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PubliQuestion and Answer

By Erica C. Barnett June 25, 2009

The second in a series of Q&As with the candidates for city council. (Part 1 here). Today we talk to David Ginsberg, a long-shot candidate running against Position 2 incumbent Richard Conlin, a neighborhood advocate, environmentalist, and advocate for urban farming. Ginsberg is Conlin's only opponent, meaning that both will go through to the general election. In the 2005 primary, when he was opposed by onetime port commissioner Paige Miller, Conlin scored just shy of 50 percent in the primary; he went on to defeat Miller 60-40 in the general. Ginsberg, a West Seattle resident and former technology worker at Washington Mutual, worked on Bob Kerrey's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, served on the founding committee for the Seattle Green Party in 1990, and was active in the 2003 MoveOn and 2008 Obama campaigns. We talked at Caffe Vita on Capitol Hill; what follows is an edited transcript of that conversation.

PubliCola: I've heard you talk a lot on the campaign trail about a perceived "lack of urgency" from Richard's office. But besides "urgency," I've had trouble coming up with many issues where you differ from him. Can you give me any examples of actual issues where your position is different from Richard's?

Ginsberg: Philosophically, I agree with Richard on most issues. So it really isn't  a difference of opinion about what we should be doing on particular issues, it's how we get there. Twenty years ago, "Seattle"  was not seen as being synonymous with "process." [Conlin has become a symbol of Seattle's addiction to process over progress] ... He and I disagree on the viaduct, on district elections, and on public campaign financing

[caption id="attachment_7977" align="alignleft" width="180" caption="Ginsberg"]Ginsberg[/caption]

. [Ed: Conlin says he's a strong supporter of public campaign financing.] I was an early surface/transit supporter. [Ed: The "surface/transit" solution would replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a waterfront boulevard, additional transit, and improvements to city streets.] I lived in San Francisco when the Central Freeway came down and it was incredible. People said there would be traffic jams and total chaos, and what happened? Nothing.

PubliCola: You're a long-shot candidate taking on a popular incumbent. If you don't win, what do you hope to accomplish?

Ginsberg: Richard's talking points have really changed over the course of his campaign. When we started out, he wasn't talking about the economy at all. He wasn't talking about transportation. That has changed. If you live in West Seattle, there's no exit [from the proposed deep-bore tunnel, which Conlin supports.] It'd be great if you wanted to go to Shoreline  or something, but not if you want to go downtown.

PubliCola: Do you support the surface/transit option for financial reasons, or environmental ones?

Ginsberg: We are talking about spending $10 billion on [the State Route] 520 [bridge replacement] and the viaduct. I don't think it makes sense to spend that kind of money on infrastructure to support automobiles. I'd bet my life that in 50 years we're not going to be driving cars, or that only the very rich will be. Cheap oil is gone. We had better be making a transition to something else.

PubliCola: But Richard is known as one of the staunchest environmentalists on the council. He's fought for the green fee on disposable bags, for mandatory recycling, for zero waste—he's even made it legal to own goats in the city and started a tomato garden for the homeless at City Hall!

Ginsberg: Zero waste is great, but it's not dealing with the problem that the economy is based on cheap oil. ... We don't have 15 years to get this straight. We need to make this transition now with some urgency. Spending $10 billion now on automobile infrastructure is ludicrous. If oil is $10 or $15 a gallon in 15 years, which I think it may be, how many of us are going to be commuting to work by car? How many of us are even going to have jobs? I haven't heard Richard talking about that on the campaign trail.

PubliCola: Reducing our reliance on cars is a great idea, but isn't that an issue for the county and the state, not the city, which doesn't run a transit system or fund state highways?

Ginsberg: The regional transit meetings that led to Metro coming up with the 40/40/20 rule [which mandates that 80 percent of all new Metro service go to the suburbs, leaving just 20 percent for Seattle]—the Seattle representatives stopped showing up because they were tired of getting beaten up by their suburban counterparts. [Ed: Conlin says he and the other Seattle representative on the regional transportation committee "may have missed a meeting," but that they didn't stop showing up. "We worked as hard as we could to try to reach a compromise," he says.] [40/40/20] doesn't make sense from a money perspective, it doesn't make sense from a people perspective—it's in the surburbs' interest.

PubliCola: Do you believe, as many of your counterparts in other council races have said, that the city should concentrate density in urban centers and urban villages and leave single-family neighborhoods alone? Are single-family neighborhoods sacrosanct?

Ginsberg: [Former mayor] Norm Rice said we should concentrate density in urban villages and urban centers. That is a very intelligent way to grow. We have drifted away from that. ["Four-packs" of townhouses are] dumb development. ... I absolutely support getting rid of [minimum] parking requirements [one of the factors that contribute to ugly townhouse developments], but I think it's absolutely untrue that you can't increase density without destroying neighborhoods. I think the solution is to leave the residential portions of the neighborhoods essentially as they are and let the business districts [absorb the density].

PubliCola: Which candidates do you most admire in the other races?

Ginsberg: I like Sally [Bagshaw, running for Position 4], Nick [Licata, the incumbent in Position 6], and David Miller [running for Position 8]. And I like Dorsol [Plants, running for Position 4]. He's honest, he speaks from the heart, and he doesn't have a guarded quality.

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