Which is deadline day for The Stranger's news section, so I'm missing out on Jan Drago's big announcement at the Seattle Art Museum this afternoon. (News intern Alexander P. Brown is on the scene). However, Mayor Greg Nickels's reelection campaign spokesman, Sandeep Kaushik, just helpfully sent out a list of "five questions the press should ask Jan Drago." Here they are, along with what I think Drago should say.
1) How do you explain the fact that you have skipped so many City Council meetings over the last year and missed missed nearly 150 council votes as a result?
This is a question I've asked Drago's office myself, after I did a public records request that revealed the council member had spent 44 days over the course of six months (30 of them city work days) out of town. The response included with the records request, in the form of a memo from an aide, was that the trips—including 33 days in China—had "proved invaluable" in forging relations with leaders overseas and in securing a contract for the Robbins Co., a Kent-based company that specializes in construction equipment. Not the best response, especially in a down economy.
What Drago should say: "City council members, including my colleagues, frequently travel overseas on trade missions that help promote and improve the Seattle region's economy. In these tough economic times, our region's economy needs every bit of help it can get. However, realizing that we're in an economic downturn, my colleagues and I decided earlier this year to pay our own way for travel on such trade missions in the future, a decision I supported."
2) You now say Mayor Nickels is too focused on national issues. [However], in the last six months alone you have gone on multiple national and international trips at taxpayer expense, missing more than a month of city work time. So why should voters believe what you are saying today?
What Drago should say: "This mayor has focused ceaselessly on signing other cities up for his Mayors Climate Action Initiative--a blatant political ploy that has not resulted in significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, but has added significantly to the mayor's own travel budget. Will the mayor produce his travel records? I'm running to be the mayor of Seattle, not the mayor of the United States." (OK, I stole that last line from Drago herself).
3) You are making your announcement today in front of Seattle’s “Hammering Man” sculpture, which celebrates Seattle’s blue collar workers. Yet your own record on preserving blue collar jobs is questionable at best [for example, you voted against incentive zoning and legislation restricting the use of industrial lands to traditionally industrial uses], and labor organizations representing working people across Seattle are lining up to support Mayor Nickels. How do you explain this contradiction?
What Drago should say: "I joined my colleagues Tom Rasmussen and Nick Licata in voting against the incentive zoning plan, which gave developers an incentive to build housing affordable to people making nearly $48,000 a year, because I felt it would actually hinder development at a time when Seattle's housing construction market was already in freefall. And I voted, along with my colleagues Rasmussen and Richard Conlin, against restricting the uses allowed on industrial lands, because the economy in Seattle is changing, and I believe we should allow our land use to change with it. Nickels himself has supported rezoning industrial areas like Interbay to allow more dense development and workforce housing. So I would ask him, why the inconsistency?"
4) You are widely known for enthusiastically following the lead set by the mayor in creating and realizing a forward-looking agenda for the city. The one idea you are most associated with in the public mind is the failed space-age potty initiative you championed. Your announcement speech lacks any specifics, so what vision or new ideas do you offer the voters?
What Drago should say: "I have been a consistent leader on issues including transportation (I was the first official to voice support for the deep-bore tunnel, and an ardent advocate for expanding the streetcar network), protecting and promoting small businesses (I got my start in business as an ice-cream store owner, and have worked hard to revitalize downtown and improve our neighborhood business districts), and supporting neighborhood amenities like skate parks and dog parks throughout the city. (Cue rant about Mayor Nickels's record).
5) Mayor Nickels has demonstrated strong support from the business community, labor leaders, and advocates for the environment, demonstrating his ability to find the right balance between Seattle’s diverse constituencies. What base of support do you have for this campaign?
What Drago should say: "My past endorsements include the King County Labor Council, local Democratic groups, carpenters unions, the firefighters union, Cascade Bicycle Club, the Sierra Club, and Allied Arts, among many others. We're just getting started. Stay tuned."
Note that I'm not saying I agree with Drago on all her positions—I think the deep-bore tunnel is a costly waste of resources that's likely to saddle Seattle taxpayers with overruns, for example. But these questions are all a variation on the basic question about Drago—how is she different from the mayor?—and she needs to have a response. Slamming the mayor for failing to deliver stimulus funds for Seattle and botching the city's snow response is one thing, but at some point Drago's going to have to talk about her record, not just the ways in which the mayor's falls short.