The awful monorail news makes me feel like Walter Cronkite.
In 1968, Cronkite concluded a report from Vietnam saying the war wasn't going well and our government was misleading us. Afterward, President Johnson said to his aides: "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost... America."
I'm no Cronkite and monorail agency director Joel Horn is no LBJ, but the agency needs to understand that if it's lost a die-hard monorail supporter like me...
After backing the monorail through four elections, championing the project, and debunking the opposition in article after article, I cannot stand by the current finance plan. My disillusionment increased in recent months as news about Seattle Monorail Project's "creative financing" plan started to leak. As it turns out, the agency was also misleading us into believing the payment plan would live up to voter expectations. But $11 billion in debt service!?
Our coverage grew more and more critical (culminating last week when Stranger writer Erica C. Barnett broke the $11 billion news on our blog, prior to the P.I.'s Wednesday front-page story).
Last Friday, after a bruising day of fact-finding about the monorail, my phone rang. It was Horn. I was nervous about confronting Horn and I didn't pick up. I reluctantly listened to his message later. "Hey Josh, this is Joel Horn. If you want to talk at all... I'm working all weekend, and you can call me on my cell. If you want to chat, call. Bye." Instead, I took the bus to Queen Anne where I glumly downed two vodkas with a few other monorail supporters.
Horn left another message on Saturday while I was on the phone with my editor (a bigger monorail zealot than I am). We were talking, ironically enough, about our upcoming monorail coverage for this issue [see page 20]. When I called Horn back, he was agitated. Buried under lousy headlines, he was looking for reassurance. He groused about "the opponents," and assumed that The Stranger was still in the monorail's corner, $11 billion or no $11 billion. The conversation ended in raised voices, with Horn complaining it was unfair for "opponents" to frame the debate around a "red herring" like interest payments, and with me shooting back that sky-high interest payments were relevant—not because of the opponents, but because the agency opted for junk bonds.
In his famous newscast Cronkite said: "We have been too often disappointed... to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds." Like LBJ lost Cronkite, the monorail agency has lost me.
A few weeks after losing Cronkite, LBJ—realizing he had no credibility—basically resigned as president, announcing he would not run for reelection. I'm sad to say that Horn, given many opportunities in recent months to answer The Stranger's questions about the finance plan, shot his credibility with Stranger staff by misleading us. He's currently losing credibility with the broader public by talking fast and loose about the $11 billion. Horn should resign. ■