What We Really Want to Hear from the Candidates Running for Mayor
The candidates running for mayor are mostly speaking in platitudes about their "leadership" and "vision." Those words mean nothing. Like, who wants a mayor who can't lead?
They must lead—obviously—but we want to hear where they plan to lead us. Here are the policies they should get specific about and what we want our next mayor to say on each topic.
Busting Balls at SPD
Promising to fire the police chief may seem brash. But under Chief John Diaz, the city required a federal intervention before it could even begin meaningful reforms to a police department with patterns of excessive force and concerning racial bias (costing millions of dollars a year in new oversight). Diaz should be fired, of course—because he is clearly not qualified—and a search should begin to replace him.
Even if saying that is too impolitic, mayoral candidates can call for four specific reforms that exceed those named in Seattle's recent court settlement with the US Department of Justice. First and easiest is demanding biennial reconfirmations of the chief by the mayor and city council so firing an impotent chief isn't as difficult in the future. Second, the mayoral candidates should vow to quickly sign a labor contract with the police union, the Seattle Police Officers' Guild, which has been working without a contract since theirs expired in 2010 (seriously). Third, in those labor negotiations, the city should remove the union president, Rich O'Neill, from the city payroll. He's still being paid as a sergeant even though he never works for the city. Under his leadership, the police union has resisted reforms, joked about pulling guns on members of the ACLU and the Urban League, and opposed the city's racial and social justice initiative. We shouldn't pay people to be part of the problem. Fourth, the department needs to be more transparent with public records. Candidates for mayor must call for SPD to quickly release dash-cam footage when requested under open records laws, quickly satisfy records requests on recent events, and post a wider variety of police reports online. These steps will show that the candidates understand how to restore public confidence in the police department.
Putting More Police Foot Patrols on Certain Blocks
The best way to make people feel safe downtown—and actually be safe—isn't with civility laws that further penalize panhandlers (laws that the city council and tourism industry support). Those odious measures do nothing to reduce actual crime and they scapegoat the city's poorest populations. Study after study shows crime is better reduced with police foot patrols in hot spots. Half of all crime in Seattle occurs on just 6 percent of the blocks, according to a 16-year study of crime in Seattle that was reported in the 2012 book The Criminology of Place. Mayoral candidates should pledge to put more foot patrols on many of those blocks. For example, Third Avenue between Pike and Pine should have 24-hour patrols, and not just during the holidays. If that requires asking voters for more money to hire more police, then ask them for it.
Um, we hate to break it to the Lesser Seattle crowd, but we live in a FUCKING CITY. And cities have lots of buildings. Some of them tall. That's how we pack so many goddamn people into them.
So when folks in the South Lake Union neighborhood start complaining about how greedy developers want to build tall buildings that would block the views from their not-quite-so-tall buildings, we expect you mayoral candidates to listen closely, nod your head compassionately, and then tell them to quit their whining.
Don't give it away for nothing, mind you; we'd love to hear your plans for exacting all the concessions you can out of those greedy developers in exchange for lifting the height limits. But those awful, greedy, view-blocking 400-foot towers? Absolutely! The whole point of the South Lake Union redevelopment was to increase density in this once underutilized neighborhood, and we don't get there by building horizontally.
Promoting More Affordable Apartments
Our smattering of subsidies for low-income apartments—like the housing levy—will never accommodate even half the people who work in the city but can't afford to live here. But by encouraging small apartments, affordable rentals can be built without any subsidies or assistance at all. The aPodments are a prime example, where the rents start below $500 a month. But right now, most of the new one-bedroom apartments that proliferate in Seattle cost $1,300 to $1,700 a month—which isn't affordable to many workers. That's because the city encourages apartments with giant underground parking garages (usually one spot per unit) and floor plans of more than 600 square feet, which both drive up prices. This effectively banishes the city's workforce into the suburbs each night, thus requiring them to spend up to a third of their income on automobiles for transportation or waste away their lives making long commutes on our shitty bus system. This is unfair to the working class, it defines Seattle as a bastion for the rich, and it promotes sprawl. Part of the solution is simple: incentivizing smaller apartments. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg ran a contest recently for micro-apartments, and mayoral candidates in Seattle should promise to do the same. Studios from 275 to 300 square feet and three-bedroom apartments around 900 square feet—for families—could be encouraged through zoning benefits, such as increased height and expedited permitting. With affordable stock disappearing in neighborhoods like Pike/Pine and the U-District, the way to keep the city livable to regular workers is to build rentals that are inherently less pricey in the city core, where the jobs are.
Funding a Seattle Subway System Now
Call it a subway or call it light rail—the name doesn't really matter—but Seattle needs to take the lead on funding new mass-transit rail lines within the city limits. We simply cannot wait for a piecemeal system built at the same glacial pace it's taking to get transit to all the suburbs, because that could take a century or more. Instead, our next mayor must take the initiative in leading the charge to ask Seattle voters for money to build a new Seattle light-rail network that borrows liberally from the vision created by Seattle Subway, a group of smart transit activists working with transportation officials.
Use the corridors already identified in the city's Transit Master Plan, and then pay Sound Transit to build the thing. (We don't have to "go it alone" or create a new transit agency to do this.) Voters in Seattle overwhelmingly approved light-rail funding in the past, and there's every reason to believe they'll keep doing that.
Funding Early Learning
Let's be honest, the rest of the state is fucking nuts. Perhaps voters outside Seattle really do want to improve public schools, but they sure as hell aren't willing to pay for it.
So let's do it without them.
That's where you mayoral candidates come in. This campaign is an opportunity to educate voters that no education reform returns more bang for the buck than high-quality early learning, which increases test scores, graduation rates, college readiness, and incomes while lowering teen pregnancy, incarceration rates, and the need for expensive remedial programs in our schools. Best of all, no education reform has been proven to do more to narrow the achievement gap than universal access to high-quality preschool.
Run and win on this issue, and you'll have a mandate to take the lead on its implementation. And implement it here, and the rest of the state will inevitably follow. For if there's one thing the dry-siders can't stand, it's the notion that Seattleites are getting something that they are denied.
Not Obstructing the Arena
Yeah, we know, not everybody's thrilled about locating a new NBA/NHL arena in Sodo (we're looking at you, Peter), but studies have been commissioned, public hearings have been held, and both the county and city councils have overwhelmingly voted their approval. So unless the environmental review comes back way crappier than anybody expects, it's time to put this battle behind us and move on to a more positive agenda (we're looking at you, Peter). The last thing the city needs is yet another mayoral campaign focused on blocking a multimillion-dollar downtown construction project (we're looking at us, SECB).
Obstructing the Shit Out of Coal Trains
Yeah, the mayor of Seattle technically doesn't have the power to do anything about the plans to run mile-and-a-half-long, toxic-dust-spewing coal trains through Seattle up to 18 times a day so that Big Coal can make lots of money shipping that coal out of a port in Bellingham and selling it to China. But a mayor can use his bully pulpit to stoke the righteous fury that people in Seattle already feel about this plan and make sure they know where to direct their protests (Mayor Mike McGinn standing among the thousands who packed a recent Seattle hearing on the possible impacts of the coal trains was a good first step). A mayor can also lobby Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark to deny permits to the coal train. And finally, a mayor can threaten to do crazy, telegenic shit like, oh, lying down on the fucking tracks to stop the coal trains from coming through. The candidate who promises to do that has our attention—and quite possibly our endorsement.
Supporting Hybrid District Elections
At-large city council elections probably made sense decades ago, back when Seattle was a more homogenous city. Who cared if everybody on the council looked and thought like everybody else—or so the thinking went—as long as the vast majority of voters did, too?
It is finally time for Seattle to reshape the council in its image. And we expect the mayoral candidates to use this campaign to explain to voters why a hybrid system, in which some council members are elected from geographic districts, is the best means toward this end.
Every Seattle voter deserves a council member who knows their neighborhood and who is expected to be responsive to its needs. It's only fair.
Killing the SPD Drone Program
The people who are freaking out about the Seattle Police Department's new $82,000 flying drone have a point. As one protester shouted at a forum on the drone, held in the Central District in October: "We don't trust you with the weapons you do have!"
Really: The police should have to repair their troubled relationship with the community before they are given any new toys. And controversial drones only erode the little public trust that remains with the cops. Plus, they are a tool without a proven need.
Drones like the one the SPD bought can be hacked, they can't fly in high winds or rain, and they tempt law enforcement to do stupid things like mount guns on them. We need a mayor who isn't suckered by expensive robots and will instead make a priority of using city money, officer time, and federal grants for proven tactics that make streets safe. Let other cities experiment with drones and all their attendant problems. Candidates for mayor should push for a ban on all drones here in Seattle.
Paying for Bike Lanes
This spring, the city council is due to update the Bicycle Master Plan, a bible of local bike infrastructure planning that was created in 2007 but that the city has barely funded. Five years into the 10-year plan, we've paid for only $36 million of the $240 million goal. That's miserable.
If you mayoral candidates want us to take you seriously on bikes—and transportation in general—then promise to fully fund the renewed Bicycle Master Plan that the council approves next year.
Doing this will cost at least $25 million to $30 million annually, so start thinking. And don't tell us that's too big a sum. Right now, the city spends $300 million annually on transportation, and only 3 percent of that is spent on bike-related improvements.
Other cities are doing better than us and securing federal funds for bike infrastructure improvements right now, so don't tell us it's not possible. We need more greenways. We need more cycle tracks. We should have a 200-mile network of bike routes connecting the neighborhoods of this city, and it should be completed in the next 10 years.
Trying Again for Later Bar Hours
In 2010, when Mike McGinn was still a wet-behind-the-ears baby mayor, he proposed an ambitious plan to improve Seattle's nightlife scene for everyone. It included giving tickets to obnoxious drunks on the street, new rules for noise complaints, taxicab stands, later bus service, prepaid morning parking, and, finally, staggering last call for responsible bars to eliminate the 2 a.m. mass push-out, which results in a chaotic clusterfuck as hundreds of drunks flood our city streets at once. Nearly three years later, all of these proposals have been implemented—except later bar hours, even though the Seattle Police Department and all elected city officials support the plan. Why? Because our state liquor board, which regulates drinking hours, is stacked with a couple of tight-assed, teetotaling chickenshits. We need a mayor who's willing to stand up to state officials and continue pushing for later bar hours, which studies have shown help reduce public safety issues like drunk driving and drunk-on-drunk street fighting. If you don't support this popular plan—if you're not willing to make it a priority—step the silly fuck off the podium already.
Improving Rules for Street Food
In July 2011, the Seattle City Council passed controversial legislation that gave food trucks more flexibility to park on city streets. But that same legislation fucked over sidewalk vendors at the behest of brick-and-mortar restaurants, which squawked at the added competition. The end result: Mobile food trucks are flourishing in the city while sidewalk vendors, which must set up shop at least 50 feet from any eatery entrance (among other restrictions), are dying out. City records show the number of sidewalk vendors has dwindled from 35 in July 2011—right before the new legislation passed—to only 19 today. That's a 54 percent drop in a year and a half. In the end, the buck stops with the mayor, who manages the transportation department that oversees street-food vendors. The candidates need to promise to fix these rules—even if some restaurant owners whine—because active sidewalks are essential to safe, fun cities.