I spotted Vulcan's table right away--Paul Allen's company is Nickels' third top contributor. Nickels' other top donors--downtown developers like Triad Development and GBS--were also represented. What I didn't expect to find were activists like Greenwood Community Council President Mike McGinn, who's been fighting Fred Meyer's big-box redevelopment at 85th Street North. The neighborhood crew supposedly hates Nickels. What was McGinn doing here?
"We've been working to replace parking lots with mixed-use development," McGinn says. "Nickels made it clear he's opposed to Fred Meyer's big-box proposal."
More important, McGinn--a Sierra Club board member--supports Nickels' density agenda. Particularly, McGinn supports allowing ground-floor residential units in neighborhood commercial zones to increase density; replacing parking lanes with bus lanes (like Nickels did on Aurora Avenue); and reducing parking requirements to encourage development. "An empty storefront is worse than too few parking spaces," McGinn says of Nickels' legislation that lowered parking requirements in places like First Hill and the U-District. Nickels is pushing similar changes in business districts citywide.
"It's not a coincidence that the neighborhoods we love are tough to park in," says McGinn. "People pay to park downtown rather than drive to Northgate and park for free. [Because] downtown is a better place to be."
I suspect--despite conventional wisdom that Nickels has alienated neighborhoods-- McGinn speaks for many neighborhood folks. (Also at the Westin was Mahlon Clements, a Ballard resident who was on the neighborhood planning committee and says he's thrilled at the pace at which Nickels is checking off neighborhood projects.) No wonder people who claim to represent the neighborhoods haven't been able to field an anti-Nickels candidate.
I had worried that going into his reelection bid, a nervous Nickels might retreat to his voter-friendly 2001 "Seattle Way" campaign rhetoric, while downplaying his aggressive neighborhood development agenda that's supposedly irking neighbors. But Nickels put my concerns to rest during his speech, championing his development moves in the U-District and Northgate.
I'm glad Nickels isn't backtracking to please the so-called neighborhood crowd. I want him to boast about his penchant for brawling, so that this year is something of a referendum on the Nickels Way, his relentless assault on Old Seattle's ponderous salon style of governance that has bogged down development in places like Northgate. When Nickels wins that referendum with votes from leaders like McGinn--who understand that Nickels is pro-neighborhood--Election 2005 will stand as the moment when Seattle's real neighborhood folks stood up and were counted.