On Monday of this week, as we were going to press, our hometown bank, Washington Mutual, announced it would lay off 3,400 employees in the Seattle area. The news came as a very sad and anticlimactic coda to the bank’s collapse and purchase by J. P. Morgan Chase in September. Here in the land of Boeing and Microsoft and Nordstrom, we’re unaccustomed to seeing a revered local commercial institution implode. So naturally our news editor, Eric Scigliano, has been following the death throes of Seattle’s “Friend of the Family,” as WaMu once marketed itself. And fittingly, we think, WaMu is the subject of a new regular feature debuting this month.
Since Seattle Metlaunched nearly three years ago, our Urban Brawl section has sought to present both sides of hot topic issue in the city. But guess what? In a town that characteristically has no fewer than eight proposals for a viaduct replacement, there’s no such thing as only two sides to anything. Our city’s painted in myriad shades of gray and rarely poses its views in black and white. So it’s high time we bid the Brawl goodbye and embrace Seattle’s multiple personalities and many-faceted issues.
We named our New Year’s baby Power Lines. Our intent is to shine a light on the way things work in the city, to introduce the people and forces that shape and influence us. In the coming months, you may expect to encounter politicians in high office and community organizers close to the ground, market conditions and populist uprisings, crime trends and police responses, environmental challenges and innovative solutions, long-term growth and its discontents, short-term bust and its discontents.
The story of the WaMu collapse has been marked by conventional wisdom about credit markets and the nationwide housing bust. Eric zoomed in on some unsung soldiers on the front lines of the home-lending wars: the career appraisers who found their expertise ignored or compromised in the real estate boom, long before the management team widely blamed for the debacle arrived at WaMu. They saw the gambles inherent in a bubble all too clearly—and risked their own livelihoods to resist getting sucked in.
We greet 2009 with both trepidation and hope, and with fresh commitment to telling the stories of our city.