In yet another sign that this year's mayoral election is shaping up as the clash of titans that should have happened in 2009 (when an unknown T-Mobile executive ended up squaring off against a Sierra Club activist after knocking out the incumbent mayor in the primary), former city council member Peter Steinbrueck officially jumped in to the mayor's race today, joining four other challengers to that Sierra Club activist, now-Mayor Mike McGinn.
"This may come as a surprise coming from an architect, but what great cities are made of is not buildings and density, it’s people."—Peter Steinbrueck
Speaking to a crowd of shivering reporters and supporters in front of Pike Place Market's Rachel the Pig (and a bunch of loud, slightly irritated fish throwers), and surrounded by supporters shouting "Peter! Peter! Peter!", Steinbrueck laid out his list of priorities: "Safe, walkable neighborhoods," education that prepares all students to learn and go to college or a career, transportation mobility for all, and a sustainable city.
Steinbrueck began with a vague set-piece of a speech about the "future of Seattle," a city that he hoped would be "healthy and just." It was after his eight-minute-long prepared remarks that things got interesting.
That's when he became, well, Peter Steinbrueck, the opinionated, outspoken, and increasingly cranky former city council president who is emerging as the candidate of the—for lack of a better phrase (Steinbrueck objected to the term when I used it today)—"Lesser Seattle" set. This is a group (the term was coined by longtime Seattle journalist Emmett Watson) associated with anti-density neighborhood activists, anti-development and anti-gentrification activists, and housing preservation advocates. Leaders of this faction, such as homeless advoctate David Bloom, surrounded Steinbrueck during his announcement today.Steinbruck's first digression from his prepared remarks came when he was asked about the NBA arena deal in SoDo.
And what better symbol to take on as a "behind-closed-doors" (as he called it) yuppie development deal than the SoDo arena, which Steinbrueck says threatens the working-class industrial district. (San Francisco hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen has bought up the land and pledged $290 million, but only if the arena goes where he wants it. The public is on the hook for $200 million, which will be paid back through taxes and team rent).
Steinbrueck, who was paid by the Port of Seattle to oppose the deal—which has now been endorsed by both the City Council and the King County Council—said he would "honor the process," but indicated that he would use the process to explore better locations.
After noting that his older 6'2" son, who was standing next to him, is a star high-school basketball point guard and that his family loved the Sonics, Steinbrueck (who voted consistently on the council to keep the city's industrial areas industrial) went off: "I personally feel the industrial area is the absolute worst place to be locating an arena" because it is currently home to some of the highest-paying manufacturing and industrial jobs in the city, because of the traffic congestion the arena would produce, and because the industrial businesses in the area are already on "a growth trajectory."
"Why would we [put the arena in SoDo] when there are other places that would be much better—the Rainier Valley, for example … or the Eastside… My hope is that we will explore fully all the options."
And he continued: "Why would we do that when there are other places that would be much better—the Rainier Valley, for example … or the Eastside… My hope is that we will explore fully all the options."
Steinbrueck's other extemperaneous (and noteworthy) comments came when he addressed density.
Although Steinbrueck said today that cities "need" density, he also talked about the need to preserve "pedestrian-scale neighborhoods," adding, "This may come as a surprise coming from an architect, but what great cities are made of is not buildings and density, it’s people."
Steinbrueck, of course, is working to stop a proposal by McGinn to increase allowable building heights in South Lake Union to as much as 400 feet if developers (AKA Vulcan) provide amenities like affordable housing and child care. Steinbrueck alluded directly to South Lake Union and Vulcan—historically a sinister figure for many of the social-justice and neighborhood activists who have endorsed Steinbrueck (partial list here).
"This is not a moral war. This is about balance," Steinbrueck said. "I want to be a voice for people who haven't had a voice and are increasingly being drowned out by the very wealthy," he added, with Real Change leader Tim Harris standing by Steinbrueck's side.
"Our priorities should include not just one specific neighborhood that happens to be a hotbed of speculative development," Steinbrueck said, referring to South Lake Union. And he pointed to work he did to craft compromises in Northgate and Thornton Creek as proof that he could work to balance neighborhood interests and density.
Running against potentially half a dozen or more candidates (besides McGinn, city council member Tim Burgess, state Sen. Ed Murray, real-estate broker Charlie Staadecker, and neighborhood activist Kate Martin, the list of contenders could grow to include either ex-King County Executive Ron Sims or council member Bruce Harrell, and potentially others) Steinbrueck faces a tough fight. But his experience in office (ten years on the council), along with his built-in base of neighborhood activists, could give him an advantage in this year's clash of the titans.