Off the track

Attention, fellow members of the Seattle Cynics Club: Everyone who predicted that city government would wait the legally required two years then quietly kill off the monorail effort was only off by about six weeks.

At least the elevated transit enthusiasts made it into mid-February before the Sound Transit executive board dealt their $50,000 grant request a devastating rejection. The key votes to kill the grant (which had been approved by a Sound Transit committee) were cast by Mayor Paul Schell and Seattle City Council member Richard McIver. Members of the city's Elevated Transit Company (ETC) council, a 12-member group established under 1997's Initiative 41, were counting on the grant to keep them in operation through this year. All in all, a harsh blow for the shoestring monorail effort, which had been limping along on the final $30,000 or so left from its initial budget allocation from the city. You'd think an agency that has managed to stretch a year's funding over 26 months would get a little more respect than this surprise coup de gr⣥, but then you'd be wrong. "Personally, I would rather have been told that we should not waste our time going after that money," says ETC council chair Tom Carr.

The volunteer members of ETC's governing body originally considered resigning as a group, but now appear determined to force council members into a public vote to kill the monorail. It's a major issue: Although the initiative didn't include a penny in funding, it was approved by 52.6 percent of city voters two years ago after an all-volunteer signature gathering effort. McIver, who appeared confident that his colleagues would back him when the vote was taken, must have been feeling a bit lonely last week. Only Richard Conlin has taken a public stand backing the grant's rejection, while Judy Nicastro and Nick Licata have reiterated their support for the monorail project.

At a special meeting called after the grant was nixed, ETC members fumed over the surprise rejection but quickly went back on the offensive. After drafting a letter to the mayor asking for additional city funding, group members discussed their options, including mounting a last-ditch fundraising effort or simply wrapping up their work and closing shop when their money runs out in July. Others are considering a new monorail initiative, this time with a funding component (perhaps $2 million to fund a feasibility study and staff the ETC office).

It's yet to be proven that the monorail idea is a winner, but it's hard to imagine a clumsier effort to kill it. McIver would have been wise to get his colleagues' on-the-record support before his vote; Schell managed to sour a potentially principled stand by blasting a certain supporter of the grant for "political posturing." Do you suppose he meant County Council member Greg Nickels, a supporter of the monorail grant, who is investigating a 2001 mayoral run?

Given the sweeping initiative powers granted to citizens by the City Charter, city officials may need to dodge to avoid getting run over by this train.

Who wants to be mayor?

Although Greg Nickels couldn't quite survive the mayoral primary two years ago, he distinguished himself as the smartest guy at the recent Civic Foundation forum to discuss potential candidates for mayor.

How did Nickels demonstrate his smarts? He showed up at the start, shook some hands, and hightailed it out of there.

John Wyble, political director for Washington Conservation Voters, was probably wishing he'd followed this example. Minus Nickels, Wyble was the only recognizable supporter of the Sound Transit plan in a room full of light rail doubters. And did we mention that WCV supported the opponents of both of the Civic Foundation's "outstanding" candidates in the last election? Odds are he won't soon forget the public dressing-down he received from spurned former Seattle City Council candidate Dawn Mason, who blasted local enviros as rich, white elitists.

The format called for each of four panelists to name three potential candidates for the top job in 2001 "assuming that incumbent Paul Schell decides not to run for a second term" (ah, those ever-politic Civvies). Some folks took a lighter approach—activist Irene Wall suggested a mayoral job-share for former Seattle Weekly editor/publisher David Brewster and all-around smart guy Walt Crowley, with Seattle Times gossip maven Jean Godden filling in for them on Fridays. As usual, several suggested veteran noncandidate Ron Judd, the King County Labor Council head. Many of the "serious" suggestions seemed unlikely to run: County Council colleagues Larry Gossett and Dwight Pelz, State Supreme Court Justice Charles Johnson, and KING TV anchorwoman Jean Enersen. Not cited by the panelists, but acknowledged later were more likely candidates City Council member Peter Steinbrueck and City Attorney Mark Sidran. Likely candidates going unmentioned were former City Council member Tina Podlodowski and current councilor Jan Drago.

Not exactly a thrilling exercise in reading political tea leaves, but there was good stuff in the asides. Charles Hawkins, president of the Seattle firefighters union, isn't thrilled with the idea of Sidran in the mayor's office. "I'd just as soon eat hemlock," he stated. Wall listed 10 attributes of her idea mayoral candidate, including having worked at a minimum-wage job and having played in a rock band. And activist Tim Baker silenced the crowd with this brutally honest observation concerning the panelists' picks: "I wouldn't vote for any of 'em."

But let's give Mason the last word: "I want a mayor with some damn courage," she said. Amen to that.

 
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