A look at the Mayor’s race from an economic justice perspective:                          please circulate

This week - McGinn’s candidacy (next week Mallahan)

Let’s face it, from an economic and racial justice perspective, there are problems with both Mike McGinn and Joe Mallahan.  I’m reserving final judgement on whom I’m voting for until we have our meeting later in the week with Mallahan.  McGinn readily met with us after the primary and my thoughts below on his candidacy are informed by that meeting, what he has said on the campaign trail, and disagreements we had with him during the last legislative session given his support for the Futurewise Transit Oriented Development bill – a law that had it passed – would have forced unacceptably high levels of growth around rail especially in SE Seattle with no regard to impacts on those communities.

Mallahan initially agreed to meet with us after the primary, later canceled it, but then rescheduled it for later this week. Despite the difficulties we’ve had getting this meeting with Mallahan, I remain open to his candidacy and look forward to hearing more from him which we will report on early next week.

In the primary, I voted for Mallahan based largely on a meeting we had with him on June 23rd and what he told us back then vis a vis his stance on poverty, race, homelessness and neighborhood issues.  But here’s what has given me pause this time around. Since the primary, Mallahan has cozied up to corporate and establishment types far more than I would like to see and appears to have stepped back from positions he articulated when we met with us before the primary especially his stance on Mercer and South Lake Union.  I hope we can sort this out later in the week with him.

From an economic and racial justice perspective, I think there are some differences between the Mayoral candidates that may be worth parsing out.  For example, McGinn has consistently given support to tent cities and the efforts of SHARE/WHEEL. Our conversations with him and his meetings with SHARE/Wheel tell me McGinn likely would be better on these things than Mallahan.  We'll want to discuss this closely with Mallahan, however. 

My point here is that even if there is only this difference between the two candidates, it matters who you vote for....because it has or could have a real human consequence for lots and lots of people.  Those tent cities save lives - finding a permanent site for Nickelsville could save lives.... adding more shelter beds would save lives.....   

And in several forums, not just with us, McGinn has said he is not a fan of Burgess's anti-panhandling crusade, or for that matter the Sidran laws.  If Mallahan isn’t on the same page here – and we’re not sure he is – again, there are real human consequences associated with these differences that could lead you to vote for McGinn. Such social control laws pander to the downtown chamber of commerce and cast a net over all who are homeless and disenfranchised while doing nothing to address the causes of homelessness or other underlying structural inequalities in our city. The Asian Weekly reported that Mallahan supported Burgess’s new anti-panhandling law while Publicola said he did not. Then at the City Club he held up a “waffle” sign on the matter.  

Here’s another reason you might want to vote for McGinn, however Machiavellian my reasoning might be here.  Simply putting McGinn in office could indeed lead to the death of tunnel option as replacement for the viaduct. If this project goes forward, nearly every dollar we have locally that could be used to meet a backlog of bridge, street, and sidewalk repairs in our neighborhoods especially in low income and neglected communities, will be swallowed up for decades to come.  The tunnel is something 2/3rds of all Seattle voters abhor and is costly waste of the region’s limited tax dollars. 

Mind you, McGinn’s surface-only alternative would be a nightmare also especially for freight haulers, Ballard and West Seattleites.   But by killing the tunnel - to the extent McGinn as Mayor could do that by simply refusing (or vetoing) payment of the city's share, it could force downtown elites, the Governor, councilmembers, Frank Chopp et al to put other options back on to table.....like the elevated or perhaps even the least costly and best option of them all – the retrofit option.   Killing the tunnel might also kill Paul Allen’s pet project – the Mercer Project since there's a lot of funding hidden in the tunnel plan for Mercer.

OK, that was the good side of McGinn. Now for the bad or rather what troubles me the most and reasons why you (and I)  may not want to vote for him. 

For McGinn, growth is good for its own sake or, rather, more growth is preferred because he believes it addresses larger environmental goals like global warming – a position he shares with what I call the elitist or corporate wing of the environmental movement. These are the folks who believe we must upzone at all costs in our nabe’s, pour concrete at all costs in our nabe’s, rip down existing low income housing, and replace our urban green and trees with highrises in order to save polar bears.  (As we've said so many times before, there are other viable options to regional growth - management and responsible levels of new growth that don't require systematic destruction of our city's livable qualities - like a poly-centered approach)

While professing to be very pro-neighborhood he did not see any conflict between this pro-density perspective and the things that neighborhoods were concerned about - the most prominent being how to protect streams, open space, tree canopy, and for us of course, how we protect or ensure replacement of affordable housing in the wake of that growth.  These things weren't referenced or rather did not arise when his thoughts were turned to this discussion.

In other forums and in statements to the press, McGinn also has made it very clear that we especially need more development around rail stations - he also is of course a big fan of light rail.  Oddly he says he's a bus advocate but how much can he make available, prescribe, or push for in the way of new bus service after we pour billions into light rail. 

In his words, requiring developers to pay "impact fees" to help cover infrastructure costs demanded by their projects or requiring developers to replace 1 for 1 housing they tore down - that this was too "thin a base" to ask or expect the development sector to bare these costs. How 'bout if they just pay some of the costs - heck any of the costs associated with their developments.  Just about every other city in the region imposes impact fees to help them pay for schools, utilities, roads, etc. 

McGinn also said "you can't expect developer fees to cover all these costs”. At the bottom of this I think was his fear that impact fees might pose a deterrent to more development he wants to encourage – you know saving those polar bears.  In our meeting with him, it did not seem to impress him when we pointed out that these kinds of policies may hurt human beings here in our city.  We are losing thousands of low cost units to demolition, speculative sale, conversion, rent increase (far more than we can ever replace with levy dollars and other public funds) - a direct result of runaway growth and that upzones would only exacerbate the problem.  He did reference that he played a role in saving U of W owned housing during his years as a student there (must be 20 years ago or so) and he referenced his work mitigating the impact of a new Safeway development in Greenwood.

McGinn told us he had a preference for use of incentives for developers - give them more height and density - if they set aside some affordable units.  He was very vague on how this work, how much money or housing could be built and at what income levels with such a mechanism.  He spoke of creating some kind of formula - one that still would reward developers adequately even after they set aside some lower priced units or paid an in-lieu-of fee.

He seemed unaware of the recent passage of a similar incentive zoning scheme which will reward developers with lucrative height and density increases but in return all the public gets is a handful of units set aside at 80% median at rent levels hundreds of dollars above what average workers can afford in this city.  (and when the need is at or below 40% of median).  He seemed unaware of the fact that most developers vigorously oppose incentive schemes or that we just raised these “set-aside” thresholds up to 80% of median at the behest of those developers.

When we brought up Yesler Terrace and the need to guarantee no net loss "ON SITE" at Yesler Terrace, he listened and said he'd need to get more information on the topic before expressing his opinion on this matter. Clearly he was supportive of redeveloping the site at 7-8 times its current density of 580 units.

How open will he be to us and others (and their ideas/concerns)

McGinn assured housing and homeless advocates an open door when we had concerns we brought to him.  And he said he would meet with us to hear our recommendations for future SHA board appointments before making his recommendations.  I did not detect however any great deal of knowledge about SHA or its role.  We reminded him that their mission was not to win awards for mixed income development or smart growth, their mission was to reach down and serve our city's very low income population - the poorest of the poor.  He listened to that and that was about all.

He also said he'd heard a lot of complaints about the need for change in department heads especially in the Office of Housing but made no commitment although seemed warm to the idea and certainly would look closely into it. 

He seems to support continued giveaways in South Lake Union:

Then we got down to a discussion of South Lake Union and the degree of attention, city time and resources our current Mayor was putting into that patch of ground that makes up about 1% of the City's land area.  He said he supported the Mercer 2-Way Corridor Project despite rising costs.  When we told him that it was consuming a 100 million in Bridging the Gap Transportation revenues and that likely more of those funds will be needed as costs rose for phase II, he said it was a good thing for the area and especially help make it a more pedestrian and bike friendly neighborhood. Perhaps one one-hundredth of the $300 million already committed for Mercer will be used for bike and pedestrian improvements. 

When it was pointed out that there simply would not be enough left over to help us meet neighborhood needs like the S. Park Bridge that faces closure because no dollars are available or Magnolia Bridge repairs (shelved already for a decade) or the Lander Street Grade Grade Separation this didn't seem to register with him. (Remember he says he’s for the neighborhoods), He either naively believes there's enough money out there to do Mercer and all these other things (including add more buses and spend billions on Light Rail) or it's a political tactic to garner support from everyone and every quarter for his candidacy. 

McGinn's only credible response to the comment, "there ain't enough money" to do Mercer and rest of SLU agenda and all these other needs in our nabe's - is what I think is his fallback response to all such comments, "I will kill the tunnel and that will free up revenues to allow us to do all these other things".  But there wasn't enough out there to go around last year and year before and year before that - before Mercer and SLU costs shot out of site.  This year is the first year that the city's portion of tunnel costs now appear in the proposed city budget and the 5-year CIP and it only adds to the dilemma. 

McGinn did say he support's retention of the head tax portion of Bridging the Gap which will be eliminated before the year is out by our city Council eliminating 50 million or more in funding for Bridging the Gap projects. 

We unfortunately did not get to issues related to police accountability and whether or not he support revamping the system of police accountability and replacing it with a stronger form of citizen review - one with teeth, including case by case review, access to records, and perhaps subpoena powers.  In public forums he’s so far shied away from offering such specifics. 

We had no time to discuss the threat of office expansion into Seattle's SODO and other industrial areas.  We know both candidates support the housing levy although he should have delved more deeply into this and ask about his stance on the increasing use of vouchers in place of hard unit production. 

I voted for Mallahan in the primary because of his opposition to Mercer and his cynicism about giving away the farm to downtown...I thought he was more influenceable on density stuff too and more open to meeting with neighborhoods and housing advocates.  These are issues we must revisit when we meet with him. If I am not satisified with his responses, I may vote for McGinn despite his problems.

Despite following the campaigns of the candidates closely, I don't yet know what Mallahan will say about tent cities and am not sure where he stands on the Tim Burgess panhandling law. I still think Mallahan is more likely to be responsive if neighborhoods came to him and voiced strongly their concerns about runaway density, the need to mitigate impacts of growth, and the need to require developers to pay impact fees and do 1 for 1 replacement.  McGinn's seems doctrinairely opposed to these things.

We’ll have more to report on Mallahan after our Mallahan meeting later in the week, however.

- John Fox for the Coalition

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