Peter Steinbrueck, Living in Tiny Condo and Considering Run for Mayor, Finds Fault with Mayor, DOJ

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Peter Steinbrueck is contemplating a run for mayor from an unusual perch: a 375-square-foot condo that he rents on First Hill. He's in such small digs because he's going through "the final stage of a divorce," he tells SW, and says that's all he needs.

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What sounds like a difficult situation is grist for Steinbrueck's musing on civic life. The architect, consultant and onetime city council member--who's been hinting at a mayoral run for years and now says the possibility is "under serious consideration"--looks to his new neighborhood as an example of density done right.

He says the streets are walkable, amenities are nearby and, underscoring a point of difference between himself and Mayor Mike McGinn, the buildings are low- and mid-rises--not towering high-rises. "The city seems to think we can only go up to achieve growth," he says.

It's no surprise he's got South Lake Union on his mind. Steinbrueck emerged last month as a sharp critic of the mayor's grandiose plans for that neighborhood, which would allow Vulcan to build 24-story towers in exchange for donating land that could be used for "affordable" housing.

Steinbrueck has been representing a neighborhood coalition worried about the view- and light-blocking effect of the would-be towers, as well as the redevelopment pressure they would put on the neighborhood. But Steinbrueck's critique of high-rises--consistent with a guy who's spent a lot of time thinking about the relationship between architecture and public policy, including during a one-year fellowship at Harvard University--goes beyond that.

"When you get up above five stories, people on the street can't see you, and you can't see them," he says. High-rise dwellers "drive into private lots, use amenities in the towers" and generally are "disconnected from the street."

So it's a safe bet that if Steinbrueck runs for mayor, the goings-on at South Lake Union will be a talking point. That's even more true because of another pet peeve of his: what he calls the "abandonment of neighborhoods" at the expense of "hot spots." (Read South Lake Union.)

While Paul Allen's favorite neighborhood has "garnered a huge amount of city attention and largesse," Steinbrueck says, the city has quietly dismantled a process that used to be in place for resident groups throughout the city to draw up plans for their areas. The planning could take in major development or items as small as desire for a cross-walk as a busy intersection, according to Steinbrueck.

"It's a travesty of the worst kind, and nobody seems to be concerned about it," he says of the city's nixing of that process.

What other notes might he sound during a campaign? He's interested in the federally-mandated police shake-up, for sure. While McGinn had some testy exchanges with the Department of Justice over its demands, Steinbrueck portrays the feds as not going far enough. "I think the DOJ skipped the issue of racial profiling," he says. The agency looked at that issue in the context of force used by police, but Steinbrueck contends the problem is broader, extending to who gets stopped and who doesn't.

It could be interesting to see Steinbrueck debate not only McGinn but Councilmember Tim Burgess, who has been vocal on matters of police reform and who recently launched his campaign for mayor.

"I've followed his short career in politics," Steinbrueck says, taking a dig at his potential rival with the operative word "short." Burgess has spent four years in office, while Steinbrueck spent 10.

But Steinbrueck's been out of the game since 2007, while Burgess has the bully-pulpit as a standing city council member. So Steinbrueck would have to get his name out there again. Did we mention that he's been attacking the mayor's high-profile South Lake Union plan?

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