Bye-bye Olympics?

We won't know until next Monday's City Council vote, but the proposal to bring the 2012 Summer Olympics to Seattle is looking like a major flop. Even with a posse of bid committee members insisting that a city letter to the US Olympic Committee backing their efforts wouldn't be legally binding, observers expect a major split along the lines of 6-3 or 5-4. There's even an outside chance the resolution will be voted down.

How could such a thing happen in Seattle—ever desperate for its "world-class city" fix? Blame the Olympic honchos themselves, who have imposed a three-part pledge on would-be host cities requiring them to make up any financial deficit for the Games, indemnify both the US and International Olympic Committees against Games-related lawsuits, and provide the usual free government services. Sure, the nine interested American cities are all playing coy on this requirement, but if this is really a serious competition, somebody's bound to crack. And if Seattle isn't willing to play the deep-pockets sap in the end, what's the point of continuing the process?

The Olympic bid committee's vaunted public support has shown a tendency to vaporize when dollars and cents enter the discussion. After the committee's July statewide poll showed 70 percent support for a Seattle Olympic bid, Seattle City Council member and Olympics doubter Nick Licata responded by commissioning his own statewide poll. When respondents were informed of the USOC's financial requirements (something the Olympic bid committee's pollsters forgot to mention), public support shrunk to 32 percent and opposition rose from 17 percent to 51 percent.

These aren't the only bad signs for the Seattle bid committee. Support is growing for a city vote on the Olympic bid before it is submitted in March 2000. A countywide vote is tentatively scheduled for November 2000, but the committee hopes to expand that to a statewide ballot issue (having learned, no doubt, from Paul Allen's successful hijacking of the Washington electorate to fund his football stadium). "Seattleites are the ones who are going to have to bear the brunt of these games," says Alex Steffen, president of Allied Arts and host of that group's recent Olympics forum at the Two Bells Tavern. "Why should people in Wenatchee decide whether we're going to have them?"

An examination of the city's contracts for the 1990 Goodwill Games also shows that the supporters of that event indemnified the city against financial loss (not the other way around) and that the much smaller event carried with it duties for some 16 city departments. With a budget of $1.6 billion (as compared to the Goodwill Games' $80 million), the Olympics "would swallow whole departments of the city," says Licata.

Lasting one month or so, the Games themselves would provide only a limited economic boost to the city, which explains why support for the Olympics in the business community has been thus far limited mostly to tourist-related industries. And with cost overruns from our two unnecessary sports stadiums in the news, this is a bad time to be peddling another sports-related boondoggle to a weary public.

Finally, let's mention the leadership vacuum provided by the bid committee's honorary co-chairs, County Executive Ron "I support everything" Sims and Paul "I'm on vacation" Schell. Apparently neither realized that the Games effort might tank this quickly, so the official government line is still the soft sell that the Olympics would spur great regional planning. So if we don't have the Olympics, we won't do any regional planning?

Come on folks, the 2012 Olympics proposal is a goner and continuing this process can only squander money and resources. Let's make one of our famous Seattle-style win-win decisions and drop the whole thing.

Ethics? Elections?

What on earth is going on with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission? Members of the City Council's Government, Education, and Labor Committee were shaking their heads after a September 22 discussion of a proposed review of the commission's duties and operations. Confusion turned to dismay when the organizer of the study group, University of Washington professor Putnam Barber, listed his recruits to date: six downtown establishment types including the Dark Knight himself, political consultant Bob Gogerty.

"They seem to be a group of folks who are rather homogenous in thought around these issues," commented council member Tina Podlodowski. The odd discussion even earned a warning shot from the usually cautious Seattle Times editorial board, wondering if the city's ethics and elections laws are being rewritten on the sly.

Not so, says Deputy Mayor Maud Daudon, who called the study "an independent look by a volunteer group of citizens" at possible overlaps between local, county, and state election regulators. The study group would also examine whether the city's legal definition of a "conflict of interest" is too broad. Daudon added that the study group membership will be far larger than the six names cited by Barber at the committee meeting, and will include several possible members suggested by the Ethics and Elections Office.

While Daudon said the impetus for the study was Barber's personal interest in the topic, the most recent conflict-of-interest concerns raised have centered around the mayor's office—namely Deputy Mayor Tom Byers' involvement in obtaining federal permission for the leasing of the PacMed Beacon Hill Tower. Byers served as a consultant for PacMed before coming to the mayor's office; his former consulting company partner is now a PacMed executive. It's also interesting to note that Schell complained publicly about the city's $400 campaign contribution limit during his run for mayor. Daudon says the campaign contribution limit isn't part of the study group's official charge.

 
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