Even if you live near a light rail station, there's just one itty bitty problem with the dream of leaving your car behind and walking to the trains: Sidewalks that look like this one. That is, if you have sidewalks at all. The lack of such a basic amenity has been a perpetual issue on the South End (and some North End neighborhoods too, for that matter). Will our huge investment in light rail finally spur action? You would think so if you listened to the mayoral and City Council candidates last night at the Southeast Seattle Candidates' Forum held at Aki Kurose Middle School.
Not only that: All the candidates acknowledged that we need to do a variety of things to solve the difficulties South Seattleites are facing in getting to the stations spaced so far apart.
"We need to build sidewalks, provide storage for bicycles and for scooters," said City Council member and mayoral hopeful Jan Drago. City bureaucrat and Council candidate Bobby Forch talked about "making sure we keep the bus routes we have," as did a lot of others. Until recently, it seemed a done deal that the bus routes along the light rail line were going to disappear, or at least be severely curtailed, in order to drum up riders for the new trains. A number of candidates even expressed support for park & rides at the stations, much as environmentalists like would-be mayor and former Sierra Club chairperson Mike McGinn might dislike them. Among the contenders for mayor (barring the incumbent, a no-show last night), only McGinn and Drago were against them. "We don't need park & rides at every station but in certain places it does make sense," said City Council candidate Jordan Royer, son of former mayor Charley Royer.
Also notable last night was the display of School Board candidates for the first time. Some promising contenders have emerged. In the Southeast's District Seven, where Cheryl Chow is stepping down, the candidates are Betty Patu, recently retired after many years of running intervention programs for Rainier Beach High School; longtime parent activist Charlie Mas, who first started airing concerns about the district in regard to its gifted programs; and UW research scientist Wilson Chin, who works on HIV trial vaccines and has put in many volunteer hours at Kimball Elementary, from which his youngest child just graduated.
Patu has long been a towering figure at Rainier Beach but she seemed lost in generalities last night. Mas and Chin both came off as well-informed. The difference may lie in their degree of combativeness. Chin noted that he believed in "collaboration." Mas, a perennial watchdog, doesn't shy away from criticism. Responding to a question about so-called "reform math," he said: "There have been a number of impacts, all of them negative."
Incumbent Boardmember Mary Bass, representing the Central Area's District Five, has an almost cult-like fan base--or at least she used to, when she was perceived as the lone watchdog among a sea of rubber-stampers. It's a different kind of board now, and it'll be interesting to see whether Bass' appeal holds up.
Among her three challengers, Andre Helmstetter and Kay Smith-Blum acquitted themselves best last night. Helmstetter, a parent with a background in software testing, became politicized in the fight to save T.T. Minor from closure last year, where he had a daughter. He seems a likable guy and he talked about the need for the board members to improve community relations by getting "their feet on the street." Kay Smith-Blum, owner of the Butch Blum clothing store downtown, addressed the same point with a business paradigm, which some people love and some people hate. "We need a complete culture change in the way we treat our clients," she said. Also in the race is Joanna Cullen, who has solid credentials as a former president of the citywide council of PTSAs but who couldn't seem to find her voice on the stage.