PubliQuestion and Answer: Martin Kaplan

By Erica C. Barnett July 7, 2009

[caption id="attachment_8692" align="alignleft" width="275" caption="Pos. 6 candidate Martin Kaplan"]Pos. 6 candidate Martin Kaplan[/caption]

The fifth in a series of Q&As with the candidates for city council. (Previously on PubliQ&A: Position 4 candidate Sally Bagshaw, Position 2 challenger David Ginsberg, and Position 8 candidates David Miller and Jordan Royer.

Martin Kaplan, an architect, Planning Commissioner, and former member of the Pike Place Market Historical Commission with a tendency to pair garish white tennis shoes with business suits, is one of two challengers running against popular Position 6 incumbent Nick Licata. Kaplan's running on bread and butter issues—economic development, strengthening the city's commitment to neighborhoods, and encouraging density around light rail stops and urban centers. But his main pitch is that it's time to get rid of Licata, whom Kaplan says has been an "obstructionist" on the council. We sat down at the Teahouse on Queen Anne; Kaplan showed up on his mountain bike, wearing black and yellow togs.

PubliCola: The conventional wisdom is that Nick is incredibly popular, even among folks who disagree with his lefty political views. Are you finding it tough to gain traction against him?

Martin Kaplan: I've actually gotten quite a few endorsements. We split [the] Alki [Foundation, the policial arm of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce], we split the Rental Housing Association. ... I met with [State Sen.] Ed Murray {D-43] recently and he said, "I'm sorry, I have to tell you, I've already endorsed Nick." After we talked for a while he called me later and said he'd call folks on my behalf... And he ended up co-endorsing both of us."

PubliCola: Did you ever consider running for one of the open seats [Positions 4 and 8] instead?

Kaplan: I never thought about the open seats. When I started thinking about running, it was to replace Nick. I respect Nick. ... I appreciate his service very much. ... But when I see the opportunities we have [as a city] that we're not taking advantage of, I think we can do a lot better. I have a sense of urgency about it... I've been asking myself lately, How best can I help my city? And the best thing I can do is replace somebody on the council who I don't believe has that vision, who doesn't have that commitment to do what's best for the entire city, who doesn't have the ability to build consensus. ...I see nick consistently on the wrong side of a particular vote or issue.

PubliCola: Give me a few examples.

Kaplan: In an interview the other day with the Seattle Times, he brought up the Sonics and Mercer as issues he was particularly proud of. [Licata led the charge on the council to block public funding for the Sonics' stadium, KeyArena, and the team later left town for Oklahoma City. Licata also opposes spending $200 million on Mercer Street in South Lake Union, and would reallocate that money to other neighborhoods.] The Sonics is not the issue. The issue is kicking a business out of town that's always been here. Would you kick Nordstrom out of town? The Sonics have been here for 40 years. Yet Nick didn't feel it was important to keep them. They didn't pass his cultural litmus test. The city council should have been trying to bring the different groups to the table and keep that business here. Do I want to invest tens of millions of dollars in KeyArena? No. It's got to be a reasonable return on our investment. But if I had been on the council, I would not have taken the opportunity to lead a group to get rid of the team. [Licata supported the group Citizens for More Important Things, which also opposed spending money on the team.]

PubliCola: But that was one of Nick's main arguments against spending millions on the Sonics—that the team didn't actually bring money into the city?

Kaplan: I don't necessarily agree with that. Sports teams are a regional draw. All the areas around us are connected to our sports teams. I don't know how you measure the worth. There's a dollars and cents value and then there's a civic pride value. I like going to the theater, but I also like sports. The council should not get involved in saying, "these cultural pursuits are worthwhile and these aren't."

PubliCola: The Mercer project has become a big campaign issue, too, with a lot of folks saying they'd take that money and spend it somewhere else. Why do you support investing in Mercer, and why do you think it became such an issue?

Kaplan: [Other candidates] are saying the neighborhoods are going to elect them and if you think that, it's much better [politically] to stand up and say let's not invest these billions of dollars downtown, let's take it and spend it in our neighborhoods. ... Sometimes I feel like I'm the only guy who stands up and says, If we're not doing well as a city that generates tax revenues, we're not going to build two-way Mercer, we're not going to fill your potholes, we're not going to have any money to do anything. ... We've got to focus on the neighborhoods that are generating these [economic] opportunities. We all talk about sustainable development and where people should move. We all think we should create opportunities for density around our transit corridors, around hubs and neighborhoods that already have the infrastructure. ... And downtown is a neighborhood too. [With Mercer] we have a substantial opportunity to make a real investment in our downtown neighborhood.

PubliCola: How do you feel about adding density to other neighborhoods, not just downtown and the major urban centers?

Kaplan: You have to be sensitive to the neighborhoods. The issue of concurrency is huge. If you look at Northgate, look at the Thornton Place development [a new condo and apartment development near Northgate Mall], it's this island across the street [from Northgate]. There's no sidewalks. The city has to make a commitment to do comprehensive development. The city can't say to a family in Northgate, "Walk six blocks to catch the bus," when there are no sidewalks to walk on. ... The issue of sidewalks is huge. It's not unlike cleaning up Lake Washington. e can't have a comprehensive transportation strategy and a comprehensive urban village strategy if you can't get to the urban villages. It's going to take until my daughter's daughter's daughter is in college [to finish the city's sidewalk system].

PubliCola: Why do you support repealing the "head tax" [a $25-per-employee tax, paid by employers, that exempts workers who don't drive to work alone]?

Kaplan: The head tax is destructive for small business. I'm not making the argument that $25 a year as a penalty tax for someone that drives their [single occupant vehicle] to work is a bad thing... but from the standpoint of attracting small businesses to our city, it is. ... I see an exodus of businesses and jobs from our city. The communities outside Seattle are all cheaper. If you create another disincentive or two, businesses will not want to move here. The tax just started two years ago. What did we do before that? We need to find opportunities and incentives to grow that $5 million [the amount raised annually from the tax] without putting it on the backs of small businesses, because I want those businesses to located in Seattle.

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