In response to a letter to Mayor Mike McGinn and SPD Chief John Diaz from a tourist complaining about "aggressive panhandling" and "filth" downtown, Mayor Mike McGinn sent a long email to Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau, along with (among others) ... the entire city council, 30 city council staffers, SPD chief John Diaz, and several members of the King County Council.

McGinn's defensive email detailed what the city is doing to combat nuisance crimes and street disorder downtown. The lengthy mass mailing suggests that people's impression of downtown (not to be confused with the reality, at least based on 911 calls) is a huge political issue for the mayor.

As we reported yesterday, the visitors bureau is asking downtown residents, businesses, and guests to email photos and descriptions of illegal behavior they witness downtown. The council, meanwhile, has questioned McGinn's commitment to making downtown a more pleasant place to work, live, and visit.

The tourist's letter reads, in part:
The aggressive panhandling and the sheer number of homeless are frightening. We could not walk five feet without someone literally standing in our path and asking for money. Walking through the smell of human waste, and my ten year old son stepping in human feces on the sidewalk erased the actual beauty of the market. My children were afraid. We had dinner at Etta’s, and refrained from watching the sunset at the park because a derelict was following us and yelling at my children.

I can honestly say I am more afraid of walking in downtown Seattle than Chicago. These people are unpredictable because they are either on drugs, or mentally ill. Many Cowboy fans I talked with were shocked at the filth of Seattle and the number of homeless at the Market and in Pioneer Square.

Histrionic? Probably. But McGinn obviously took the complaints seriously. In his response, which wasn't openly cc'd to the original writer, McGinn provided a long list of the city's current efforts to improve things downtown, including: The Center City Initiative; funding for more interventions for at-risk people downtown; improvements to the streetscape at Third and Pine; a new approach to police patrols that focuses on known crime hot spots; a renewed focus on arresting drug dealers; and programs to get low-level drug offenders off the streets.

"On some issues, such as how we deal with low level street disorder, there is not yet consensus in the community about what is the best approach," McGinn wrote. "We have been working with the Downtown Seattle Association, King County, and human services providers to resolve these issues collaboratively, to find solutions that meet everybody’s needs."