Frontrunners and Fault Lines

By Erica C. Barnett June 20, 2009

















Bloom: Aligned with lefty Licata. Bagshaw: Aligned  with conservative Burgess. Conlin: Aligned with himself.

Before the candidates for city council headed up to North Seattle for the much-talked-about 46th District Democrats' endorsement meeting on Thursday night, they sharpened their chops downtown, where the City Neighborhood Council held a two-hour forum in the Bertha Knight Landes Room on the first floor of City Hall Thursday afternoon.

The CNC was formed by the city in the 1980s, its members elected from each of Seattle's 13 neighborhood districts. Historically, the group has stood up against density in single-family neighborhoods, opposed limits on parking, and promoted investments (like sidewalks, street repairs, and park improvements) in neighborhood business districts. For years, the group was headed by Chris Leman, a good-government gadfly and prolific filer of public disclosure requests who was recently arrested for allegedly assaulting a city employee. Since last year, however, the CNC has been run by  Kathy Nyland, a cheerful, energetic Georgetown activist whose whirlwind personality has been a welcome contrast to Leman's long-winded, pedantic style.

Although the forum concentrated on neighborhood issues (graffiti, districts, and parking meters all made appearances), the forum was anything but a parochial whinefest. In an interesting departure from typical campaign forum formats (two-minute intro, predictable yes/nos, “top priority” questions, etc.), the CNC moderators kept things moving with one-minute answers punctuated by “lightning rounds” in which candidates had only a few seconds to scrawl one-or two-word answers in a sketchbook. Surprisingly (or not), the candidates actually said more about themselves in 15 seconds of scribbling than they usually do in a prepared two-minute speech.

It was revealing to see which candidates were aligned on the conservative side of Seattle litmus issues—like parking, taxes, and the environment. Coming from the right side of the spectrum: Sally Bagshaw (running for Position 4, Jan Drago’s old seat), Robert Rosencrantz and Jordan Royer (both running for Position 8, Richard McIver’s old seat). Rosencrantz said he would let neighborhoods decide whether they want parking meters instead of free parking, and allow them to keep some of the revenue; he also proposed making downtown business owners pay for cost overruns on the $4 billion tunnel that’s supposed to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Bagshaw made repeated references to “cutting the fat” at City Hall and said she was most aligned with conservative City Council member Tim Burgess; and Royer cited his business experience and said his focus would be on public safety. All three, along with Jessie Israel, running against incumbent Nick Licata for Position 6, said they opposed a fee on disposable grocery bags—an interesting position for Israel, given her environmental-community support.

Another thing that became clear ...

is that the bad economy has made megaprojects increasingly unpopular, and not just among the usual suspects. Rosencrantz, David Miller (Pos. 8), O’Brien (Pos. 8), David Bloom (Pos. 4), and David Ginsberg (Pos. 2) all voiced their opposition to a long list of huge proposed capital projects, like fixing the Mercer Mess ($200 million), building a new jail ($110 million) and digging a tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct ($4 billion). Meanwhile, several other candidates expressed skepticism about the just-passed parks levy—a major shift from the days when candidates never met a tax increase they didn’t like.

Speaking of those days, at least two candidates—David Bloom and Sally Bagshaw—seem to be permanently stuck in 1997. Bloom's proposals—passing a living wage ordinance, building 5,000 units of affordable housing above and beyond this year’s proposed housing levy, and redirecting transportation money to sidewalks and bridges—are appealing, but also undeniably retro, a bit like the neighborhood vs. downtown movement of the late 1990s. Coveniently, Bloom's opponent, Bagshaw comes across, at least superficially, as a downtown-establishment candidate with major backing from business interests. Whether people still care about big-biz campaign contributions, and whether the new economy will resurrect old ideas, remains unclear. Regardless, it might be a good idea for Bloom to stake out positions on more contemporary debates like density, growth, and transportation—and for Bagshaw to take some loud progressive stands  so liberals don't dismiss her as just another Jan Drago (who, back in the day, championed the downtown Nordstrom garage to the dismay of the neighborhood movement.)

I've heard a lot of talk about Rosencrantz as a frontrunner in the race for Position 8, but that's mostly from people who haven't seen him speak. Rosencrantz—who’s spent thousands on speech lessons from local consultant Michael Shadow—needs to dial down his Toastmasters schtick about 20 notches if he wants anyone to hear him. For example, when CNC moderator Lane Ross asked Rosencrantz what he would do to implement the bike and pedestrian master plans and the parks levy, he leaped to his feet and blurted: “What will I do? Five things. Tilt power back to the neighborhoods. Strengthen our financial base. Don’t spend money on non-value added amenities. Central business district businesses should pay for the tunnel. And, grow the economy.” Rosencrantz’s staccato response sounded overrehearsed, robotic, and false--and irrelevant to the question he was supposedly answering. 

Finally, long-shot candidate David Ginsberg would be smart to play up his opposition to the tunnel—one of only a handful of issues where he seems to disagree with incumbent Richard Conlin. What makes Ginsberg’s opposition to the tunnel even more interesting is that he lives in West Seattle—where support for maintaining the viaduct’s capacity is practically an article of faith.  

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