Every January, The Stranger's news staff kicks off the New Year with a list of local people, ideas, businesses, and trends we think have run their course. Last year, our predictions ranged from uncannily on target ("serious layoffs at the Seattle Times") to woefully optimistic (plummeting teen pregnancy rates in the wake of a new law requiring comprehensive sex education). Here are the people, institutions, and ideas whose 15 minutes are up.
The Seattle Times
The 117-year-old daily paper spent much of 2008 slicing away at the fat—and more—in an effort to deal with a difficult debt load and a terrible economic environment for newspapers. Now the question is whether cutting nearly a quarter of the paper's newsroom staff has produced enough savings to right the Blethen family's favored ship.
The conventional wisdom: no. These are tough times for newspapers everywhere—all the more for one with a strong competitor (the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) to which it's financially handcuffed by a joint operating agreement, no wealthy parent company to bail it out (like Hearst, which owns the P-I), and a leader with a track record of shortsightedness (a good chunk of Frank Blethen's current debt problems are related to a vanity purchase of a bunch of papers in Maine in 1998, shortly before the bottom fell out of the newspaper industry). The Seattle Times may not go under in 2009, but it won't end the year in a very recognizable form.
Lefties want Nick Licata to run for mayor. City Hall gossips speculate that he'll retire. But whatever the city council's most outspoken affordable-housing advocate, streetcar opponent, and civil-rights champion does next, it will probably have as much impact as his increasingly lonely votes against overwhelming council majorities—very little. Licata has increasingly become a voice in the wilderness, as council allies have retired or been voted off the dais. Licata may leave the council or stick around for one more term, but holding up the losing end of 8–1 votes is not a mayoral platform.
Aw, you're a lefty who LOVES Barack Obama. He's your savior, you're a cliché, and that doesn't bother you a bit.
Well, get ready for a year of Obama heartbreak. The guy is a politician, with 2012 to think about. Starry-eyed idealists, be warned: Rick Warren is just the beginning.
Obama will bring big change in some areas, particularly foreign policy and the war in Iraq. But he's not going to win the culture wars. Heck, he probably won't even spend much time fighting them. Abortion, gay rights, separation of church and state—don't expect a lot of progress on those fronts in 2009, or you're likely to end the New Year crying into your official Obama handkerchief.
In response to a massive budget crisis, Seattle Public Schools is shuttering buildings, cutting transportation services, and ramping up plans for "neighborhood schools"—a warm and fuzzy term that translates, loosely, as "resegregation."
South End families (read: minorities) will end up at South End schools, while students in Roosevelt, Lake City, and Ballard (read: honkies) will stay in their respective neighborhoods.
With plenty of evidence that the district has already failed to support schools in Seattle's South End—the grossly underenrolled Rainier Beach is a perfect example—it's likely things will get worse for kids in South Seattle before they get better.
Ron Sims's Local Relevance
We don't agree with the glib assessment of some politicos that King County Executive Ron Sims is "checked out." We think he's really, really, really checked in—to everything but being county executive. Whether it's managing his Twitter account, sending reporters messages on Facebook, opposing an incredibly popular light-rail expansion measure, or applying for a job in the Obama administration, Sims just doesn't seem engaged in his job as county executive. Whether he stays on for a fourth term, heads to the other Washington, or goes down in defeat to King County Council member Larry Phillips—a potential candidate for Sims's position—Sims's days as a major player in local politics are over.
Darcy Burner, you are done. Don't even think about running for political office again next year, or the year after that, or ever. You fought the good fight (twice) against Dave Reichert, the photogenic sheriff turned 8th Congressional District representative. You came close. Congratulations. But your time running for office is over.
Get appointed to some partisan post somewhere if you want to stay in politics. One of these days, a Democrat will win Reichert's seat. But it won't be you.
The Bellevue developer, transit nemesis, and all-around roadblock to progress in the Seattle region got serious comeuppance last November when voters throughout the region—including in his home turf of Bellevue—overwhelmingly supported raising sales taxes to expand Sound Transit's light-rail system. Even before the election, two organizations he practically runs—the Bellevue Downtown Association and the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce—endorsed the measure, dealing a major blow to the notion that suburbanites don't want alternatives to driving. In debates, Kemper Freeman came across as doddering and confused—fitting attributes for a relic of the car-centric past. His time in the region's political spotlight is over.
You are dead to us, Maple Valley. It's not just that we never wanted to visit you—after all, you're merely a ballooning bedroom community with no economic engine or activities that make you worth visiting—but that you don't want to come to the city anymore, either. The math on exurbs like Maple Valley, more than 20 miles southeast of Seattle, just doesn't add up anymore. Gas prices in 2008 exceeded $4 a gallon, and they're sure to spike again in 2009. And commutes to downtown jobs can exceed an hour. It costs too much time and money to live in Maple Valley. And public transit can't save you, with buses stopping less than once per hour on weekdays (and with no service at all on weekends). The light-rail line we approved in the general election—the one that reaches Bellevue and Redmond—doesn't even come close to you, nor should it. So long, Maple Valley. You shall not be missed.
Cheap Bus Service
We'd love bus service to be free—hell, we think transportation should be a human right—but the economics of tax-funded bus service just don't work out that way. As gas prices rise out of their current slump (and union wages continue to rise), the cost of bus service is only going to keep heading higher—which means the two fare increases already approved for next year won't be the last.
Gay people in Seattle need a gathering place for poetry slams and book swaps the way black people need Jesse Jackson. LGBT centers—nonprofits that have no specific agenda but to create a gay "place"—have become a supply without demand. In big cities, gay people find dates in bars and on websites like gay.com. And the organizing model that LGBT centers facilitated, collecting activists in a circle to pass around a talking feather, died with the advent of online social networks.
In the past year, Seattle's LGBT Center collapsed after investing heavily in the previous year's QueerFest—a Pride concert held on Capitol Hill to protest the Pride Parade moving downtown—i.e., into the mainstream of the city life. Gays no longer need to circle their wagons behind an LGBT center's walls—nor should they put up with "gay rights" organizations that lack an agenda.
In 2008, Washington attorney general Rob McKenna campaigned for reelection, in part, on his successful crackdown on meth. Indeed, the state Department of Social and Health Services reported in December that meth labs and the number of people entering meth treatment are declining. And the panhandlers on Broadway seem less twitchy than a couple years ago—praise Jesus.
But McKenna can stop slapping himself on the back. Drug trends are like Whac-a-Mole: When you smack down one rodent, another pops up somewhere else. So while meth takes a breather, get used to more pharmaceutical opiates, like OxyContin, popping up. According to a report on drug trends in King County, deaths from fatal overdoses of prescription-type opiates totaled 151 in 2007, up almost 700 percent from a decade before. So, meth, we bid you farewell. For now.
Matt Hasselbeck, the Seattle Seahawks' 33-year-old quarterback (that's ancient in football years) missed nearly half the 2008 season due to injury and didn't do the team any favors when he did manage to make it on the field. Next season, Hasselbeck will be in the last year of his contract. With coach Jim Mora Jr. taking over for Mike Holmgren—who brought Hasselbeck along with him from Green Bay—in 2009, the clock is ticking on Hasselbeck's NFL career.
It's simple math: Take the amount of money you save by buying a fixed-gear bike. Add that to the extra cachet you acquire by riding it around. Now subtract the cost of fixing your broken bones when you crash and don't have health insurance. The economics don't compute. Fixed-gear bikes, like Hummers, won't pencil out in the New Year's new economy.
Richard McIver's Heart
Seattle City Council member Richard McIver is retiring this year, but we want his heart to last for a long time to come.
Look, we love that McIver is a hard-drinkin', chain-smokin', red-meat-eatin' sonofabitch. But Christ, the man is a walking heart attack. McIver's had, like, 26 heart surgeries; is known around City Hall for taking an elevator from the second floor when he goes out for a smoke; and refuses to go to the gym because he can't smoke on the StairMaster.
We'd like to see McIver finish out his term and go out in a blaze of glory, not on a stretcher. Someone get that man some carrot sticks.