PubliCola Candidate Ratings: City Council Position 3

By PublicolaPicks October 27, 2011

Sticking with our commitment to be a more objective and balanced source of news, we’re doing things differently this year than we have in the past.

Inspired by the even-keeled Seattle/King County Municipal League’s approach to candidates (rather than endorsing, the Muni League rates based on skill, experience, and policy acumen as opposed to ideology), we’ve been talking to candidates and interviewing folks on both sides of the ballot measures and coming up with our own ratings.

(Here’s our take on I-1125, the tolling initiative, our take on I-1183, the liquor privatization measure, and I-1163, the health care worker training initiative. And here’s our rating of King County Council Position 6 incumbent Jane Hague and her challenger, Richard Mitchell, and our take on the candidates for Seattle City Council Position 1 and Seattle Port Commission Position 5.)

We’re grading the candidates on: Resume; Knowledge of the Issues; and Their To-Do List & Ability to Get it Done. We’ll also be issuing Bonus Points and Demerits.

Our scale: Exceptional; Above Average; Acceptable; So-so; Unimpressive; Unacceptable.

City Council Position 3

Bruce Harrell, incumbent

Resume: Acceptable
Harrell has a lot of ideas—body cameras on cops, computers for poor kids—but little follow-through. His “Great Schools” initiative, in particular, seems like a smokescreen: Essentially, the city council agreed to sign low-income kids up for discounted Comcast service as a condition of Comcast’s merger with NBC. Before joining the council, Harrell was an attorney in private practice.

Knowledge of the Issues: Acceptable
Harrell’s tendency to ask aww-shucks, I’m-just-a-regular-guy questions at council meetings sometimes seems like cover for a lack of preparation. (During a budget hearing today, for example, he told city staffers, "I don't have a clue as to what you're talking about.") In his four years in office, Harrell has acquired a Richard McIver-esque reputation for asking questions at council meetings that seem to demonstrate he hasn’t read the briefing materials.

To-Do List and Ability to Get it Done: Acceptable
Harrell’s opponent Brad Meacham points out, rightly, that Harrell hasn’t done much on the council, missing numerous meetings and failing to pass much substantive legislation. In his next term, Harrell has said he wants to head up the council's public safety committee---an ambitious assignment for which we're not sure he's prepared. (In fairness, his proposal to put body cameras on cops is undeniably popular). As for the rest of his to-do list: Harrell has resolutely refused to release campaign questionnaires he has filled out for various groups, making us wonder what his agenda really looks like.

Bonus Points
Harrell’s commitment to race and social justice seems both sincere and effective. In addition to being a dynamic presence during the recent police shooting crisis, in 2010 he sponsored legislation that requires the city to consider all proposals through a “race and social justice lens,” so that departments don’t just, for example, provide sensitivity training but consider racial equality and social justice in everything from contracting to hiring to outreach and public engagement.

He has a well-deserved reputation for inaccessibility. Indeed, Harrell was the only candidate who—after numerous reschedules and repeated requests—did not show up for an interview with PubliCola, and he's known for showing up late to meetings and campaign events.

Brad Meacham

Resume: Above Average
Meacham has headed up the Seattle/King County Municipal League, worked as a reporter and editor, and is active in his Columbia City neighborhood. He’s also lived all over the world, including Japan—life experience that could benefit the sometimes-parochial City Council.

Knowledge of the Issues: Above Average
As a challenger, Meacham’s pitch is largely limited to critiquing his opponent’s record, which he does with great specificity—criticizing Harrell’s “Great Student Initiative,” for example, as “essentially signing kids up for Comcast” when he should be making “high speed internet the City Light of the 21st Century”—but he also talks knowledgeably about district elections, police accountability, community policing, and zoning.

One area where Meacham is clearly both knowledgeable and passionate is transportation. He wants to redirect more of the November $60 vehicle license fee to transit; says he would promote biking by educating the public about how more cycling decreases congestion for all road users, including drivers; and has suggested changes to the region’s ORCA pass system, including adding e-commerce functionality (essentially, cards that can not only pay  transit fare but make purchases at train stations) along the lines of electronic transit passes in Japan.

To-Do List & Ability to Get It Done: Acceptable
Meacham’s to-do list is specific and forward-thinking: He wants to upzone the areas around light rail stations, promote alternatives to driving, partner with business to put high-speed Internet in more neighborhoods, and reprioritize neighborhood policing. (And, of course, promote transit and biking). Although we worry Meacham’s full-speed-ahead style may put him in conflict with some on the current council, which often values process and deliberation over getting things done, we like his energy and sense of urgency.

Bonus points
Meacham’s a neighborhood guy, but not in the old-school NIMBY mode. We like his critique of “timid city policies” that make it hard for development in urban villages to thrive, as well as his idea of building "model urban neighborhoods" with vibrant businesses, affordable high-speed Internet, and efficient transit networks.

We worry that Meacham will be marginalized, along with Mike O’Brien, as a member of the council’s enviro-lefty fringe.

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