The Seattle City Council spiced up its two-day retreat last week with a panel discussion featuring their biggest critic of late—Seattle Times columnist David Brewster. Arguing for the defense was bow-tied writer and one-time bureaucrat Walt Crowley. The result was a tweed jacket battle for the ages.
The ever-jovial Brewster struck first. In explaining his recent jabs over the council's blocking of initiatives by Mayor Paul Schell, he argued that—with a capable city council, a progressive mayor, and a wealth of wealth—Seattle is in a position to dispense with the usual council/mayor bickering. Schell and the City Hall Nine could "capitalize on this alignment of the planets" and join together to promote and pass substantive legislation, says Mr. B.
Crowley replied that the current troubles are the fault of the mayor, not the council. Schell, he says, is simply learning how to do his job. "Don't be smug," he cautioned council members. "He will learn." To Brewster's contention that the council is usurping the mayor's role, Crowley responded that the Seattle charter places the city's most significant powers in the hands of the legislative branch, not the executive, with the mayor's no. 1 power—writing the city budget—granted by a 1967 state law.
The assembled council members chimed in. Tina Podlodowski told Brewster that when the system doesn't work, council members sometimes have to micromanage issues. Other members sounded off on the transition from citizen activist to officeholder.
The exchange even got testy when Crowley grumbled that the systems of accountability that existed when he worked in the administration of Mayor Wes Uhlman have been dismantled. "It's worth a column," sniped Crowley, eyeing Brewster all the while. "I wish I knew a columnist."
While we're on the subject, what was the thinking behind holding the council retreat on the stage of the Moore Theater? Unless of course, these events require a location that's simultaneously dark, dusty, and freezing cold.
Victim of progress
Council member Richard Conlin has been catching heck lately, mainly because some folks feel he doesn't measure up to Nick Licata and Peter Steinbrueck, the other two candidates elected in 1997 with the support of environmental and progressive groups. "I would definitely like to see more progressives elected so we have a majority," says the Seattle Green Party's Scott Denberg.
How many progressives do we have on council right now, Scott?
"Two and a half."
Here's a good reason why the last two council elections have turned Seattle politics upside down. Winners Charlie Chong (1996), Richard Conlin, Nick Licata, and Peter Steinbrueck (all 1997) raised and spent an average of $76,225—their opponents spent an average of $108,771. Conlin was the only one of the four to outspend his opponent. What's this world coming to?
World Trade what?
What if the world came to Seattle and nobody cared? OK, some folks are thrilled that Seattle will be the site of next year's World Trade Organization meeting. The audience at Mayor Schell's "State of the City" address burst into applause when he made the surprise announcement that trade representatives from 133 nations will descend on Seattle in late November 2000 (great timing, weatherwise). The ever-enthusiastic Seattle Times called the meetings "a world-class event that immediately imprints the Puget Sound region as a world trade center." Still, it's hard to figure why the person on the street would care.
Actually, one city employee hasn't forgotten the street-blocking show put on by dignitaries at the Seattle-based 1993 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) trade conference. "I remember spending 45 minutes [in my car] on Spring Street, just below the library, waiting for motorcades to go by," he recalls. That's a lot of time to hold an auto at a 45-degree angle.
They said it
Capitol Hill activist Alan Deright on the politician-dominated Sound Transit board of directors: "None of them has any expertise in transportation; they just have expertise in getting elected to something."
Mayor Schell on his first year in office: "I have not learned as much and so fast since the days when my age was measured in months rather than years."
Housing activist John Fox on Mayor Schell's theory that increases in the housing supply will drive down prices: "It works in Econ 101—and that's about the only place I know where it works."
Stretching a point
Seattle Times columnist Michelle Malkin took some literary license last week in describing a meeting to discuss rent control as taking place "in the long, stubborn shadow of V.I. Lenin's 18-foot-tall bronze statue." The meeting was held at the headquarters of the Fremont Public Association, but the new FPA digs aren't located in Fremont proper. In fact, the FPA building is on North 45th Street in the Wallingford business district, a good mile from the famous statue. That's one long, stubborn shadow.