We've faulted Seattle City Council member Richard Conlin for many things recently—the size and shape of his head, say, and his smugness in the face of criticism. Oh yeah, and then there's his record. But if you're a densinista like we are (seriously, that's what anti-density activists call us now!), it's hard to fault him on his love of urban density. He'll happily bike over to any neighborhood group and explain with a smile why taller buildings in more places are good for the city, regardless of the outcry. Which means that often, he's siding with big, wealthy developers over sympathetic neighborhood residents pleading for limits on new construction.
But the controversy I wrote about in this week's paper—a corporate pharmacy trying to build squat, car-oriented buildings on busy corners in pedestrian neighborhoods all over the city—is a unique opportunity for Conlin to be on the side of both density and neighborhoods. He heads up the city council's land-use committee, and the activists organizing to stop these developments are hoping to use legislation as a major strategy. And the opportunity to fight bad developments is not only perfect for Conlin—it's perfectly timed.
His opponent in the upcoming election, Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant, has criticized him repeatedly for being a corporate tool who votes against The People—and her pitch is clearly working, since she got 35 percent of the primary vote to his 48 percent. Numbers like that are a big deal in this particular race. He's a well-funded, well-known four-term incumbent, she's a motherfucking Socialist with less than one-seventh of his campaign money—$21,330 to his $154,298, according to the most recent reports. Primary voters also trend more conservative than general election voters.
Taking a stand against these developments is both voter- and urbanist-friendly. He doesn't have to compromise an iota of his values to rescue at least three neighborhoods from bullshit corporate projects. It won't be too easy; land-use legislation can take a long time and emergency legislation is hard to pass. Also, as I said in the piece, two of the projects are already at a stage in the planning process where they only have to follow the rules that were in place when they first applied.
But if there were ever a moment for Conlin to polish his suit of armor, step astride his white horse, and ride off into battle, this is it. The timing is so serendipitous, it feels like the Good Lord designed it on high, just for his friend Richard. Hey there, buddy! I got you this present! Do you want to open it right now? I even loosened the ribbon for you! Go for it!