In his last major address before this November's election--an election that may determine the fate of Seattle's only hope for rapid public transit--Nickels did exactly what you'd expect from a Seattle "leader." With the monorail in danger of being brought down thanks to a rich local property owner and a deceitful "recall" campaign, the mayor said nothing. Call it the Seattle Way: Take no risks, solve no problems, have no opinion, build no legacy, show no leadership.
In his annual budget speech, delivered to a packed council chamber on Monday, September 27, Nickels talked up "the four priorities of [the Nickels] administration." Supposedly, one of those priorities is transportation. You would have never deduced from the mayor's speech--from a mayor who claims to be a big booster for the monorail--that in just five weeks, Seattle's last hope for an inner-city rapid public transit system may get squashed. It's no wonder, with ball-less friends like Nickels.
Painting a rosy picture by claiming "we're making significant progress on getting Seattle moving again," Nickels cited light rail construction, filling potholes, the latest (don't-hold-your-breath) Mercer Mess fix, and the (not-gonna-happen-anytime-soon) plan to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. However, he failed to challenge a certain rich property owner who's working in concert with some well-to-do SUV owners to stop Seattle from ever really getting moving. The property owner (who's thumbed his nose at Nickels before by using nonunion labor in local buildings, by the way) is bankrolling the anti-monorail campaign (a campaign that used paid signature gatherers and may be on the ballot illegally) to make sure Seattle doesn't get the rapid public transit system that voters have approved three times.
It is typical that Greg "Four Priorities" Nickels would fail to use his big address as a bully pulpit for a pressing issue and urge Seattle voters to vote "no" on I-83, an initiative that one court has already declared illegal. When the going gets tough around here, you can count on Seattle's "leaders" to head for the nearest dark room and assume the fetal position. We don't mean to single out Nickels, but his reticence on this issue just five weeks from election day (in a speech that purported to take the lead on transportation!) demonstrates why we're stuck in this position in the first place: When it comes to rapid transit, Seattle's leaders refuse to lead.
It's mystifying that Nickels--or anyone at city hall--would be so gutless at this point. Again, Seattle voters have gone to the polls and approved an expanded monorail system in Seattle three times--in 1997, 2000, and 2002. I guess Seattle "leaders" are scared voters might nix the monorail this time. They're right, that might happen. But that's exactly why Nickels and other leaders need to speak out rather than playing it safe.
Seattle voters may be poised, having been misled by Martin Selig's anti-monorail paid-signature-gathering campaign, to reject the monorail on November 2. But voters would likely reject any large public works project at this stage. That's what's so unfair and insidious about the dishonest "Monorail Recall" campaign. The only thing that any large public works project, like the $1.6 billion monorail, ever has to show for itself just before breaking ground are headline-making headaches, fights, tax bills, and a host of charges that can't be disproved until the thing in question is actually built. That's why large public works projects aren't put up to a vote at every step in the process: Voters, just like consumers, can suffer from buyer's remorse in the early going. Make citizens vote at every juncture and nothing--not even a desperately needed project like the monorail--will ever get built.
So this is the time, Greg, when you should act like the big-city, can-do mayor you want us to believe you are. Real big-city mayors lead. They build things, they push them through, they make sure necessary things get done. One would hope that you, our allegedly pro-transit mayor, would have the courage to talk about this major upcoming public vote during a major address on your transportation priorities. (A quiet press release urging a "no" vote won't cut it, Greg.) No such luck. With the exception of Jan Drago (and with occassional backup from Nick Licata, Peter Steinbrueck, and Jean Godden), none of the other gutless wonders ensconced in our new city hall--an expensive public works project that the public never got a chance to vote on at all--will stick their necks out to defend the rapid transit from Selig and his army of paid signature gatherers. The new Central Library wouldn't have survived a revote before construction began, nor would the light rail system so much adored by the political establishment. To allow obstructionists to set the bar this high for the monorail--after three votes!--and only for the monorail, is shortsighted, unprecedented, and unfair. And this is what a mayor who fancied himself a leader on transportation would be telling voters right now. Your speech on Monday was a lot of things, Greg, but a profile in courage it was not.
Still, Nickels and the entire city council may get a chance to redeem themselves. If the voters approve I-83 and the courts later declare it unconstitutional, Nickels and the city council don't have to pull a Gary Locke--Locke enacted Tim Eyman's tax-slashing I-695 in 1999 even after the courts nixed it. Nickels and the city council should ignore the results of what could be an illegal "cold feet" vote and stand up for rapid transit.
But hopefully it won't come to that. Seattle's far-sighted voters, unlike Seattle's spine- and/or ball-less leaders, have stood up for rapid transit again and again. We urge supporters of the monorail not only to vote "no" on I-83 but to get involved with the pro-monorail campaign: plug in at www.norecallgomonorail.com.
Finally, welcome to The Stranger's latest monorail feature package. Erica C. Barnett introduces you to the wealthy downtown developer who almost single-handedly bankrolled the anti-monorail campaign; Josh Feit debunks the latest (recycled) anti-monorail arguments; and local boy Brad Steinbacher takes a slap at the city of his birth.
I'm sure some of our readers are sick of reading about the monorail. Rest assured, Seattle, we are just as sick of writing about it. But we're not the ones who refuse to take "Build the Monorail!" for an answer. Furious that something, anything, of lasting public benefit might actually get built with the public's tax dollars--as opposed to, say, concert halls, opera houses, and ridiculously deluxe digs for the gutless wonders in city government--the anti-monorail brigades continue to trot out ever-more desperate arguments against bringing rapid transit to Seattle. These arguments have to be rebutted. Hence this, another monorail issue. Hopefully the last one before the monorail gets built.