City Council Position 8: PubliCola Picks Mike O'Brien

By PublicolaPicks October 19, 2009


City Council candidate Mike O’Brien has a lot in common with mayoral candidate Mike McGinn. Both oppose the $4.2 billion waterfront tunnel. Both headed up the local Sierra Club. Both worked for the Stokes Lawrence law firm. Both are named Mike.

But although the two men are ideologically similar, O’Brien’s lower-key style makes him a perfect fit for the often-contentious environment of the city council. An MBA with a passionate rap on global warming, O’Brien combines fiscal smarts (badly needed on the council) with a righteous belief that the threat of climate change should inform every political decision.

In 2007, O’Brien led the charge (along with McGinn and the Cascade Bicycle Club) against the “roads and transit”  initiative, which would have tied light rail expansion to 192 miles of new roads. He argued that tying roads to light rail would cripple Seattle’s efforts to combat climate change, and that light rail alone would succeed where roads and transit failed. Despite overwhelming skepticism from Seattle’s political and environmental establishment, he was right, and light rail won—alone—one year later.

As a council member, O’Brien will be both a fierce environmental advocate and a realist. Asked if his opposition to the tunnel will hamstring him on a council whose members all favor or at least accept the tunnel proposal, O’Brien said, “I expect that we will revisit [the decision]. … But [if we don’t], I am not going to spend four years on undermining the tunnel.”

And don’t be fooled by  O’Brien’s anti-tunnel position, he’s  no Lesser-Seattle crank. He’s a big fan of light rail and increasing density and eliminating parking requirements in the neighborhoods.

Another prudent O’Brien position: His much-derided support for tolling the region’s highways and major streets. As former county executive Ron Sims was fond of saying, tolling won’t work if we only toll part of the highway system; toll a new 520 bridge, and people will just go to I-90. That’s just common sense. That O’Brien’s opponent has used a reasonable proposal as ammunition against him shows just how out of touch with Seattle’s values he is.

About that opponent: Robert Rosencrantz, a smart, congenial landlord and real-estate developer, has positions that are far to the right of Seattle’s progressive values. He opposes all tolling; isn’t a fan of light rail; wants strict new rules limiting panhandling; holds a hard “all taxes are bad for business” line; and supports giving pharmacists, nurses and doctors the right to withhold birth control or refuse to perform abortions if it conflicts with their religious views.

No, that’s not a city issue (except insofar as the city helps fund public health clinics that provide birth control and abortion referrals), but city positions can be springboards to higher office. We don’t think Rosencrantz deserves that springboard. And we think Mike O’Brien is one of the most inspiring candidates we’ve seen in a very long time.

PubliCola picks Mike O’Brien.
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