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Meet Your Mayor

An Interview With Greg Nickels—Not a Boob After All

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David Belisle
Greg Nickels is full of surprises. First came the November surprise: Despite raising almost $200,000 less than opponent Mark Sidran, failing to get an endorsement from either daily paper, placing second in September's mayoral primary, and trailing in the final polls before Election Day, Nickels avoided advice to play tough. He stuck to his nice-guy, pro-Sound Transit, "Seattle Way" stump speech, and became the mayor of Seattle. (He beat City Attorney Mark Sidran with 51 percent of the vote.)

Surprise number two: Nickels is not the dim, wishy-washy moderate most people think he is. Nor is he so "nice." (Last week he stepped on some toes by firing popular Director of Neighborhoods Jim Diers.)

In command of policy details and comfy with his opinions (not to mention his mayoral look: brown suspenders, dark blue shirt, and a fat red tie), Nickels spoke with The Stranger last week from the mayor-elect's 39th-floor offices at Key Tower, weighing in on many issues: districting Seattle City Council elections; giving the county a bigger role in water management; civil rights; nixing the Teen Dance Ordinance; getting tough on police oversight; building the monorail; and, oh yeah, building that dreaded light rail.


Specific legislation--what is on the top of Greg Nickels' agenda?

Transportation. On January 7, I will lay out a specific agenda. It's obviously light rail. It's monorail, it's the [Alaskan Way Viaduct]. I can't believe the governor's transportation plan doesn't have the viaduct in it. I mean, if that thing goes down, our city dies. For his plan not to have that is unforgivable. So transportation will have a number of initiatives. I know that you guys are skeptical about light rail, but it is something we have to do, and it is going to take a mayor who says, "Dammit, we've debated it long enough, and it is time to do it." It will break ground by July 1.


On the campaign trail, you said the current Sound Transit plan is the same one voters approved in 1996. How can you say that with a straight face?

I can say that with a straight face.


Given that it's half as long?

It isn't half as long. We're taking it in bite-sized chunks.


But the first chunk costs what a much bigger chunk was supposed to cost. We're not even getting north of downtown!

It's $2.1 billion to get to "almost the airport," but we need to get to the airport. And we need to get to the university. I am committed to doing both. I'll be back in D.C. in January, lobbying for the $500 million grant. Then we'll need to get a second grant. If we do that, we've got about $1.6 billion to go north. One of these days you're going to be telling me it's a good thing that I did this. We may be very old.


What about the monorail? On the campaign trail, Mark Sidran accused you of promising too much. How do you deliver the monorail too?

Monorail does something different than light rail. Light rail is ultimately the regional project. It's the reason we don't have to build double-deck freeways for our city. The monorail deals with: How to get around town? How do we take care of city traffic and city needs? It is more flexible. It is lighter. It's cheaper, too. I want some tools that we will be able to put on the ballot for monorail. Whether it's a sales tax on gas or something else, I think we need some additional tools to put a finance plan together.


For this year's N30 demonstration, the police forced protesters to go to court to get a rally permit. In your administration, can you guarantee that folks won't have to go to court to hold a rally?

I don't know the ins and outs of why those permitting decisions were made. I believe in free speech. People need to be able to express themselves in an appropriate fashion. There is a line beyond which free speech is no longer being practiced. I will be working with folks like the American Civil Liberties Union to help define that line--to make sure that we not only allow, but encourage free expression. And we'll make sure we do it in a fashion where folks are safe, and where that line is clear to people.


Speaking of the police: Is the Office of Professional Accountability, which ultimately has to answer to the police chief, independent enough to really provide oversight?

There are a couple of things that need to be added to the OPA: The citizen oversight piece has to be credible. If it's going to be three people who can never talk to the public--I'm not sure that would be very credible. The second piece is: The head of the office has to have subpoena power. The third piece is transparency. I think the record should be public. What are the complaints, what are the findings?


The city council seems freaked out that a Nickels administration [Nickels was formerly a King County council member] will give the county a larger role in controlling Seattle water. Are you interested in giving the county a larger role in our water management?

We have an absolutely pure source of water that is protected forever. I would do nothing to undermine that legacy. That said, I think the county has a role to play. [King County Executive] Ron Sims is not a pro-sprawl executive. And the new majority on the county council is not [pro-sprawl] either. I expect to be an ally with Ron Sims on a lot of issues. This city is the heart of King County--a metropolitan area--and we are going to need allies to manage the region's water. We're going to need other tools than just the Seattle-centric focus. And hopefully I'll be able to educate the city council on the need for that.


There's a new Seattle Housing Authority project in West Seattle, changing low-income housing into a mixed-use development. Are you committed to one-for-one replacement of low-income housing there?

One-for-one replacement has to happen. We do not have an excess of low-income housing. So you need to replace it with one-to-one. Maybe you need different types of homes. Maybe what you need are three-bedroom homes. But you need the same capacity.


Is Greg Nickels a fan of switching from at-large positions to district positions on the Seattle City Council?

Yes. Right now particular neighborhoods don't know who the go-to person is. We are a city of neighborhoods, and I think each neighborhood deserves a voice. I think that's the whole basis of democracy.


Sidran's city attorney office had been battling JAMPAC on the Teen Dance Ordinance. Are you going to change course on that issue?

Ultimately, we've got to have places where our kids can hang out and listen to music. Otherwise, what are kids going to do? They are going to go to places that are completely off-limits. And I don't think that is a good option.


So does that mean getting rid of the TDO?

I think so. They serve alcohol at Safeco Field, and I don't have a problem with my teenage kid going to Safeco Field.


What was the stupidest thing you did on the campaign trail?

When I posed for you guys nude.

 

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