Carlson for guv: first sign of apocalypse?

What a week! First, it turns out that public-private partnerships are a great idea after all, and then John Carlson decides to run for governor.

Of course, things could be worse. Just ask Dale Foreman, the dry-as-dust State Republican Party chair, who has spent the last decade telling people how much he wants to be governor. (And generally getting the same reply: "Who are you?") The trouble is, Foreman's master plan to get noticed has consisted of eagerly supporting every state ballot initiative his pal Carlson could think up. And now Mr. Initiative decides he wants the job for himself. Nice to have known you, Dale.

Aside from being able to out-initiative Foreman, Carlson is simply unmatchable in the key element of statewide politics—people know who he is. Using talk radio, newspaper columns, the Internet, and, for all we know, weekend infomercials, Carlson has managed to keep his smiling mug and knee-jerk conservative opinions in the public consciousness. Even on last year's tax-slashing Initiative 695, which some other guy dreamed up, Carlson was front and center at the victory party, broadcasting live on the radio and generally getting more attention than the folks on the stage.

Carlson is also the prime author of the state Republican Party shtick of the '90s: a whiny, younger-sibling-like resentment of the state's largest city. Seattle gets all the money. Seattle gets all the attention. Seattle made the varsity team and I got cut. Mom always liked Seattle better . . . well, you get the picture.

And the guy can talk. Brimming over with opinions on just about everything; when Carlson gets going, he can roll on like the Mighty Columbia.

But, despite his strengths as a potential candidate, Carlson might be in trouble if he actually manages to get elected. He's never held elective office (he lost a legislative election as a twenty-something) and as far as management experience, the guy hasn't run anything but his mouth. Plus, while incumbent Gary Locke hasn't blown anyone away during his lackluster first term, he's maintained the general public impression of being a smart, studious, hardworking technocrat. Locke hasn't done much as governor, but that just means he hasn't offended anybody.

Carlson can't match that accomplishment. Having started with easy political targets, like violent criminals, he then dismantled the state's affirmative action programs with 1998's Initiative 200. He was also on board for the odd Republican two-step of Referendum 49 (which shifted state car tax money to a big road repair program) and Initiative 695 (which got rid of the car tax, so the state didn't have any money to fix those roads). An activist can be contrary all he wants; a governor needs to at least seem like he has a plan.

If nothing else, the expected Carlson candidacy should spare us Puget Sounders from Foreman's plan of visiting us endlessly over the next two years. Maybe Seattle does have something to thank John Carlson for, after all.

Rich people shop, city gloats

It turns out that converting a big hunk of downtown into a playpen for the wealthy was a good idea.

Yes, a city study shows a 15.8 percent rise in sales by downtown businesses since the opening of the Pacific Place Parking Garage, as compared to a 7.4 percent citywide jump. Mayor Paul Schell, council member Jan Drago, and a row of beaming chamber-of-commerce types announced the good news at a press conference in the very spectacular Pacific Place atrium. Crunching the numbers (and assuming the city's decision to throw money at Pacific Place's developers deserves the credit), officials estimated that the city drew an extra $404,000 in sales and business tax revenue during a six-month period. The garage is doing well, too—the city had expected to lose $400,000 on its operation this year but now thinks the palatial parking palace will break even.

The speakers, including Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce President Bob Watt, took turns praising former Mayor Norm Rice, whose exit from office at the end of 1997 was clouded by revelations that the city had overpaid Pacific Place developers by $23 million when it purchased the garage. (Watt was a deputy mayor in the Rice Administration.) This hidden subsidy was just a part of the city's financial role; officials also arranged for $24 million in federal loans intended to revitalize blighted areas to get the adjacent Nordstrom project built. Pacific Place's trademark is its clutch of national retailers peddling high-priced goods. Developer Matt Griffin recently told Urban Land magazine, "Seattle's residents deserve great stores without having to get on an airplane." We couldn't agree more.

One minor quibble, however. We can't remember any Pacific Place critics claiming that pumping millions of public dollars into downtown retail projects wouldn't lead to increased sales and, yes, sales taxes. (Although, at $404,000 every six months, the city's "investment" won't be paid back until 2026.) The real argument was that public tax dollars should go to nonglamorous projects such as fixing streets, not providing the opportunity for rich shoppers to buy $10,000 watches.

But, city officials were just happy to have good news to report. "This is a tribute to the people who had the foresight and courage to do what was needed to save downtown," says Schell.

Which is nice talk, although you had to love the line Schell gave The Seattle Times before the announcement: "Public-private partnerships have been all put in the same bag of bad groceries, and it shouldn't be like that." No, it shouldn't be. What's a "bag of bad groceries"?

 
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