There's a Battle Going On

When Team Nickels' community outreach director, Marco Lowe, saw the New York Times on Saturday, February 21, he quickly called Nickels' communications director, Casey Corr.

Corr and Lowe spend their weekdays cultivating Nickels' blue-collar image--and this NYT story (about declining exports and a political fight to close a Port of Seattle terminal) quoted Nickels hyping commercial development over blue-collar jobs. "When the port is only creating 13 jobs per acre, there may be a better way to create jobs," Nickels said.

On February 25, Team Nickels fired off an angry letter to the NYT saying the paper got it wrong. (To date, the NYT hasn't published it, though.) Here's what Nickels wrote: "[The] February 21 article mischaracterized my views of waterfront development," Nickels wrote. "I am a strong advocate of Seattle's industrial and maritime jobs.... There is no 'battle' to close one of the city's port terminals."

Well, I don't think the NYT got it wrong. (Nickels did not ask for a correction, by the way.) Nickels is openly interested in long-term plans currently being floated by developers to turn SoDo Terminals 37-46 into a dense and cosmopolitan neighborhood like Portland's Pearl District. And he should be! Seattle's future isn't in 20th-century manufacturing, but 21st-century tech, and Nickels knows it. (Witness his commitment to biotech.) Unfortunately, saying so isn't politically correct for a union D like Nickels. No, the NYT didn't get it wrong. It simply got Nickels' message du jour wrong.

In his 2004 State of the City speech, Nickels--who's spent the previous two years promoting elite biotech and fancy developer interests--reframed himself as traditional manufacturing guy, saying things like, "Seattle's economy began with its seaport and grew with industries that made things--ships and airplanes. That tradition remains a vital part of our economy."

"We gave [the NYT reporter] a copy of that speech," Communications Director Corr complains (as if Nickels' prefab statements could erase what the mayor told the reporter in person).

"The mayor speculated on what could happen in the future, and [the NYT] turned that into an active effort to close the port," Corr adds. "Someday and today are different things."

Corr is wrong to say the NYT was mistaken when it reported there's a battle brewing in Seattle. After all, even though Nickels isn't calling on the Port of Seattle to cancel its existing 10-year Terminal 37-46 contract with shipping giant Hanjin (the contract goes until 2010), Nickels is--rightly--interested in nudging Seattle in a different direction long-term. Corr doesn't deny this: "Long-term, we will need to confront this question. At some point, the Port may consider other uses."

Let the battle begin: On February 24, the Port of Seattle issued this statement: "The Port... pledges to work closely with Hanjin to continue its operations in Seattle for the long-term future."

josh@thestranger.com

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