Why 311 in Seattle Would Be Great for Mike McGinn

Three years ago, back when the City Council actually had money to spend, Mayor Greg Nickels tried to get it to spend some $9 million of that money to establish a 311 service for Seattle. The previous December a windstorm had knocked out electricity to nearly half the city, and Nickels' argument was that a fancy new call center built just to handle incoming queries would better serve citizens, even in times of non-emergency. It was an argument he would lose.

Nickels $9 million proposal eventually turned into a $500,000 "how's this thing work" study. Which itself turned into dust once the economy fell off of a cliff. So why talk about 311 now, when we have a new mayor and a bank account in the red?

Wired magazine just published a phenomenally interesting look at New York's 311 system. which has been in place for seven years and has fielded over 100 million calls. What it tells you about New Yorkers is something you already knew: they like to bitch. But what it also proves is that a sophisticated data-collection system that sorts the gripes and grumbles of millions of constituents could be the ultimate skeleton key for an incumbent politician.

This is not an original thought. But it is a pretty good one.

Sure, Mayor Mike McGinn may not have a fiscal pot to piss in. But imagine if he did. And imagine if he used said figurative pot to create a 311 call center before the next election.

McGinn would be able to anticipate every citizen complaint. He'd be like a pothole pre-cog. Or Mel Gibson in "What Women Want," except not racist and able to hear the innermost thoughts of both women and men.

I called the mayor's office today to see if 311 was anywhere on his legislative agenda but so far haven't heard back. I did this because it's what you do, and also because I like being laughed at by people in positions of power. (Imagined response: "Our boss gave the most important speech of his young political career off-the-cuff and you think he actually has an agenda? Like something...written down?! BAHAHAHAHAHAHA.")

I'll let you know what we hear.

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