Our Picks for the August 18 Primary Election
Remember how exciting this "voting" business was last year? Those were the days, huh? We got to vote Barack Fucking Hussein Goddamn Obama into the White House. We were making history. Hey, any black lesbian Jews with scary middle names running for mayor?
What do we got instead? A closeted-Republican can of hair spray outpolling her openly Democratic rivals in the King County executive race. Two Port of Seattle races so boring that they ought to be underwritten by Ambien. And the American Chemistry Council pouring $1.3 million into an effort to repeal a sensible city ordinance that would require supermarkets to charge a small fee for the plastic bags that strangle baby otters in Puget Sound and cause cancer in burlesque dancers.
The bag fee will be decided on August 18. Meanwhile, the two leading candidates in every other race—thanks to our "top two" primary system—will move on to November's general election. By voting in the primary, you can help the best candidates in each race advance and send the worst candidates packing. For example, in the county executive race you can vote for a Democrat with the balls to call out the Republican in the race. And for mayor, you can make sure that someone who's different than Greg Nickels—someone like Mike McGinn—makes it through to the general election and save us from having to choose between Nickels and Nickels-in-a-Dress in November. Plus, two of the three city-council races on the primary ballot are up in the air. So grab your ballot and a bottle—take a shot every time you read the word "council"—and vote. This election may not be historic, but your hangover will be.
King County Executive
When you're going up against a stealth- Republican like Susan Hutchison—and, trust us, whichever Democrat gets through the primary will be going up against her—you need to be willing to call her what she is: a political lightweight and a partisan extremist; a shitty fit for the most liberal county in the state; and a blow-dried, brain-dead, lying, hypocritical, and cowardly piece of shit.
Dow Constantine, current King County Council chair and former state legislator, had the balls to say just that. (Except that "piece of shit" bit—that's our thoughtful analysis.) It was politically risky, fraught with the perils of taking on a well-liked former TV personality and the dangers of going negative early, the kind of thing that other politicians would have taken a pass on (and did—we're looking at you, Larry and Ross). Dow stepped up, took a risk, and reminded us that he not only has great lefty politics—strong on the environment, an ally of the local music and club scene, a leader on transit—but the kind of daring, cunning, and grit required to beat Hutchison in the November election and keep the county executive's chair in Democratic hands.
Which is important, because it's really, truly, fucking-frighteningly possible that this county—its protected lands, its controversial needle-exchange program, its reproductive-health services—could, after this election, fall under the control of Hutchison, a woman who gave thousands of dollars to anti-choice wacko Mike Huckabee, disparaged "evolutionists" this year at the Governor's Prayer Breakfast, served as a board member of the right-wing think tank Discovery Institute, enthusiastically backed George W. Bush, Dino Rossi, and Dave Reichert, and who has zero—zero—relevant political experience.
And the shit that pours out Hutchison's mouth about being a nonpartisan running in a nonpartisan race for a nonpartisan position? You know who helped pay to encourage voters to make it a nonpartisan position last year? Hutchison. Her strategy all along was to hide her true political colors from the voters. It's a plan she's been working on for a long time, and one that could work. We need an authentic liberal with a taste for the jugular to take Hutchison out and then steer the county out of its budget crises and other myriad problems. That's Dow Constantine.
King County Council
Bev Tonda is a pink-sweatered ray of strawberry sunshine. Bev Tonda can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile. Every time Bev Tonda claps her hands, a fairy punches a rapist in the tit. Bev Tonda is a self-described "Democratic-leaning Republican" who lives in a log cabin she built with her own teeth on the banks of the Cedar River and occasionally says the craziest thing ever ("I was raised Christian, I'm converting to Judaism, and I hang out with Muslims!!!"). There was no chance the SECB wasn't going to endorse Bev Tonda—her opponents are Reagan Dunn, the shriveled weasel who fell out of Jennifer Dunn, and something called a Mark Greene—but we really fell in love with her after her hour-long endorsement meeting, when she e-mailed to let us know that she didn't fucking want our endorsement: "I do feel compelled to say that I was not looking for an endorsement from The Stranger when I came to interview on my lunch hour. The part-time unpaid intern billed the appointment as an interview." Vote for Bev Tonda. Vote the FUCKING SHIT out of her!
Court of Appeals Judge
Anne Ellington is the incumbent in this race, and everyone in the world loves her. Except Robert D. Kelly! He specializes in personal-injury claims, has a website better suited to a mortician than a candidate for the appeals court, and thinks he can do a better job. No one in the hard-nosed business of ranking judicial candidates seems to agree, and neither do we. (There's no quid pro quo here, Ms. Ellington, but should anyone from the SECB ever come before you because some crooked cop planted dope on a straight-edge Stranger staffer or our publisher finally got arrested for sexting while driving—just remember your friends at The Stranger, okay?)
You don't have to read our endorsements in Port of Seattle races. Seriously. The only thing duller than port races is the Seattle Channel. (And the only thing duller than the Seattle Channel is Seattle school-district races.) Do yourself a favor and skip ahead to our endorsement for mayor, which comes next because that's the order of the races on the ballot, which is insane. Interesting races should be at the top. Anyway...
The port runs the waterfront and Sea-Tac Airport, has a $604 million annual budget, and oversees 4,000 acres in real estate (nobody knows how much it's worth—the port hasn't appraised it all). It's also losing business (down 8 percent in 2009) and is best known for scandals and lousy performance in state audits. Some hero needs to march into the port and straighten shit out. But none of this year's candidates seems equipped for the job. Some candidates are ideologues, some are egoists, some are too cozy with commercial real estate, and at least one candidate is all three. (That's David Doud, a "top broker" at Wallace Properties who said he was running because the job "is synergistic with my career." However you vote, don't vote Doud.)
We're going with Rob Holland (lefty, uniony, big on jobs) and Tom Albro (an entrepreneur who runs the company that operates the monorail). Yes, Albro has some Republicans in his closet, but he's also got the support of Senator Ed Murray, who met Albro and grilled him about "choice, the environment, and gay and lesbian issues." During our endorsement interview, Albro's opponent Max Vekich was short on specifics, long on rhetoric, and occasionally incomprehensible. The port needs a business-minded person who isn't evil. That's Tom Albro. (We hope.) The port also needs a reliably lefty, union vote. That's Rob Holland. (Ditto.)
Mayor Greg Nickels has accomplished some things—did you know that he built light rail with his bare hands? And he has the right idea about cities—he's pro-density, for instance. But he has been the mayor for eight years, he's not a popular guy, he's waged a clumsy war on bars and clubs, and it snowed a lot right before Christmas. Luckily, there is one person running against Nickels who—unlike all the rest—offers a real choice and who can prevent it from snowing in Seattle ever again.
That's Mike McGinn.
McGinn is the only candidate who disagrees with Nickels about one very big issue: blowing billions (more than $900 million from the city) on a tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the aerial freeway on the waterfront. McGinn points out that we don't need the tunnel, that it's a car-only infrastructure project with a price tag equal to every property levy we're paying now combined, and that Seattle taxpayers are going to be on the hook for all cost overruns. With the city in distress in so many other ways (schools, gang violence, economic development), we can't afford a tunnel that we don't need. Simultaneously, McGinn is the only candidate for mayor who calls bullshit on nonissues (like everyone's sudden opposition to the head tax, which requires businesses to pay $25 for each employee who usually drives solo to work and helps pay for transportation projects—he thinks it should stand). He's got the strongest environmental record. He's got the strongest civic résumé among the candidates who've never held elected office (founded the nonprofit Seattle Great City Initiative, chaired the local Sierra Club). He used to practice business and employment law. He rides his bike everywhere. He's mayor-shaped.
And he's opposed Mayor Nickels on issues before and won. In 2007, at the Sierra Club, he led the fight against the ballot initiative that bundled light-rail funding with highway funding. McGinn argued that if voters rejected the roads-heavy measure, the light-rail component would come back to the ballot the next year and win. Nickels argued that this was our only chance to expand light rail. McGinn was right and Nickels was wrong: Even though the measure had been polling at 57 percent, the campaign against it worked, and the following year, funding for just light rail was on the ballot and passed by a wide margin. And in 2008, while running Great City, McGinn chaired the campaign for the parks-improvement levy, which won at the polls, despite the opposition of Nickels. Unlike Greg Nickels, Jan Drago, James Donaldson, and Joe Mallahan—the other major contenders in the primary race—McGinn has no campaign manager and no staff outside of a scheduler who works five hours a week. His is a volunteer-run organization, grassroots, of the people. It is the opposite of the Nickels campaign and the Nickels machine. For the good of the mayor's race, for the good of the city, McGinn is the man to challenge Nickels in the general election.
City Council Position 4
After 16 long years on the city council, Jan Drago is vacating this seat to run for mayor. Drago has been among the more conservative—and erratic—voices at City Hall. She's pushed for onerous nightlife regulations and a smaller levy to build affordable housing. Drago also recently said she wants to "establish and enforce a norm for acceptable and safe behavior on the streets," which sounds like the last thing that happens before anti-democracy tanks come rolling through Westlake Park. If a progressive candidate takes her place, it will tip the council's balance leftward.
But the current front-runner and top fundraiser in the race, Sally Bagshaw, hasn't demonstrated that she's more progressive than Drago. Bagshaw, who worked as an attorney and prosecutor for King County for over a decade, has contributed to only the council's more conservative members in election years. And Bagshaw's campaign-contribution filing reports read like a roster of Rainier Club members—and those people have enough friends at City Hall already. We wanted to like David Bloom, a cofounder of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, but his anti-density activism made us fear he would be an advocate against sensible development. Bloom also told the SECB that he wants to rebuild or retrofit the viaduct, which is a mind-fuckingly atrocious idea.
Bagshaw and Bloom are not young. And frankly, city council meetings already look like an AARP bridge club. The city council lost its younger members, Judy Nicastro and Heidi Wills, back in 2003, and it's time for some fresh blood on the council. So we're throwing our ink behind Dorsol Plants, a two-tour Iraq war veteran who turns 25 this month. He's assembled a battalion of supporters and speaks passionately about the issues facing the city. He has dozens of smart ideas, including rewriting neighborhood plans to accommodate more density, especially around light-rail stations, and supporting targeted human services to help people avoid losing their homes to foreclosure. Plants wants to expand alternatives to incarceration for low-level drug offenders and grow the youth-violence-prevention initiative.
Plants lacks the experience of his competitors, but in the few months since launching his campaign, he's demonstrated organizing skills and the nimble mind required by a city council member. Plants is also a renter—an unrepresented group on the council—and he doesn't own a car, like a lot of people in this city. We think Plants will be a reliably progressive vote on the council.
City Council Position 6
Did we say we wanted to see fresh blood on the council? We do. We've gushed about Nick Licata before (see almost every issue between 1997 and 2007), but, as he runs for a fourth term, we figured his best years in politics might be behind him. Licata, a devout lefty with some latent anti-growth/NIMBY tendencies, has been on the lonely end of 8–1 votes lately, and, in 2002, he fought light rail. So we listened closely to his primary challenger, Jessie Israel, an employee of King County Parks and Recreation who says Licata is "bogging things down" and promised to make Seattle "more livable."
But some of what we heard from Israel stinks. For example, she said she was voting for mayoral candidate Joe Mallahan, a dud when we met him, who props his campaign on a thin résumé with T-Mobile. Israel also supported repealing the bag fee, siding with the American Chemistry Council, which was bankrolling the pro-pollution campaign to the tune of $1 million at the time of our meeting. (Israel reversed her position when the plastic lobby threw another $300,000 into the campaign, calling it a "game changer"—please note, wealthy corporate interests, that you'll get a pass from Jessie on the first $1 million, but then watch out!) Israel talks about change, but it's not clear what revolutionary policies she would muscle through the council.
Licata, on the other hand, has consistently pushed underdog legislation that the SECB supports. In his most recent term, Licata created a group to study whether the city could avoid building a new $200 million jail. The group appears to support diverting low-level, nonviolent offenders into less expensive, more effective treatment programs. Licata also fought to provide better public defense for indigent people in the municipal court system while raising standards for judges. When considered along with his career on the council—where he secured funding for pre-arrest diversion programs, led the first council discussions on reforming drug policy, and called City Attorney Tom Carr on his bullshit—Licata has proved to be the strongest council member on issues of civil rights and smarter criminal justice. He's also fought against nightlife restrictions. In addition, in the last few years, he's passed bills to provide more workforce housing, increase standards for pedestrian safety, and get more police on the street.
The issues we disagree with Licata about—sometimes favoring a less dense city, his idiotic stance on retrofitting the viaduct—are votes he doesn't have a shot of winning. But no other city council member has carried the torches that Licata has carried for 12 years, and neither candidate running against Licata this time appears ready to pick them up. Licata still has fire in his belly, and we want to see more.
City Council Position 8
Mike O'Brien, who rode his bike to meet the SECB, has a great ass. But that's not the only reason we want to see him on the council. He's simultaneously a granola-munching environmentalist (former chair of the local chapter of the Sierra Club) and a business wizard (got his MBA from the University of Washington). The combination of idealism and realism is refreshing, and we think O'Brien's approaches to increasing density and transportation represent the sort of forward thinking Seattle needs more of.
Others in the race didn't impress us as much. David Miller, while a strong nightlife advocate, concerned the SECB because his anti-development fights as past president of the Maple Leaf Community Council indicated a tendency to support irrational NIMBYs over sensible city planning. In his meeting with the SECB, Miller was reluctant to support towers on the Yesler Terrace redevelopment, the best way to produce more low-income housing in the middle of the city, and was reticent to endorse infill development outside of prescribed urban villages. Others in this crowded race ranged from scary (Robert Rosencrantz wants to "give neighborhoods more authority" over nightlife) to bland (Jordan Royer loves Greg Nickels and doesn't present any particularly interesting ideas).
On the other had, O'Brien supports removing parking requirements from housing developments, allowing developers to build small apartments and condos to reduce housing costs, and maintaining the head tax for pedestrian and bicycle improvements. He believes Seattle must build much more housing within city limits to combat suburban sprawl—to reduce the region's carbon footprint and bring down housing prices—and we wholeheartedly agree.
Referendum 1 (Bag Fee)
(uphold the disposable-bag fee)
This was a tough one, as both sides made excellent points. On the one hand, environmentalists who know about things like "science" and "dead sea mammals" have researched the issue thoroughly and say that the 20-cent fee on disposable shopping bags—the proceeds of which go partially to the stores and partially to fund recycling programs—would help decrease the number of plastic bags currently piling up in landfills, or being downcycled to shittier plastic bags and then piling up in landfills, and, eventually, slowly disintegrating in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch until they resemble tiny, delicious plankton particles that fish mistake for food but are actually POISON.
On the other hand, plastic-bag companies want more money! Waaaaaaaah!!! Do you want to see plastic-bag companies and chemical corporations cry? ON THEIR BIRTHDAY!?
Despite compelling arguments from the staggeringly disingenuous anti-bag-fee spokesman, whose organization, the Coalition to Stop the Seattle Bag Tax, has raised an absurd million-plus dollars from chemical companies and trade associations like the American Chemistry Council (but "one guy in Ballard gave $25!" he told us), we decided to go ahead and endorse a "YES, FUCKING OBVIOUSLY" vote on upholding the bag fee. Because 20 cents is approximately the same as zero cents if you remember to bring a reusable bag to the store anyway, which people who don't want to pay the fee will do, and we'd like to continue having oceans, thanks.
Seattle School Board
This race pits incumbent Mary Bass, the dissident board member who fought against the school-closure plan and a longtime advocate for the needs of Central District families, against several challengers who say Bass has become too dissident—and ineffectual—for her district's good. While we've supported Bass in the past, her challengers are right. Bass lost the school-closure fight, which was a familiar experience for her—in the right, but without enough votes from fellow board members to win. Enter Kay Smith-Blum, co-owner of the "European specialty store" Butch Blum, longtime do-gooder-about-schools (creating and raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for public-school "annual funds," for example). Smith-Blum is exactly as crazy as you'd expect for someone who really, really wants to dive into endless collective decision-making about chronic, incredibly knotty public-school problems.
A person has to be crazy—or Cheryl Chow—to want to serve on the school board. But while Bass is ha-ha-wince-whatever crazy, Smith-Blum is holy-shit-she's-probably-right-and-she's-going-to-chew-my-face-off-if-I-disagree-with-her crazy. And that fresh brand of crazy—plus Smith-Blum's mind for spreadsheets and track record of strong public-school advocacy—is just what this position needs.
Full disclosure: Smith-Blum owns a business that advertises in The Stranger. The SECB does not take advertising into consideration when making endorsements. If we did, we'd have to endorse a lot of local she-male escorts.
Seattle School Board
This race came down to two qualified candidates: Betty Patu, a three-decade veteran teacher in Seattle schools, and Charlie Mas, wonkiest wonk of all school-district wonky-wonks. Mas, who maintains a creepily obsessive school-board blog, is clearly well-versed and interested in the überboring intricacies of school-board bureaucracy. But Patu—currently a teacher at Rainier Beach—has that rock-solid, unflappable gravitas that comes with sitting behind a public-high-school desk for 30 years, as well as a concrete understanding of what works and what's bullshit in Seattle Public Schools politics, and a commitment to underrepresented minorities like Asian/Pacific Islanders. Best of all, she's hard-fucking-core. In her endorsement meeting, Patu—in the context of an anecdote about personally connecting with students—told the SECB that she once talked down a former student who was holding another student at gunpoint. "Give me that gun," she barked, barely blinking. Betty Patu, we will literally do anything you say. Just please don't cut us.