnson. Mike
Hamm Mann, former director of OSC OSE [Office of Sustainability and Environment], is under contract with us to create a business plan to crank up business development to create jobs in the green energy sector. So there’s a lot of different pieces we’re pulling together there. It’s more laying the groundwork. The biggest challenge by far is budget. We have a $10 to 15 million-dollar hole we need to fill this year—I’m going to go back to achievements. I think a very significant one is that after eight years during which City Hall didn’t really talk about 520 we’ve been able to work with our communities and legislators to start to develop a path forward to a better 520. Getting the actual result is going to be long-term. But we have indeed started to lay the groundwork for that change, because we are engaging now for the first time, and that’s going to make a difference to Seattle.
So, the biggest challenge—we have a $10 to $15 million hole in this year’s budget. That’s a combination of revenues last year being lower than predicted and revenues this year being lower than predicted. That leaves us with a $50 million hole, at least, in next year’s budget, in the longest economic recession since the Great Depression, and the recovery is expected to be slower and shallower than prior recoveries. That kind of short-term thing, the things we used to be able to do to weather recessions—we’ve used those up. There’s no rainy-day fund. You can only do furloughs for so long and you’re just pushing it out into the future. Which isn’t to say we might not look at furloughs as part of the solution. But those are short-term measures. Ultimately you have to figure out how to get government the right size. And this means we’re going to going to have to look at a combination of spending cuts and revenue enhancements and efficiencies to get us where we want to get out. It’s going to be a big issue this year.
And at the same time you’re looking at what could be a lot of big revenue eaters. I assume the Youth and Families Initiative is going to come up with a list of—
Yeah, well, the Youth and Families Initiative, the starting point on that is, we already spend a lot of money and so does the school district and so does the state and so does the private sector. So the starting point is having a comprehensive approach to how we use our resources.
And then we have the renewal of the Families and Education money next year, and so the question then becomes, how big? And that’s a good question. I think the transportation sector—you know, we have a bicycle plan and a pedestrian plan that are basically unfunded, and a desire for more transit. At the same time the budget has made it harder and harder to keep up with basic maintenance, so we’re going at, How do we fund that? And that’s likely to mean looking at new revenue—just to take care of what we have and invest in what the public says they want.
Delivering results is hard, but trying to stay to true, working for those results, really just standing up for what you believe in, shouldn’t be that hard.
Will you ask the legislature for gas-tax authority?
No, we have some authority here in the city of Seattle. Things like a parking tax or a vehicle license fee that we can look at.
And we have a seawall. And a seawall proposal. The city council has agreed we should accelerate design and construction of the seawall, and we have in fact changed the timeline and accelerated it. The council and the stakeholders have agreed to that. Now we need to finance it. We’ve proposed a long-term bond measure because we don’t have general fund dollars to take care of this.
But this is bonding capacity that you won’t have for transit or streetcars or….
I think the concern about bonding capacity has been a little overstated by the council. We have a—and we can get you some data on this to work it through—we should have the bonding capacity to handle our major infrastructure needs.
You mentioned building a team, laying the groundwork. And there have been some bumps in that road.
Take Chris Bushnell—I understand at the Sierra Club you kept him pretty much to doing what he was an acknowledged master at, polling. Did he step into a much bigger policy role here?
(Pause.) What’s the question?
I’ve heard that he was the one who suggested moving out [budget director] Dwight Dively and announcing that 200 strategic advisers would be fired, and moving up the seawall. Is that correct?
Those were—ultimately, those were all my decisions on what to do. And those were decisions made by the team, and Chris participated in those decisions…. We have a great budget director in Beth Goldberg, and I think we’ve built a really strong budget team.
Were there problems with Dively that haven’t been acknowledged?
We wanted to keep Dwight Dively. We asked him to take on some really important responsibilities. I was disappointed that he left.
(Aaron Pickus, McGinn’s press aide, gives him the time’s-up signal.)
(To Pickus.) Okay, we’ll keep going for a few more minutes.
And a technical correction. Chris Bushnell didn’t work for the Sierra Club. He was a….
Yeah. He wasn’t an employee or anything. Look, here’s what I’ll say, just a little bit more on the budget. I mean—longest, deepest economic recession since the Great Depression and some really serious budget issues. I mean, let’s be fair, our budget is not in as serious shape as the county or the state. But is was important to me to bring in—you know, to have a fresh look at these budget issues. And it was important to me to keep the institutional knowledge that Dwight had.
They say he stored it all in his head.
Yeah. But it was important to bring in some fresh eyes and a fresh approach to the issue as well, because we were facing some pretty serious challenges. So my goal was to keep both—to bring in Beth and to benefit from Dwight’s knowledge as well.
But were you surprised that he wouldn’t stay, after you’d cut him out of what had been his…
Look, he got a good offer from King County that he liked more. And we made an offer to Beth Goldberg that she chose to accept to come here. Yeah, I feel good about our team.
I hear many members of your staff are in their first job, or first real job.
Oh no, we have very experienced people here. [Deputy mayor] Phil Fujii has 30 years in city government. [Policy and external affairs director] Ethan Raup worked for Ron Sims for two years. [Community relations dirctor] Marco Lowe actually worked for Greg Nickels. Our chief lobbyist has 12 years’ experience in Olympia, Craig Engelking. Julie McCoy, my chief of staff, has years and years of public affairs work. Darryl Smith doesn’t have government experience but he’s been active in the community for a long, long time. Beth Goldberg had been asked by the county to come back because she’d helped turn around their budget years earlier.
The city council doesn’t think it’s possible to break through and come up with something better—as a whole. I know individual councilmembers do.
Speaking of Darryl Smith, you had an office down in Columbia City—
Not Columbia City, Othello Station.
Even more down in Southeast Seattle, which is unusual.
Thao Tran helped us secure that office. Thao used to work for the Rainier Valley Community Development Fund, and is now on our outreach team.
Do you think there’s been equity in the provision of city services—
—across the neighborhoods, to Southeast and Delridge compared to Queen Anne and Montlake?
I think there have been inequitable outcomes. You can see that in Southeast, in the absence of sidewalks and the quality of street life. And you see it on North Aurora Ave, if you go to Lynden Ave in the Bitter Lake urban village. There’s a thousand senior units, a thousand low-income units, and they don’t even have a sidewalk on their main street. So yeah, I think there are inequities throughout the city, and that’s something we’d like to address.
That’s something Norm Rice wanted to address, a prime goal of his administration, and 20 years later they’re still there. What have we failed to do?
Well, you know, these things run deep. I mean, the Port of Seattle is proposing to put $300 million into the deep-bore tunnel, just a straight contribution to the deep-bore tunnel. How are they going to do that? Well, they’re going to have to ask King County taxpayers. That’s how the port raises money, they’re going to ask them for $300 million in property taxes to help pay for the deep-bore tunnel.
You mean they’ll collect?
They’ll collect, that’s absolutely right, they probably don’t need to ask. They could have a vote of three port commissioners out of five to raise property taxes by $300 million to put into the deep-bore tunnel. Presumably they’re going to have that authority to do that. If they don’t have that authority how can they say they’re going to give $300 million to the deep-bore tunnel?
Are your legal people looking into that?
That’s not my concern. That’s their concern how they’re going to raise $300 million. Meanwhile the state legislature won’t give King County the authority to raise money from King County taxpayers to repair the South Park Bridge or fund its transit system.
Is there a starker example of environmental injustice at work than our transportation system? Look at it—that tunnel, if you want to drive in that tunnel, you’re going to have to pay a toll. So if you can afford a car, if you can afford the tolls, we have billions of dollars for you for your transportation needs. If you live in South Park and you want to cross the bridge, if you live in the county and you have to take transit, we don’t have solutions for you, the state legislature said we don’t have solutions for you, our elected leaders say we don’t solutions for you. Why aren’t these things solved? Because of the deep history of financing inequity in these decisions.
Does that stem from racial injustice as well as environmental?
I guess some people have more of a say in how our elected officials make decisions than others.
(Pickus interjects: “One more question.”)
So how can you change the whole tax ecosystem here?
Can’t do it alone.
Do you see a prospect of building a coalition? What do you hope to do?
I think the first thing to do is just put a spotlight on it. That’s what we’re doing with the Youth and Families Initiative—let’s put a spotlight on the inequity. Transportation financing—let’s put a spotlight on the inequity. Light rail over 520—let’s put a spotlight on it. Why wouldn’t we put affordable clean transit over a bridge that’s going to last 50 to 75 years? If you start that, that’s part of the way elected officials are going to have to answer to the public—are we behaving responsibly or not?
It’s not an accident that 520 currently has no real light rail component to it, even though state law says it has to be six lanes designed to accommodate light rail in the future.
Are you talking to the county executive about seeking ways to correct this system?
So the conversation’s already underway?
Yeah, we find ourselves together in meetings all the time working on different issues.
(That afternoon, we met again for what was to be a 15-minute photo session but ran longer. McGinn now wore a crisp suit and tie. The photographer apologized and asked if he could daub the mayor’s forehead to make sure it doesn’t shine. “Don’t worry about it,” McGinn laughed, “I’ve learned to give up lots of personal space since I took this job.”
He spoke while following instructions: “Turn this way. Look straight ahead.” I ask about Marshall Ganz, a Harvard-based community organizing guru who first trained Sierra Club organizers, then trained Barack Obama’s grassroots campaigners.)
I just learned that a lot of the work Marshall Ganz did on Sierra Club training and recruiting, which was sort of the run-up to the Obama campaign, was with the Cascade Sierra Club.
Did you participate in that?
No, I didn’t. I met Marshall Ganz—I heard Marshall Ganz, more accurately—a number of years ago at a Sierra Club national convention. He came out to do a training. I knew of Marshall Ganz, but I didn’t know he was doing the training. If I’d known he was, I probably would have gone to the training. But at the time I felt it was important for me to not go to the training because I felt it was important for new leaders to step up at that time. I learned later that he appeared.
My understanding is that he learned a lot about how to train people in organizing techniques that he used in the Obama campaign. And my campaign benefited from that training in the sense that there were a lot of Sierra Club-trained activists that worked on my campaign. So I was very conscious of—I understood Marshall Ganz’s techniques, I used them in my campaign and it was one of the secrets to our success. It’s something called relationship organizing, and it’s very powerful…. It’s a longwinded way to say there is a connection. I like to say the organizers on my campaign were trained by the same people who trained Obama’s organizers.
Was [former Cascade Chapter leader, now City Councilmember] Mike O’Brien involved in that training?
He would have been, he was chairman of the Cascade Sierra Club then.
You and he worked together there. As you’re working out relationships with the City Council, what’s it like having a colleague and, if he is, friend there?
The main difference is, I don’t get to see Mike enough. We worked really closely together on the roads and transit measure. He was on the board of my nonprofit Great City. When I was a lawyer he was chief financial officer of the law firm, so I’m kinda used to seeing Mike a few times a week and talking about issues. Every once in a while we squeeze in a bike ride home or a beer in the evening, but I don’t get to see him much. So I’d say it’s great having a colleague on the council, but our work isn’t that closely coordinated.
[Crosscut publisher] David Brewster said that you are sort of [City Councilmember] Nick Licata’s stand-in as mayor, that Licata finally won and you are the expression of the Licata side of politics.
So all of the—let me try to find the right word—all of the esteemed longtime pundits of Seattle have been seeking to describe me in terms of some past politician. I think what a lot of people missed in this campaign is that there’s a different political coalition and a different sensibility that’s now forming. Parallels are nice but there’s something else going on, and I don’t think they’ve quite got it yet.
The things we used to be able to do to weather recessions—we’ve used those up. There’s no rainy-day fund. You can only do furloughs for so long….
How would you describe that coalition?
I think there is, particularly among the younger generation, a very deep concern that we’re not on a sustainable environmental path. I think there’s more acceptance of diversity and tolerance towards others, not just as an abstract thing—we can have very diverse neighborhoods and very diverse places, in a way that wasn’t true a few generations ago. This is a growing thing. An appreciation of urban places.
You mean Seattle is finally reconciled to being a city?
No, reconciled is too strong a word. I think that the younger generation has a different vision of what Seattle is going to be that doesn’t fit into prior generations’ expectations of Seattle. And to some degree, my—the support I received [among younger voters] was huge. It’s interesting, the delta, the difference there, was really significant. I’m not sure I can explain why.
It showed again in the PubliCola poll.
It shows in the polls, and it showed in our internal polling all throughout the campaign.
You did terrible with my generation.
How old are you?
Actually, I did OK with seniors….
Yeah, we’re almost there. [McGinn is 50.] It’s interesting to see what happened on ballot measures in other elections. R-71 passed overwhelmingly and anti-government measures were defeated in the depths of a deep recession. We supported a housing levy, more light rail, more parks. So I think there’s a sense that government should be more activist and interventionist in trying to build a better place for everyone than we might have seen five, 10, or 20 years ago.
You don’t think that goes back far and deep in Seattle’s history? We’ve been called the city that loves taxes for a long time.
We support that, but I do think there’s still a change in the political setting. The first parks levy didn’t pass by as much as the second one did. Neither did the first and second housing levy. I’m not suggesting the things we’re talking about haven’t been present in Seattle, they’ve always been present in Seattle. They’ve just become a lot stronger now.
Is this just making Seattle more of an island within its region, setting it apart? This is the state of Tim Eyman.
No, I don’t think we’ve seen that. I think what you see in fact is these attitudes when you look at the statewide vote on the Eyman initiatives, the statewide vote on R-71. The change in the statehouse. The people in towns like Redmond and Kirkland and Bellevue—we’re also seeing those places become a little more urban than they used to be. Folks who live on the other side of Lake Washington want to see light rail built just as much as folks on the west side. Here’s what I would say—there’s a deeper concern about the unsustainability of our current path and the need to make change. The candidate who’s going to come forward and say we just need to tweak things, small changes in what we’ve been doing, that’s all that’s called for, that’s not what the public’s been voting for—change. And that’s of course threatening to some interests. And I think we’re seeing that now in the reaction to me taking office, and the reaction to some of the initiatives I’ve been pushing.
(We pause to finish the photo session, then McGinn checks his schedule and invites me to sit down and talk more.)
What do you say to the complaint that you’re trying to push too many big projects all at once?
I am suggesting there should be changes in the status quo, and some people are very happy with that status quo. So of course those who don’t want change would say, “Oh, it’s too much, it’s too fast, it’s too chaotic.” The question is, how are they making the city better?
We wanted to keep Dwight Dively. We asked him to take on some really important responsibilities. I was disappointed that he left.
Have you had any second thoughts after these few months, seeing what it takes to actually try to get things moving? Do you think you’ve bitten off too much strategically?
You know, it’s interesting. As a citizen, a resident, and an advocate, we bit off some pretty big things. As a volunteer leader of the Sierra Club we took on the roads and transit ballot measure, and using volunteer resources we beat that and helped bring back light rail next year and helped pass that. As a leader of a nonprofit with one staff person and a bunch of volunteers, we got a parks levy on the ballot and passed it, even though the mayor at the time didn’t want to do it and other interests didn’t want to do it either. So I kind of feel like with a considerable paid staff and a number of employees of city government, our capacity should increase a little bit.
Yeah, well, you have the advantage of traveling light, waging asymmetric warfare when you’re a small activist—
(Laughing.) That’s actually true. Now I have a completely fixed position, and the people who want to stop me are dialing in the range. But at the same time we’re speaking to the other side, we’re speaking to issues that people care about. So if we’re aligned with public values, and we can mobilize public support, there’s room to create change. And more room to create change than existed when I was just an advocate.
But speaking of 520, Speaker Frank Chopp said, “Mike, I would like you to meet with community groups and talk to them. The city’s never been involved in this, I would like you meet with the community groups.” So I went and met with the community. And Senator Ed Murray from the 43rd said, “Look, the city’s never been involved with 520, the city needs to step up and get involved, otherwise it’s just going to be a disaster for those neighborhoods and for the city.”
It was because of their encouragement that we did sit down with the community groups and did look at it, and I realized that the stakes were too high for the city to sit it out. You know, I talked about it during the campaign, but I didn’t know how much resources we could commit to it. But as a result of meeting with them we got into it.
I don’t think it’s going to be easy—the inertia to building a six-lane highway through our neighborhoods and those wetlands was pretty powerful. But we got some really good ideas, so if we can galvanize public opinion around that, just as we were able to turn Roads and Transit before….
I think the Youth and Families Initiative is very big, it’s looking at some really big issues. But it turns out the federal government is investing in change in education. The business and philanthropic meeting has been asking for change. And we hold these town hall meetings and the public is asking for change too. So there’s a lot of things in alignment that make significant change likely.
Another thing, we’re just developing a business plan for what a broadband utility would look like. Same story—something like 80 or 90 municipalities around the country have already done fiberoptics to the home. They think it’s the absolute right decision for them. The federal government is putting more and more investment into expansion of fiber optic. So if we can get ourselves with a strong business plan and pushing in the right direction, we’ll be on the cutting edge of something really important.
[Chief technology officer] Bill Schrier is staying on?
Bill Schrier is working with us on how to develop that plan, along with Ray Hoffman at SPU and Jorge Carrasco at City Light, because there’s smart metering for both our utilities as well as the service to business and homes. So I think with the major issues we’re picking out we’re working on important things that matter to the public.
That’s how the port raises money….They could have a vote of three port commissioners out of five to raise property taxes by $300 million to put into the deep-bore tunnel.
How high does the seawall, which has gotten the most attention, rate among all these?
Well, I tend to think there are new issues I have to deal with and there are legacy issues. And the seawall is a critical legacy issue. Everyone agrees you have to do it. That question ended when the city council, in making the [waterfront tunnel] deal with the state, said the city pays for it. That deal also said the port doesn’t pay for it. There’s a certain irony that I do exactly what the city council asked me to do and come forward with a financing proposal to do what they agreed to pay for and they object that I came forward with a financing proposal for what they agreed to pay for.
But it turns out they’re looking seriously at it now, and I think a bond measure is likely—because we don’t have the general fund dollars to pay for it. If we don’t do that, we can’t so anything else on the waterfront, because you have to have to fix the seawall.
So that’s a major legacy issue. I think 520 is also a legacy issue.
Sticking with the seawall for a minute—I won’t ask if it’s a Machiavellian wedge to stop the tunnel, but—
(Laughing.) But how? Explain to me how! I’ve heard this theory professed by columnists and councilmembers, but no one has explained to me how.
I missed the chance to profess the theory, so I can’t speak too much for them, but—
You know why? Because no one can come up with that theory.
Well, because they sold the tunnel partly on the seawall—if we get the tunnel we’ll fix the seawall and the waterfront won’t collapse. And if you show that we can fix the seawall without the tunnel, bring that fore and center, that will undermine support for the tunnel.
The seawall—everyone agrees on. It’s physically separate from the tunnel. You have to do it if you want the tunnel. And so nobody has yet made the connection.
Early on there was a proposal for a cut-and-cover tunnel, and the seawall was actually one wall of the tunnel. But the deep-bore tunnel is physically separate from the seawall, and we have to do the seawall.
But you’re going to have a waterfront closure, so it makes sense to do the two together, doesn’t it?
No, all the sequencing calls for the seawall first. That’s the current plan, and it you do the seawall you remove one risk factor for taking down the elevated [viaduct]. So doing the seawall is what the council asked for. It’s what the plans call for doing first.
So it’s surprising—you know what I try to tell people? Sometimes a seawall is just a seawall.
(We both laugh.) Nobody’s ever explained to me what the theory is in a way that makes any sense.
Well, here’s an even more Machiavellian version of it. If the city pushes to do the seawall first and the governor or legislature wants to make sure they get a highway down the waterfront, and they get the idea this might undermine the tunnel, than they will take on more costs of the seawall.
The state legislature said that it will pay $2.4 billion for the tunnel and no more. That’s state law.
Have you talked to Frank Chopp about that when you talked about 520?
Yeah, I did talk to Frank Chopp about the seawall….
And the overruns?
And the overruns issue. I think he agrees with me, that of course there will be overruns and the idea that there won’t be doesn’t make any sense. Let’s put it this way: If there won’t be any overruns, then the state should have no problem agreeing to pay for cost overruns. The very fact that the Legislature did require that. Let’s be very clear: the Legislature said they would only put up $2.4 billion and required Seattle to pay more. They do not want to pay for any overruns.
Is there a starker example of environmental injustice at work than our transportation system?… If you can afford a car, if you can afford the tolls, we have billions of dollars for you for your transportation needs. If you live in South Park and you want to cross the bridge, if you live in the county and you have to take transit, we don’t have solutions for you….
Is Chopp at all sympathetic to taking on those overruns, or renegotiating that?
I can’t speak for Speaker Chopp on that one, I don’t recall what he said there, I don’t even recall whether I spoke to him about it, because what I recall from everybody else was, there are two things. Either of the transportation chairs said, “We’re not touching that issue, we’re not going to deal with it.” The governor told me they’re not going to deal with it. I found nobody there who gave me any reason to hope that the legislature was going to change its mind.
In fact, you missed the PSRC meeting, the earlier one, where the Puget Sound Regional Council was about to pass a statement saying, “When you come up with new money for projects, don’t give it to the City of Seattle for the waterfront, that’s Seattle’s responsibility.” I said, hold it, that isn’t quite what the language says. Of course I was more oblique than that. But I said, Just so I understand, is the intent of your amendment that Seattle should pay all cost overruns? Because if that’s the intent, then I oppose the amendment.
And then [Pierce County Councilmember] Shawn Bunney, who sits on my right, said, “That is our intent. Let me explain it to you. Everybody who sits around this table wants money for projects, and $2.4 billion is enough to replace the highway. And if you folks want a tunnel, that should be on your expense, not the region’s and not the state’s, because the more expense that is, the less there is for projects in our district.
They ended up not voting on the amendment—there was a sidestep of the issue. But it was very clear to me that everybody else in the legislature and the region wants Seattle to take on cost overruns. And city councilmembers and others who say we shouldn’t talk about it are exposing Seattle taxpayers to significant costs.
Should we just resign ourselves to it then?
No, I don’t think so. But I think it’s going to require that the representatives of Seattle, the elected leaders, stand up and say, “We don’t like cost overruns.” I’ve made my position clear on that. And ultimately the question is, will the city council stand up on that? Or will they proceed with the project at the risk that we’re going to pay cost overruns? As they showed during my campaign, they can vote to proceed with something even when a mayor doesn’t agree. They’re going to have to make that decision whether they’re going to stand with me on cost overruns or accept cost overruns. I’ve made my position clear, and we’re going to push with the state to get this issue resolved, before we get past the point of no return. And we’ve told that to the council.
If you lose this one, will it become your counterpart to Obama’s health care bill? People call that the make or break of his administration.
No…. you know, I think the people of this city elected me to fight for them. We’re not going to be able to win all of them, but we are going to work for people. I’m going to stand up for Seattle citizens on this cost overruns issue. We might not be able to win all of them, but we are going to work on behalf of people in this city. I’m going to stand up for Seattle citizens on this cost overruns issue. If enough other elected officials stand up with me, I think we can win. If they don’t, we might lose.
Do you see any interest in this in this council? Any allies there?
I don’t know. We’ll see.
On a much lower policy level, the staggered closing hours—is there any possible revenue component to that? Will you be charging more for late hours, auctioning off the late closings?
(Laughs.) I never thought about the revenue implications of that decision. I never even thought about it. No, the primary motivation for that is around issues of public safety and being good neighbors in communities. Right now, at 2am, everybody is pushed out of the bars at the same time so we’ve got, in multiple neighborhoods throughout the city, lots of people who’ve just been having a good time out on the street. And it kind of overwhelms the public safety resources. So we’re hopeful staggered closing hours will make that better.
I like to say the organizers on my campaign were trained by the same people who trained Obama’s organizers.
What are you hearing from the police about that?
So now we kind of have to do the work, to go from idea to plan is going to require working with the police, working with the communities, working with the neighborhood associations, working with the nightclub owners so we can come up with a proposal that everybody feels makes sense, so the we can go together down to the Liquor Control Board, which ultimately makes that decision. So there’s some groundwork to be laid, so we’ll try out different ideas on how to do that and get feedback on that. So that’s the next step.
Are there any other cities in this country or Europe that do that? I know New Orleans and New York have much later hours.
Yeah, I know they much later hours too. I don’t know if other—that’s another thing to look at, look at experiences from other cities as we do our work, to see what works and what doesn’t.
You know, it’s not just the hours. There’s other things we can do around making it work better. You know, availability of taxis, availability of transit if there’s any room within the transit planning.
No, I’m just thinking about when there are service hours to those neighborhoods. Are there other tools we should look at? The police is a good one—issues around when police shifts stop and start, when police are on and off.
We got tremendous support from immigrant and refugee communities. We received an endorsement from United African PAC, which was really appreciated. You know, there’s a really significant African population. That’s in part why we opened the Othello office. There’s a lot of significant issues for them. For me that was one of the best parts of the campaign, connecting with….
You opened the Othello office to reach those communities?
Oh yeah, it was a really visible statement—we care about this community, we’re working in it. And you know, during the campaign I went to mosques. There was a day when Ramadan breaks, I went to Qwest Field with that community, Muslims from not just Africa but all over the world.
Just like the old eating a knish, eating a calzone as you go around the neighborhoods?
(Laughs). Let me tell you, they were new to politics… relatively new to politics. And they were organizing and getting engaged. They should get engaged, they’ve got serious concerns. They need help, and the city should focus on those concerns.
At Othello, you were right between the two Vietnamese newpapers too.
(Pickus announces that the African-immigrant students are here, “hanging out in the hallway.”)
Why don’t you bring them in my office, we’ll walk in there too.
So yeah, Othello Station there is a fabulous place. People should get on the light rail, get off at the station, the diversity of the restaurants there—Tammy’s Bakery is my favorite place, Tammy’s Bakery and Deli. I’d go there.
Yeah, Vietnamese bakery, great place. And that’s where we held our victory night, the night my opponent conceded, we did it down there, and it was fabulous.
But you’re from the North End….
But you know…. Certainly Southeast is extraordinarily diverse. But when you get up onto North Aurora Ave, or out Lake City Way—I live pretty close to North Aurora, and my kids went to Broadview for a while. We did a townhall up at Northgate Elementary. And you know, there’s a significant minority population up in those neighborhoods as well.
Certain neighborhoods, if you’re on upper Aurora Ave, do have more in common with Rainier Avenue than with Wallingford or Upper Queen Anne. There’s lots of older multi-family housing, lower-cost housing, people who rely on transit to get in and out of downtown and around the neighborhood. That’s true of a number of places around the city.
Northgate was where Mayor Nickels had an early flap—a neighborhood plan that was quite controversial. Kind of pissed off that neighborhood.
(Pauses.) Yeah, there was a lot of back and forth in that neighborhood. But there have been improvements up in Northgate—the Thornton Creek channel, better transit, more open space…. You’re starting to see some new private investment as a result of that new public investment, including the apartments themselves. They’re on the right path, even though there was some friction along the way.
(As he talks, McGinn heads in to meet the young African citizen journalists.)
How you doing, man? Good to meet you…..