The Drago Announcement
Longtime City Council Member Jan Drago formally announced her candidacy for mayor at an outdoor press conference in front of the Seattle Art Musuem today. At her side at the podium—along with her grandchildren— were low-profile City Council Member Bruce Harrell, Sate Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36), and local women's political caucus leader Linda Mitchell. (Drago would be the first female mayor of Seattle in 80 years.)
Also on hand: City Council President Richard Conlin was in the audience. I asked Conlin if I should read anything into his presence (was he endorsing Drago?). Conlin said he doesn't make endorsements when he's also on the ballot (his seat is up again this year).
"Jan is my colleague, and she asked me to be here," Conlin said. He added: "Jan is an effective Council Member," and he credited Drago—as transportation chair—with resuscitating the tunnel by pushing the deep bore idea. "She challenged [Nickels] on the Viaduct and identified the deep bore tunnel as the option. It was really her priority, not Nickels'."
The small but lively crowd cheered and hollered (someone from South Park shouted an "Alright South Park!" when Drago name checked the working class neighborhood ... and Drago whooped back) as she came on strong condemning Mayor Greg Nickels for repeatedly doing "nothing" on recent signature issues: the Sonics skipping town, stimulus package money for Seattle, Metro bus service, plowing the streets after the snow storm.
It certainly makes sense for Drago to limit her critique of Nickels to a few recent gaffes, because when it comes to Nickels' overall record of the past eight years, Drago is in sync with the mayor: A tunnel on the waterfront, South Lake Union redevelopment, Northgate redevelopment, alcohol impact areas, the downtown heights rezone, stricter club rules, the streetcar, and lifting the U. District lease lid
"She has been a follower while Mayor Nickels has been a leader," Nickels' spokesman Sandeep Kaushik said. (Full disclosure, Kaushik is a co-founder of PubliCola.)
Asked by a reporter point blank after her speech about being in lockstep with Nickels, Drago said:
"There is a difference in leadership style. My style is to build partnerships and coalitions. To empower people. To talk to the stakeholders before a decision is made."
I asked her to identify a specific instance where Nickels had made a decision in advance of the process (ha! I could certainly name a couple ...lifting the lease lid ... choosing a tunnel ... new club license regulations ), but Drago said, "I can't give a specific example." However, she rebounded, and reframed my question: "I can't name an example when he hasn't done that," she said.
For me, the most notable line of Drago's speech was when she said this: "No one should be afraid to disagree with City Hall." I asked her about the provocative Boss Tweed accusation afterwards. Was she talking about something in specific? Is Team Nickels famous for breaking kneecaps in back alley ways?
Drago told me, "When they—citizens, neighborhood groups, businesses—disagree [with the Mayor], they fear retaliation. This is a well known fact. Even contributors fear retaliation," she said. At that, her handler, Blair Butterworth waved off my one-on-one interview.
Meanwhile, the Nickels campaign sent out a fact check on Drago immediately after the speech, correcting her statement that Seattle hadn't gotten any stimulus package money. Says Team Nickels:
The city has received more than $43 million and counting in federal stimulus dollars this year in multiple grants for transportation, human services, other infrastructure and so on.
Drago was referring, of course, to the big F.U. from the legislature this session when, divvying up $371 million in transportation stimulus package money, Olympia backed off on its apparent commitment to Nickels to earmark $50 million for the Mercer Mess. Her example was intended to highlight a point that Drago has been making repeatedly in the run up to her announcement: Nickels does not have good working relationships with other local leaders and so cannot deliver on things like stimulus dollars that go through the State.
I asked Team Nickels about this prevalent charge against Mayor Nickels (indeed, I heard it all the time while I was covering the legislature), and Nickels' spokesman Kaushik says: "Eveyrone knows there's an anti-Seattle sentiment in Olympia, and it long predates the Mayor. He's working on improving it, but he's also not afraid to stand up on behalf of the interests of Seattle."
As an example, Kaushik pointed to Nickels' resistance to Olympia's initial push for a Viaduct rebuild.
Team Nickels also sent out a list of hardball questions for Drago in advance of Drago's speech. Drago was asked one of the questions at the press conference: "Why have you missed so many council meetings over the past year and missed nearly 150 votes as a result?" Drago said only that the accusation was inaccurate. Could she provide accurate numbers, I asked. She said she would. Team Nickels stands by the numbers.
Meanwhile, Erica C. Barnett (a Drago fan?) laid out exactly how Drago should respond to Team Nickels' barrage of questions. For example, re: the missing council meetings question, Barnett writes:
What Drago should say: "City council members, including my colleagues, frequently travel overseas on trade missions that help promote and improve the Seattle region's economy. In these tough economic times, our region's economy needs every bit of help it can get. However, realizing that we're in an economic downturn, my colleagues and I decided earlier this year to pay our own way for travel on such trade missions in the future, a decision I supported.