The Monorail Recall campaign's new "pro-transit" message--which campaign leaders unveiled over the roar of Metro buses and the echoing shouts of commuters in the downtown bus tunnel last Wednesday--apparently came as news to some of the campaign's longtime supporters, who wandered, bemused, through the teeming crowd of initiative proponents, sign-wielding monorail supporters, and press. The crowd of property-owning activists and T-shirt-clad retirees ("Is Seattle Being Taken for a Ride?") was now studded with stern men in suits and ties, among them former Mayor Charlie Royer and PR consultant Don Stark, whose firm, Gogerty Stark Marriott, is now managing many of the campaign's day-to-day operations. Minutes before the conference began, a confused-looking recall supporter asked campaign co-chair Liv Finne about the change. "Go to our website. Our message has changed. We are now pro-mass transit," Finne explained.

Indeed, the website--which once featured an anti-tax, anti-transit screed--is now topped by a cheerful, pro-transit headline: "Think we need to start somewhere? We already have!" it says. In prepared remarks, Finne said, "All of us want mass transit, but we want mass transit that's integrated and works for all of us."

What sort of transit might that be? Given Gogerty Stark Marriott's long association with Sound Transit (in 1996, the PR firm ran the campaign that created the agency) the answer was hardly surprising: light rail. "We are for mass transit. It's running right under our feet and trains will be running through there shortly," Royer said. "We ought to get back to the business of supporting [light rail]." On Tuesday, the campaign planned to launch a blitz of TV and billboard ads that will pit the monorail against light rail.

The statements marked a major departure from the initiative's origin as an anti-tax revolt against a plan that, according to the campaign's old website, "is not the Monorail package we were sold." It signaled a growing sentiment among campaign supporters that the old anti-tax, anti-transit message wasn't selling well among Seattle voters, who, let's not forget, approved the monorail's 1.4 percent car tax just two years ago.

But still: Sound Transit? The agency's light-rail proposal, sold to voters as a 21-mile line extending from the airport all the way to Northgate, is now a third shorter and hundreds of millions of dollars more expensive than the plan voters approved in 1996. Considering the campaign's apparent outrage at the unacceptable "changes" to the monorail proposal (among them: shortening the line from 14 miles to 13.6; building stations with elevators instead of escalators; running trains through Seattle Center), it's hard to see the group's sudden pro-light-rail posture as anything but hypocrisy. (Indeed, several of the charges anti-monorail crusaders leveled at the monorail agency Wednesday--among them that the agency has failed to set fares in advance, that monorail columns will be large and obtrusive, and that riders will have to use Metro buses to access monorail stations, instead of parking and riding--could just as easily be said of light rail.) Even Sound Transit spokesman Lee Somerstein said his agency believes the monorail will "complement" light rail, not compete with it. "Theirs is a local system; ours is a regional system," Somerstein said. "They can work together."

Some monorail proponents call the campaign's sudden face-lift politically risky, given voters' continuing coolness toward Sound Transit, and light rail in particular. In polling conducted by monorail opponents in July, the light-rail agency fared scarcely better with voters than the Seattle Monorail Project, scoring an approval rating of just 47 percent.

Monorail Recall campaign manager Tim Killian said the new message represented "a coalition of people who think the monorail is not the best thing for our city," even if they disagree on the reason. But the 180-degree turnaround was red meat for monorail supporters, who called it a sign of "desperation" that would alienate the campaign's original anti-tax base. "This is an unbelievable turn," said No Recall--Go Monorail campaign co-chair Peter Sherwin. That sentiment was echoed by co-campaign manager Cindi Laws, who called the new message "an attack on their base."

"One of the main reasons people supported this campaign is they flat-out didn't like the tax," Laws said. And now to have the Gogerty Stark Marriott message be, 'We're not against the tax, we're not against transit'--well, those were two of their biggest reasons" for opposing the monorail in the first place.

barnett@thestranger.com

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