And judging from the sound bites issued last week by the early contestants for city council, and from an election primer issued by the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition a week previous, two overarching themes are already emerging; themes that are on a collision course.
In one corner, a gaggle of candidates are staking out the "Let's get some stuff done around here, already" philosophy. Here's what outspoken King County Council Member Dwight Pelz, Port Commissioner Paige Miller, and former Mayor Nickels' Communication Director Casey Corr (all seeking to displace abnormally deliberative incumbent Richard Conlin) had to say when they jumped in the race last week:
Pelz: "The solution to every challenge can't be more meetings."
Miller: "We need to stop the endless foot dragging and delays."
Corr: "Conlin is a ditherer."
In the other corner, the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition is staking out the opposite position. Fretting about the "just do it" crew's pushy approach, Neighborhood Coalition Leader Kent Kammerer wrote: "Seattleites hear constant ridicule for the so called 'Seattle way.' It is now becoming a pejorative term [describing] too much talking and studying projects rather than making quick decisions." ("Quick decisions" being a pejorative term for making decisions at all.)
Kammerer continued, summing up a January 8 meeting of neighborhood activists, "Citizens feel real dialogue on critical issues has diminished markedly in the last decade." His top example was the city's recent pro-density revisions to Seattle's comprehensive growth management plan, which made zoning more flexible and upped height limits. "The serious decline in civic debate on complex issues, like the revision of the comp plan, did not include debate or a challenge of the theories dealing with growth." Kammerer concludes: "The concept of debate has vanished."
So, there you have it, the subtext of every debate to come in this year's election: "Let's get stuff done" versus "Let's talk about getting stuff done."
The "let's talk" crowd likes to pitch their position as a return to "civic dialogue." What they don't acknowledge, however, is that there's been a dialogue--particularly on the comp plan, which was under discussion for 18 months, and was legally required to be amended last year, anyway. (I attended two public hearings that helped amend the amendments.)
Really, what the "civic dialogue" crowd is uptight about is this: They are losing the dialogue. Indeed, the comp plan revisions changed some long held, and dumb, intransigence on the sanctity of single-family zones. And last year's monorail recall--more dialoguing on a project that had already been debated and voted on three times over seven years--was rejected by a whopping 70,000 votes.
Civic debate is fine. Ironically, though, and to the chagrin of the "dialogue it to death crowd," we're about to have some defining civic debate this year. It will be about the direction of this city, and it may not turn out how they like.