WHAT CAN I say to the Sidran voter? Or even the undecided voter? The choice in this race is clear: Mark Sidran has used his office to unfairly target the poor and the homeless. It's true, but you have already heard it from the likes of me a thousand times. Mark Sidran's laws have disproportionately impacted people of color. You'll say I'm playing the race card—even though, again, it's true, important, and fair to accurately talk about an elected official's record. Mark Sidran has attacked our constitutional rights with rotten laws, only to be rebuffed by the courts (his three most recent initiatives have all been declared unconstitutional). Yeah, yeah, nobody cares about the Constitution in these days of anthrax, terrorism, and war.
Well, try this one: Sidran is ineffective. The social problems that he claims to address with his civility measures are no better than they were before he started. They aren't because he is using the wrong set of tools to try to address them.
Don't believe me? Let's look at a few examples:
Smelled the piss in Pioneer Square lately? If not, take a whiff and let me know whether Sidran's famous criminalization of public peeing worked. Thousands of homeless people still pee outside because they have nowhere else to go. As former City Council member Jane Noland, who endorsed Sidran this week, observed when she voted against the law: It is impossible for thousands of people to live without houses in Seattle and not urinate outdoors; public toilets, particularly those accessible to the homeless, are few and far between. You are never going to eliminate peeing on the street—there will always be people like street alcoholics and my 5-year-old son who will keep on doing it. But if you want fewer people to do it, something we all agree on, you need to come up with a workable solution—like lots of decent public toilets open 24/7. How to pay for them is another question, but it is clear what we need to do.
What about that sitting on the sidewalk law! Golly, there are no more beggars with outstretched palms bothering me as I go into Nordstrom anymore! Maybe because I live inside Bellevue Square. Taken a walk on the waterfront or through downtown or up on Broadway lately? People still sit on the sidewalk and beg, just like they did before Sidran passed his law. Just wait until the recession really hits, then we'll see just how ineffective this approach really is. A certain number of people will sit on the sidewalk and beg because they are addicts or lazy or stupid; some sit because they are genuinely distressed and have no other alternatives. The cops can move them along more easily now—but there are never enough cops or enough jails or enough courts to stop people from sitting on the sidewalk and begging. What will help? I don't have a quick glib solution to the complicated problems of poverty, homelessness, mental illness, alcoholism, teen runaways, and drug addiction, but I can see that outlawing sitting on the sidewalk and begging is not only stupid, it also just doesn't work.
What about getting a handle on the drug problem? I'm so glad there are no more open-air drug markets around the courthouse thanks to Sidran's nifty Drug Loitering Law. Nobody is smoking crack or sucking down sherms in club bathrooms anymore thanks to Sidran getting tough with those rap club kingpins. Filling the county jail up with drug offenders hasn't blown a $40 million dollar hole in the budget either. Nuh-uh. Sidran and his ilk have dedicated themselves to the War on Drugs and proved completely and totally ineffective. Marky Mark, you claim to love rethinking problems, try this one: drugs are a problem best dealt with a public health approach that employs a harm reduction strategy, not with jails. Get the feds to spend a couple of billion on it and see how it flies. I bet it will do better than your lock-the-gangbangers-up-and-shutter-their- music-venues approach.
Sidran has had 11 years in office to realize that his simplistic, criminal justice approach to complicated social issues has been a failure. Yet, it has never occurred to him. And we want him to tackle the range of problems that face this city? He has not given us effective leadership, he's just made a lot of noise, passed laws that don't work, and prompted numerous expensive court battles. If that is effective leadership, I can do without it.