Seattle is a confusing place. In what other city would the Democratic state senator from the densest district in the state (who passed the gay marriage bill and had a 95 percent lifetime voting record from labor) be considered the conservative in the mayor's race? Perhaps in the same city that elected a socialist to city council?
Meanwhile, what other state would elect a Democratic governor, a Democratic state AG, and a Democratic U.S. senator, legalize pot and gay marriage, and then proceed to punt on every Democratic priority on the list? Perhaps the same state that's wedded to regressive tax policy and corporate tax breaks?
Hopefully, our year-end Jolt—an assessment of the year's winners and losers—will clear up the confusing dynamics that defined local politics in 2013.
Or at least put a bow around it.
Here are the Year's Biggest Winners...
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson
Ferguson successfully outed the well-heeled supporters of the campaign against Initiative 522 (the GMO labeling initiative), forcing the Grocery Manufacturers Association (the food-industry lobby) to register as a political committee with the state.
Although the GMA had originally registered simply as a donor to the "No on 522" campaign (and actually won a lawsuit filed by a consumer-rights group called Moms for Labeling), a subsequent lawsuit from Ferguson forced the GMA to acknowledge that it was primarily funded by large corporate food companies, including Coke, Pepsi, General Mills, and the Campbell Soup Company.
The unprecedented use of the AG's power to force corporations to follow state campaign disclosure laws was perhaps the most righteous lefty move of the year, and the fact that it came from a freshman AG made it even more impressive.
Despite the disclosure, the money still paid for negative ads (and I-522 went down)—we see a larger victory here. With better disclosure laws locked in to place at the outset of future campaigns—Ferguson's victory came with only a few weeks to go—the additional sunlight may prevent such disproportionate corporate spending in the future.
Big Ag and Food Companies
Those same food companies did score a big win when they successfully beat back I-522, which initially led strongly in statewide polls (a September Elway poll, for example, had the labeling initiative leading 66 to 21 percent), with a final vote of 55 percent "no," 45 percent "yes." The "no" campaign spent more than $20 million to defeat the measure.
(On the other hand, things weren't looking so great for big GMO firms approaching the turn of the new year, potentially signaling a change of fortune ahead. As multiple media reports indicated that GMO corn—produced largely using Monsanto's Roundup herbicide, which kills weeds while preserving "Roundup-Ready" produce—is killing off Monarch butterflies, and as China turned away thousands of tons of unapproved GMO corn derivatives. California U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) wrote a letter to President Obama suggesting that he simply mandate labeling of genetically modified foods using his administrative powers as President.)
Conventional wisdom during the mayor's race was that when it came to policy, there wasn't much of a contrast between the two candidates, incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn and his general-election challenger, state Sen. Ed Murray.
Here were two lefties dickering, like a couple arguing over whose turn it is to do the dishes, over who was the real liberal. (For what it's worth, McGinn won that silly argument … and our prediction for 2014 is that McGinn fans will be surprised, though they shouldn't be, that the former state senator who has a 95 percent lifetime pro-labor voting record and passed the state's marriage equality law, isn't David or Charles Koch, but a Dorothy Day Democrat with a commitment to social and racial justice, and, in particular, gender equality.)
Conventional wisdom during the mayor's race was that when it came to policy, there wasn't much of a contrast between the two candidates. However, we identified a clear and important difference.However, we identified a clear and important difference at the outset of the race when Murray made a point of flaunting his Eastside suburban support: McGinn is a partisan Seattle urbanist and Murray is a regionalist.
There's an irony when people who support urbanism—a green philosophy at its core that prioritizes efficiency, sharing, and collaboration—don't see the necessity of fighting global warming at a macro level. In the end, Murray's pitch for collaboration and regionalism won out.
He made this clear when he appointed Andrea Riniker, who previously served as Bellevue City Manager and director for the Port of Tacoma and the Sea-Tac airport, as his interim deputy mayor.
P.S. His other deputy mayor (another woman, by the way) is Hyeok Kim, who's leaving her job as executive director of the Asian American community development non-profit, the Interim Community Development Association.
Recreational Pot Smokers
Pot smokers have been forced to resort (legitimately or otherwise) to either the medical-marijuana dispensaries that have sprouted all over the city or the existing black market. No more. With the passage this year of Initiative 502, Washington became one of two states, including Colorado, to allow the sale and use of recreational marijuana (though not in public).
There are still plenty of questions about how the law will work in practice (where will dispensaries and grow sites be permitted? Should the law be amended to allow apartment dwellers with no-smoking policies to light up at home? What should police protocol be when they come upon people smoking in public?)
Cops may, in fact, end up having to be less lenient under the new law when it comes to public pot smoking than they are now; previous law makes pot smoking SPD's "lowest law enforcement priority, which means the law making it illegal was rarely enforced, while the new law will require officers to issue a ticket for $27 if they come across someone smoking in public a second time after issuing an initial warning.
But we expect SPD, the city attorney's office, and other law-enforcement agencies across the state to iron out relatively minor kinks like that. Overall, the new law is a major step forward for both pot users and law enforcement.
Seattle's Police Union (Again)
We discovered a funny thing while doing a deep dive on this year's police accountability story, trying to figure out if Mayor McGinn actually deserved the credit he was giving himself on the campaign trail for creating the Community Police Commission. (We had, in fact, fallen for McGinn's line and given him credit ourselves.)
Context: McGinn tried to recover from the messy consent decree negotiations which—after the mayor publicly squabbled with the Department of Justice, City Attorney Pete Holmes, and the City Council, helped seal his fate as a one-term mayor—by spinning the community oversight piece of the federal monitoring agreement, the CPC, as his brainy idea. His boasting aggravated the feds, who sent out a terse letter implying it had been their idea all along.
We weren't able to settle the fight over whose idea the CPC actually was, but we were able to uncover this outlier: The CPC doesn't actually have much authority or teeth. In short, this was a red herring during the campaign because the CPC wasn't actually much of a big win. In the end, the police union, which McGinn seemed to be fighting for during the negotiations by holding his hand up to the feds (but which ended up endorsing Murray anyway), came out on top one more time thanks to the watered-down CPC.
The State Republican Party
When the state Republican Party hired Susan Hutchison, the former KIRO anchorwoman who unsuccessfully ran against now-King County Executive Dow Constantine in 2009, it sent a signal that it was abandoning its right-wing past and embracing a more moderate, suburban, and west-of-the-mountains future.
Hutchison would not say during her campaign how she stood on some litmus-test issues, including a woman's right to choose (she said it wasn't a county issue), although she did say she supported gay couples' rights to obtain domestic partnerships.
And she replaces right-wing firebrand Kirby Wilbur, who, in November, referred to women who protested the GOP's stance on the DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for some children of undocumented immigrants, as "left wing witches and hags" who were "old and ugly."
Hutchison also invoked the "War on Women," a Democratic Party meme, after she was hired by the party, when it was revealed that she would be paid $20,000 less than Wilbur.
City Council member Mike O'Brien
O'Brien, elected in 2009 alongside McGinn (a Sierra Club comrade and former fellow employee at the Stokes Lawrence law firm, is a living rebuke to McGinn's frequent claim that he was defeated by a well-funded "elite" "Democratic Party establishment" that was in sync with his vision for a new green urbanist Seattle.
O'Brien remains one of the most popular members of the city council, allying with unlikely bedfellow Nick Licata (a lefty, yes, but more along '60s social-justice lines) on issues like affordable housing; and winning his reelection bid against well-funded challenger Albert Shen, an engineering consultant who outraised O'Brien by nearly $37,000, with 67 percent of the vote.
McGinn, in contrast, lost to challenger Ed Murray by more than four points, 47.45-51.55.
Outgoing Mayor Mike McGinn
It may still be a long time coming, but Mayor McGinn seemed poised to have the last laugh—empty though it may be—over the downtown tunnel project, which is currently stalled, with the tunnel-boring machine, "Bertha," blocked by an unknown obstacle.
Although Washington State Department of Transportation engineers and Seattle Tunnel Partners say it's too soon to know how much the repeated delays (this is the second) will add to the cost of the tunnel or the length of time it takes to bore through unstable soils downtown, the more delays, the more risk of overruns and a late tunnel opening—exactly what McGinn predicted when he ran for mayor arguing that the state should simply replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a new surface street and transit instead of potentially putting Seattle on the hook for future tunnel overruns.
It's inevitable that Seattle will have a higher minimum wage than the rest of the state (where it's $9.19, already higher than the federal $7.25 wage).
The Campaign for a Higher Minimum Wage
Whether you believe—as newly elected socialist city council member Kshama Sawant certainly does—that Seattle's minimum wage should be set at $15 an hour, or whether you think, as newly elected mayor Ed Murray does, that another number, higher or lower, might be acceptable if the data bear it out—it's virtually inevitable at this point that Seattle will have a higher minimum wage than the rest of the state (where it's $9.19) in the relatively near future.
The call for a $15 minimum has captured the imaginations of people across the nation, as fast-food workers, backed by an energized union movement, have walked off their jobs and marched in the streets to protest poverty-level wages. (The Washington, D.C. Council unanimously endorsed an $11.50 minimum wage earlier this month, while SeaTac residents narrowly approved a measure giving workers who serve the airport a raise to $15 an hour.)
With so much momentum nationwide, and with both a mayor and city council that seem determined to do something about income inequality, Seattle seems poised to increase the wages of our lowest-paid workers—whether by city council action, or at the ballot box.
Incoming Mayor Ed Murray
Yes, Murray literally won the election. But he also won more power than any mayor in Seattle's recent history, when voters simultaneously elected Murray, a longtime legislator whose early moves, at least, suggest he'll be a strong mayor, and cut the current at-large city council off at the knees by adopting district elections.
Under the system that will disappear in 2015, every council member represents the entire city; once the council is divided up into seven districts (plus two at-large council members), every Seattle resident will have just two representatives, as opposed to the current nine. That gives the mayor, who represents the entire city, far more power than any representative of the council's seven fiefdoms.
And the switch to districts makes it more likely than usual that some of the current city council members, who (with the exception of Richard Conlin, who just lost to Sawant after 16 years on the council) regularly coast to an easy reelection.
Although aPodments or "micro-housing"—apartment buildings that include many tiny (140-to-250-square-foot) units—will certainly continue to come under scrutiny from the city in the New Year (the city council is considering regulations that would require micro-housing buildings to go through design review and that would set minimum sizes for kitchens and common areas), the tiny units aren't going anywhere.
The reason that's true is that rents in Seattle continue to rise; according to apartment-research firm Dupree and Scott, the average rent in the county as a whole increased 7.5 percent last year, with the steepest increases in Seattle proper. aPodments cost around $600 a month—far less than the central Seattle average of $1,438.
Single-family neighbors may not like the parking-free units (or the "type" of people they bring to neighborhoods—AKA young people who typically can't afford to pay $1,400 a month)—but unless people stop moving here, they're going to have to get used to them.
The Biggest Losers...
Outgoing Mayor Mike McGinn
Speaking of the minimum wage: At a press conference last week, incoming mayor Ed Murray announced a coalition of business, labor, and government representatives—including Sawant, but also the Chamber of Commerce, the King County Labor Council, liberal capitalist Nick Hanauer, and Ivar's CEO Bob Donegan—that will, in four months, likely come up with a proposal for a higher minimum wage.
Murray's coalition represents a symbolic, but also politically significant, shift on the seventh floor of city hall. Imagine the McGinn version of Murray's minimum-wage announcement. "The Establishment doesn't want $15, but we're committed to $15 no matter what," McGinn would have announced—flanked by Sawant, O'Brien, and perhaps a fast-food worker.
Coalitions have to include people with differing opinions, and building them (Sawant and the Chamber's Maud Daudon?) is Murray's strength. McGinn's, not so much.
Outgoing Mayor Mike McGinn
Not to pile on here, but McGinn—contrary to a post-campaign narrative that, because the final numbers in the mayor's were much much closer than they were on election night, there's a sense that, once again, McGinn stunned the establishment and came close to winning.
However, the fact that Murray led by such a capsized margin on election night (56.1 to 43.1) is creating an illusion about McGinn's momentum. It's like Minnesotans thinking it's warm out when it's suddenly 32 degrees because they're used to 6 degrees.
The fact is, McGinn did worse than a string of recent second place mayoral contenders. With the exception of former Mayor Greg Nickels' cakewalk victory in 2005 when he ran against unknown oddball candidate Al Runte and won by nearly 30 points, this year's vote was not close by contemporary Seattle standards.
In 2001, Greg Nickels beat Mark Sidran by 1.86 percent, 50.93 to 49.07 with just 3,158 votes separating them. McGinn lost to Murray by 8,449 votes.
McGinn didn't even do as well as infamous 2009 loser Joe Mallahan, who lost to McGinn by 3.5 points, or 7,190 votes.
McGinn didn't even do as well as infamous 2009 loser Joe Mallahan, who lost to McGinn by 3.5 points, or 7,190 votes.
Seattle's Clout in Olympia
Having credited Murray for his regionalist vision (see above, Winner Regionalism), even a regionalist agenda cannot explain Murray's odd decision to hire a neophyte like Everett lawyer Nick Harper as the director of the city's lobbying shop, the Office of Intergovernmental Relations.
Harper, a former short-term Democratic state senator, who resigned abruptly late this year because "it takes me away from my family too much … they deserve a full-time husband," has been a non-factor in Olympia. He's only been in the legislature for two years, representing Everett, Marysville, and Tulalip (after a controversial election where a batch of labor three-card-monty independent expenditures got him elected) without much to show for it except that leadership like Murray seemed to like him.
Murray, supposedly marching into office with serious stature in Olympia (a welcome change from McGinn), has, ironically, already hobbled Seattle's power in the legislature by sacking the city's all-star three-person Olympia lobbying team.
And this follow-up move, bringing in Harper, strikes us a little like benching Russell Wilson for Charlie Whiteurst.
The "Share Economy."
Much as we love the idea of the "share economy"—a pop-business term to describe business models in which customers share assets like cars, bikes, or tools—it hasn't worked out so well in Seattle this year. Yes, Car2Go (which allows members to pick up SmartCars anytime, and almost anywhere, and drop them off at any point within the company's service area) is great—but they're raising their prices starting in January, making what was already a boutique service a downright luxury.
Meanwhile, the city council is poised to slash the tires of "ridesharing" services like Lyft and UberX, services where drivers pick up paying customers in their own private cars, by imposing onerous insurance requirements, limiting the total number of drivers in each service to 100, and limiting their hours to 16 per week. And Puget Sound Bike Share, the bikesharing startup that was supposed to kick off in early 2014,
Female City of Seattle Employees
After a nationwide study by the National Partnership for Women and Families concluded that the gender pay gap in Seattle is even worse than the national pay gap—women in the city make 73 cents for every dollar men make, compared to the nationwide rate of 77 percent—the city's personnel department took its own look at the salaries made by men and women working for the city, and found that although women make up a third of the city's work force, they make, on average, 9.5 percent less than men.
That's because women are disproportionately clustered in lower-income jobs (like administrative assistant) while men tend to dominate higher-paying job classes. Overall, the study found, women were paid more than men in only five city departments; in 13 departments, women made less.
The findings prompted Mayor Mike McGinn to launch a "gender justice initiative" to address the wage gap at the city—a bit ironic, as we pointed out at the time, given that McGinn's own office had one of the largest pay gaps of any department in the city. Although McGinn has more female than male employees overall, his female employees make an average of 20 percent less than his male employees—a gender pay gap that's surpassed only by the city's Municipal Court, the personnel department, SPD, and the city attorney's office.
Democrats in Olympia
The Democrats shrugged off the Republican coup in the state senate last year: "They'll never hang together," the Democrats, still ebullient over 2012's Obama-marijuana sweep, shrugged.
Yet, with the polls evidently going their way—Jay Inslee, Maria Cantwell, Bob Ferguson, Suzan DelBene, and gay marriage also won in 2012, not to mention a Washington State Supreme Court decision tossing Tim Eyman's two-thirds-to-raise-taxes rule; momentum for gun control legislation in the aftermath of Newtown; and the GOP becoming touchy about their lowly standing with minorities, youth, and women—the Republicans, in control of one chamber in Olympia ,managed to shut down the Democratic agenda.
No DREAM Act. No Reproductive Parity Act. No gun control. No Voting Rights Act. No transit money (in fact, no transportation package at all, despite the I-5 bridge collapse). No light rail connecting Vancouver and Portland. No credible commitment to that other Washington State Supreme Court ruling to fully fund K-12 education by 2018. And one "yes": a bunch of tax breaks for Boeing.
Sure, the Democrats had a few victories—they shut down a telecom industry tax loophole and an estate tax loophole, they short-circuited a GOP effort to scale back workers' compensation, and they killed a GOP senate bill to gut Seattle's paid sick leave law.
But to the Democrats' surprise, the GOP (AKA Majority Coalition Caucus) coup did hold.
After a tortured seven-month triple legislative session in Olympia, with the Democrats hollering about GOP obstructionism and extremism, the verdict came in after a swing-district special election between an incumbent state senate Democrat, Sen. Nathan Schlicher (D-26, Gig Harbor), and the Republican challenger, Rep. Jan Angel (R-26, Port Orchard). Rep. Angel became a state senator, winning 52.07 to 47.93.
Democrats in Olympia, Part 2
There was a lot of finger pointing: Mayor Mike McGinn tried to spin the Michael King embezzlement story (the former executive director of the state senate Democrats' election committee, as first reported by PubliCola last Februrary, stole about $300,000 from the party to support his drinking and gambling problems) as the fault of his mayoral campaign rival, former SDCC co-chair Ed Murray, Murray tried to blame earlier committee chair, now-U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (tacky!).
But the real blame was with King. And the real losers were the Democrats who could have used the money in a year when they lost a key senate race and thus control of the senate.
The Democrats, namely the current Democratic senate leader, state Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-34, West Seattle, Vashon), and the party's lawyers tried to pass the buck as well, repeatedly questioning their bookkeeper Jason Bennett, the whistleblower who actually reported King's malfeasance.
Startling behavior all around, including King's sad story of addiction, which was ultimately documented in his candid, full confession. King is serving a two-year sentence, half in prison (including treatment for his addictions) and half on parole.
Claims that "Crime Is Down" Downtown
Although Mayor McGinn did, in the final weeks before the election, propose additional spending on crime prevention downtown—in the form of new funding for two programs that provide rent money, addiction and mental health treatment, and other services to downtown residents—the political damage was already done.
Back in July, after McGinn dismissed concerns about a perceived increase in violent crime downtown (even running a campaign ad touting "the lowest crime rate in 30 years"), 40 downtown stakeholders sent the mayor a letter demanding that he take crime downtown seriously and deploy "immediate new resources and strategies" to address downtown crime.
Although McGinn's overall claim was technically correct—crime dropped overall this year—violent crime actually increased thanks largely to a spike in serious domestic violence. Additionally, McGinn's claim that crime downtown, specifically, had declined held true only because his definition of "downtown" encompassed SPD's entire West Precinct, which includes upscale, largely single-family Magnolia and industrial SoDo.
In the end, it was the perception, not the statistics, that mattered. When you have the sheriff of King County testifying at City Hall that his wife refuses to meet him at his office in Pioneer Square because she doesn't feel safe there, saying there's no problem probably isn't the smartest strategy.
The Bellevue megadeveloper acted for years as the suburb's biggest political kingmaker, fighting against light rail, for roads, and against tolls that make it more expensive for drivers (as opposed to those undesirable "Southcenter shoppers" who use public transit) to access Bellevue Square. Freeman has even compared transit proponents to socialists.
This year, one of four Freeman-anointed anti-light-rail members of the Bellevue City Council, Don Davidson (who received maxed-out contributions from Freeman's company, Kemper Holdings, and his wife Betty), lost his race for reelection to Bellevue parks board chair Lynne Robinson, a light rail proponent who has also advocated for more walking and biking options in Bellevue.
Although two other Freeman-backed incumbents, Kevin Wallace and Conrad Lee, won reelection, Robinson's win creates a forward-looking, pro-transit (and, dare we say it?, urbanist) 4-3 majority on the Bellevue council—and demonstrates, tangibly, that Freeman's chokehold on power in Bellevue is waning.
King County Metro
As big transit proponents (and users), we hope this doesn't come to pass, but brace yourselves: Starting next year, King County Metro could face service cuts of up to 17 percent—"up to" because sales taxes, on which Metro relies, have rebounded throughout the region—meaning that the actual cuts would probably be less Draconian.
That's assuming the state legislature doesn't get together and pass a transportation funding package that gives Metro new revenue tools to keep buses running, and that voters reject a "Plan B" emergency proposal announced earlier this month by King County Executive Dow Constantine, which would replace the motor-vehicle excise tax in the proposal the legislature rejected with a regressive flat fee on vehicle licenses and an even more regressive increase in the sales tax.
In the worst-case scenario, Metro could end up eliminating 74 routes and cutting service on 104 more.
Hard to believe, but it was also this year that the proposal to build a new arena in SoDo flamed out, after the NBA's board of directors unanimously voted not to move the Sacramento Kings to Seattle. The decision came after arena proponent Chris Hansen, the San Francisco hedge-fund manager who bought up acres of land in SoDo with the intent of building a new basketball/hockey arena and a new entertainment district, failed to disclose tens of thousands of dollars in contributions to a group dedicated to derailing a proposed new Kings arena in Sacramento. After Hansen, McGinn was the arena's biggest proponent; Murray has been ambivalent about the idea.