City Tourism Officials Are Sending Pictures to Council and Mayor of Fake Bums In Wheelchairs

Seattle's tourism industry is damned sick and tired of drug dealers shooting up in alleyways, downtown panhandlers who won't take no for an answer, and those ubiquitous placard-toting bums, many of them using mangy dogs (three-legged ones will always be in fashion) as sympathy-inducing props.

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Leading the charges to crackdown on this unsavory behavior -- which has mushroomed over the past ten years -- is Seattle's Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"It's our number one issue," says Tom Norwalk, president and CEO of the Bureau.

Tourism officials such as Norwalk hope they might be able to get action -- short of removing every darn miscreant from the streets -- if they stick in the face of Mayor Mike McGinn and the city council real-life, graphic images and visitor accounts of just how bad things have gotten in downtown Seattle.

Launched in early October, the "See It, Send It" campaign, as The Seattle Times reported, asks businesses (hoteliers, mainly) to send them compelling stories from their customers as to how their trip to the Emerald City was marred by some asshole begging like a banshee for money.

For the first few weeks of the campaign, says Norwalk, the Visitors Bureau was, on a daily basis, sending a photo (usually taken by a hotel worker) and/or written account by the guest of a ruined visit to McGinn, and council members and their staff. They've since scaled it back to once a week.

"We felt the point was made," explains Norwalk.

Asked for a specific anecdote of what McGinn and the council might have recently feasted their eyes on, Norwalk recounts, "We showed them a wheelchair where they were doing shifts. One [bum] will stay for a few hours and then he's replaced by another one."

"You mean they dress up like bums or like homeless people?" we ask.


Norwalk says the "See It, Send It" effort is working, and has already led to community forums and Seattle Police "holiday patrols." Hopefully, he adds, it will also lead to even more foot and bike patrols and increased enforcement of existing laws against drug dealing and aggressive panhandling.

How to deal with street disorder, concludes Norfolk, will be a key issue for the Visitors Bureau in next year's mayoral race.

"There's no candidate who we are backing at this time," notes Norfolk.

It's a good bet, though, that McGinn faces an uphill battle to gain their endorsement, having vetoed an aggressive panhandling bill in 2010, though he's banking that his City Center Initiative, which brings various city departments together to address downtown problems may save his bacon.

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