Just Say No

By Josh Feit March 1, 2011

Yesterday, while defending his veto of the city's deep-bore tunnel agreements with the state (a veto that was subsequently overturned by the council), Mayor Mike McGinn said he supported lone council member Mike O'Brien's call for a referendum on the agreements, essentially calling for a vote on the tunnel.

A tunnel idea—not the current deep bore, but a cut and cover tunnel along the viaduct route—was already voted down, along with a rebuild, in a special March 2007 public vote.

The new tunnel idea—which would keep the viaduct open while the tunnel is being built—might do a little better, but would probably go down again.

In fact, none of the waterfront options, including the one McGinn and O'Brien support—the surface/transit option—has more than 50 percent support. PubliCola did a poll in March 2010 asking voters to choose between the three options: 35 percent went with the deep bore tunnel; 36 percent went with a rebuild; and 21 percent went with surface/transit. (Eight percent were unsure.)

Otherwise, I'm not aware of any polling that has compared all three, although there was some polling that did a round robin of match ups. The deep-bore tunnel won that one, with surface transit coming in last.

Any option, considered in isolation in this heated debate, is likely to go down because voters can keep a dream option in their head; it's easy to say "No" to a single choice.

For this reason, "No" campaigns are typically easier than "Yes" campaigns, and I see McGinn's push for a "No" vote as a metaphor for his easy "Just Say No" politics.

What would be cool, and actually reflect some leadership, is if McGinn proposed a referendum that would potentially solve the problem rather than keeping the city in a "grass is always greener" limbo without ever having to make a choice. He could do this by proposing a "Yes" referendum—that is, by asking the people what they want to do as opposed to what they don't want to do.

How about putting the three options up for a vote, and the one with the highest percentage wins?

Otherwise, after the city votes the tunnel down, all we get is an "I told you so" from the McGinn administration, which I'm starting to think is all his administration is after when it comes to the tunnel.
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