Morning Fizz

Thursday Night's Tunnel Debate

By Josh Feit December 17, 2010

Thanks to everyone—more than 200 of you—who packed the the Bertha Knight Landes Room at city hall last night for our tunnel debate, where both sides participated. Tunnel detractors Mayor Mike McGinn, City Council Member Mike O'Brien, and People's Waterfront Coalition leader Cary Moon squared off against tunnel fans state Sen. Ed Murray, City Council Member Tom Rasmussen, and King County Labor Council Executive Secretary David Freiboth.  (And special thanks to KIRO TV's Essex Porter for doing an excellent job moderating the combative crew.)

Erica liveblogged the fireworks. The Stranger did too. And the Seattle Times has a big report this morning. The Seattle Channel videotaped  it and is airing the debate several times this weekend.

The event was PubliCola's debut town-hall-style debate, a series we'll be rolling out regularly in the coming year (and hopefully, as PubliCola investor Rajeev Singh pointed out in his introduction last night, at spots other than City Hall where we can actually have booze). The goal for the series is to bring together the smarties on both sides of important yet contentious public policy issues and elevate discussions that are typically (and unfortunately) waged with sound bite grenades tossed from opposing bunkers into frank talks that seek solutions rather than casualties.

I don't know that we eliminated the fusillades last night. Rasmussen, in particular, seemed to have undergone a personality change from mild-mannered bureaucrat to special forces operative, accusing mayor McGinn of breaking a campaign promise to work with the council to move forward on the tunnel (calling him a "ditherer") and accusing him of being behind the latest initiative to stop the tunnel as part of his disingenuous agenda. During the audience Q&A, Rasmussen added that he would not wait for the public to vote on the initiative to protect the city from cost overruns before signing agreements with the state because it was just another part of McGinn's agenda to stop the the project.

However, Freiboth and O'Brien—admittedly also part of the fireworks—did make an effort to peek out of their foxholes, both looking for common ground by edging toward what may be the only solution to the  tunnel battle: Acknowledge that the project has serious problems and work to fix them rather than A) blindly moving forward with it or B) tossing it altogether.

Some quick "Best-ofs" from last night.

Best text message Fizz got during the debate:
Please tell me that one of the questions will be: "True or false: Seattle voters don't count, except when they are the only ones who vote for gas tax increases."

This, Fizz imagines, was an exasperated response to Sen. Murray's insistence that the combined 14.5 cents gas tax, which is now generating $2.4 billion for the tunnel ("the biggest investment Olympia has ever made in Seattle"),  an unprecedented voter-approved stimulus-style infrastructure spend that Murray led on, is being jeopardized by McGinn.

The point: Murray is ignoring the fact that while voters did support gas taxes for transportation projects in 2005, they specifically gave a thumbs down to the tunnel in 2007.

Biggest News

Sen. Murray acknowledged that Seattle is, in fact, on the hook for overruns and he said the senate had the votes to repeal the overruns provision.

Best tactical move of the evening

Fizz has to give this to our own Erica C. Barnett, who decided to seat Mayor McGinn and Council Member Rasmussen next to each other.

Best sound bite (Yeah, I know. Supposedly we don't like them.)

Mayor McGinn: "Wake up and smell the recession" explaining that the state, currently facing a $4.6 billion shortfall, is not going to pay for any cost overruns on the tunnel.

Something we've never seen before

O'Brien lose his temper. The typically charming and collegial bike-riding, chicken-owning Fremont wonder boy was actually red in the face at night's end, tangling with Sen. Murray in a back and forth about social justice dollars over public transportation dollars (some could argue they're the same thing). In fact, the pair of Irishmen continued debating long after the crowd had gone home.

O'Brien and Murray continue the debate long after everyone else has gone home.

Biggest disappointment

At the end of the evening, Porter asked if anyone in the audience had changed their mind over the course of the debate. No one raised their hand.

We had been prepared to give an audience member Cola blogging rights over the next week to elaborate.

Nonetheless, this was an electric event. Thanks so much for packing city hall. We'll take it as a sign that you want more of these, as we begin planning 2011.

In other news, Crown Hill resident Tom Nissley won another $23,201 last night on Jeopardy, bringing his total so far to about $70,000.
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