Raise Above It All

It's a million-dollar monorail campaign, with both sides raking in big bucks.

A burst of new campaign cash and other perks from fat cats has infused both sides of the Initiative 83 monorail recall election, certified only five weeks back. More than $667,000 has poured in to the opposing campaigns in recent days from investors, sports moguls, and multinational corporations, swiftly pushing total donations past $1 million, easily topping the $620,000 spent on a much longer monorail campaign in 2002. And the opposing camps now have dueling developers providing campaign office space. Property czar and deep-pocketed recall backer Martin Selig owns the anti-monorailers’ headquarters, on West Thomas Street. Now, it turns out, the monorail supporters have new headquarters on Sixth Avenue North, owned by pro-monorail developer Al Clise. The two campaign offices are literally and politically on opposite sides of Seattle Center, through which the monorail might be built. Adjoining the monorailers in Clise’s building is the Space Needle Corp., another big monorail booster, while a Clise Properties building downtown is headquarters for the Seattle Monorail Project, where Clise’s president, Richard Stevenson, sits on the monorail board. The Clise family owns more than $100 million in property along the proposed monorail route—including the Fifth Avenue site of a monorail station—and figures to benefit from the project. Conversely, anti-monorail developer Selig claims he will lose money if the line is built next to his $80 million headquarters and other properties on Second Avenue.

Though the successful 2002 monorail campaign was also heavily weighted by corporate contributions—$530,000 of the $620,000 was in support of the monorail—about $745,000 of the $1,022,000 donated to the current campaign is anti-monorail money. According to new disclosure reports, Monorail Recall and its campaign arm, Yes On I-83, swept up $90,000 in the eight-day period ending Friday, Oct. 1. This week, Recall’s cups floweth over with $370,000 in additional donations, which include $110,000 from Second Avenue property owner Equity Office of Chicago, $85,000 from Washington Mutual, $50,000 from Pine Street Group, $48,000 from developer and major campaign funder Martin Selig, and $25,000 from Westlake Center. The budding No Recall-Go Monorail group reported receiving $70,128 over the previous week—$50,000 of it from six corporations or corporate officials—then added $138,660 this week. The money includes $10,000 each from Fluor and Washington Group International, the monorail’s prime contractors, and $10,000 each from Sonics owner Howard Shultz and the Seattle Mariners. The monorail’s law firm, Foster Pepper Shefelman, donated $12,250, developer Nitze Stagen gave $7,500, and monorail board chair Tom Weeks and wife Deb Oyer, a physician, each gave the pro-mono campaign $10,000 short-term loans.

The No Recall group has also opened up a broader avenue for contributions, taking its cue from former presidential candidate Howard Dean by allowing donors worldwide to contribute at its new Web site, www.norecallgomonorail.com.

The splurge of hefty contributions to No Recall, managed by Seattle Monorail Project board member Cindi Laws, is causing some monorail backers to worry about their self-proclaimed populist image and their criticism of the well-bankrolled anti-monorailers for having forgotten their grass-roots past. Thing is, “These aren’t ‘grassroots’ contributions from either side,” says monorail critic Geof Logan. “This is the local-finance equivalent of nuclear war, reflecting the seriousness of the battle for the very future of Seattle.”

Unofficially, No Recall followers are being urged to send in small checks to offset the negative impact of the corporate donations. As onetime cab driver and unofficial father of the monorail, Dick Falkenbury, recently wrote in an e-mail to fellow Monorail Society supporters: “I know that this will sound weird and maybe even foolish, but it is very important that the pro-monorail [group] quickly receive many small checks for five, 10, and 20 bucks. We have already received at least one check for $20,000, and if we don’t get lots of little checks, then the newspapers will report that all of our money is coming from a few fat cats or companies wishing to build the monorail. . . . For example, if the only donation we have is the $20,000 check—and you send in a $5 donation—our average donation falls to $10,000—and if 10 of us in the monorail society send in $5, the average falls to $2,500!” (Presently, No Recall’s average donation is $550, compared to Monorail Recall’s $1,275.)

Laws’ campaign, boasting endorsements from U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, and ex-governors Dan Evans and Booth Gardner, was formed to back her government agency’s hopes to build the $1.6 billion, 13.7-mile monorail line from Crown Hill to West Seattle. Approved by a narrow vote in 2002, the taxpayer-funded project now faces a Nov. 2 recall vote over cost, route, and design. Initiative 83 would prohibit the city from granting rights of way to build the monorail.

No Recall’s biggest contributions include $20,000 from Michael Slade, an investor with Second Avenue Partners, a venture-capital group, $10,000 from monorail consultant Lea & Elliott Inc., and $5,000 each from software developer Michael Casteel, developer Craig Kinzer, the Seattle Building and Construction Trades, and the Space Needle Corp. Other contributors include $1,000 from grocer Tomio Moriguchi and $500 each from monorail officials Tom Weeks, Jonathan Buchter, and Diana Cline. (A complete list can be viewed at www.seattle.gov/ethics.)

According to the city’s Ethics and Elections Commission, 24 percent of No Recall’s 127 donors are from out of town (17 percent of Monorail Recall’s 295 donors are hinterlanders). Most—34 percent of No’s donors—come from the Capitol Hill and Madrona neighborhoods, which won’t be served by the Green Line, the planned first leg of the project running along Seattle’s western edges.

But No Recall’s $277,000 in donations still amount to about two-thirds of what Selig alone has given the recall campaign. Selig, who thinks the monorail, by running so close to his Second Avenue properties, will devalue them, has now given $344,000 to the cause. Most of that money went to launch and fund the effort to put the recall on the ballot, paying for office space and a platoon of paid signature gatherers. The new disclosure reports also show that Recall took in $10,000 from property owner/developer Ken Alhadeff and $10,000 each from Howard Anderson & Associates and the Seneca Real Estate Group.

Such weighty donations spurred members of the Yahoo! Seattle Monorail discussion group to devise strategies to undercut Monorail Recall’s image. Wrote one: “Discredit the Big Money backing MR: We all know that some real-estate developers who own land on 2nd Avenue are funding Monorail Recall’s campaign. It would be important to find out who else funded I-83 (Beside Martin Selig) . . . expose them to the public, and personally discredit them in some fashion. [Example:] So and so drives a brand new Hummer H2. . . . An elegant way of saying that big money is killing the People’s Monorail.”

No Recall’s upsurge may be eroding that strategy. As for good-natured Falkenbury, who recently gave the No Recall campaign a $25 donation, his small-check strategy generated few takers, he says. “The Monorail Society,” he laments, “is a tight bunch.”