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Predicting 2014: The biggest political headlines of the next year

Commentary: From transportation to City Hall and back again. Read this now so you can say 'I told you so' later.

There's a lot to watch in 2014 and local positioning for City Council district elections will add complexity to many of these stories. Toss in a year's worth of natural disasters — maybe even the Big One — and political bombshells (The retirement of Congressman Jim McDermott, for example, would create a political stampede that makes Walmart's Black Friday look tame.) and you've got yourself a very interesting year ahead.

Steering Straight at the Port

Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani is leaving in July and port commissioners will need to find his successor very quickly — a search that will be in direct competition with two other major West Coast ports (Los Angeles and Long Beach) looking for leaders. Long Beach's divisive infighting over this process is a good example of how difficult things can get if everyone’s not on the same page.

Will the Seattle commission be looking for somebody with international business and trade experience or someone with local connections who can work well with local officials and has strong local political ties? You usually can’t have both. And right now, finding someone who can operate internationally and bring business to the Seaport and Airport seems like the need. Besides, the port has a public affairs staff with local knowledge who can educate the new CEO. And let’s not forget that the commissioners have local ties and expertise too.

Transportation Traffic Jam

The state legislature and Governor will continue to work on a transportation package and continue to stumble over gas tax increases, labor issues, mass transit and pedestrian and bike facilities. The Democratic urban areas believe too much is being prioritized for road projects, and Republicans know they can’t sell a gas tax increase without showing reform happening at WSDOT. For now, no one is budging.

In Seattle, there's more bad news on the SR 520 Bridge: Rumors have it that the state has burned through its contingency funds and now is operating without a cushion. 

Income Inequality

There is an overwhelming consensus, both nationally and locally, that the economy is not raising all boats — mainly just yachts. Talk of a revolution and the birth of a new party are, I think, overblown. Remember the Green Party and Ralph Nader? As Congressional mid-term elections heat up, much more of the focus will be on the Affordable Care Act. It will be interesting to see if the millions who now have health care make a case for the ACA in swing districts. You can be sure the Republican agenda will feature plenty of people who had their healthcare costs go up or who were dropped from existing plans.

Mayor Ed Murray has already made the minimum wage issue a priority, issuing an Executive Order that all city employees will make at least $15 an hour and appointing a committee to study a citywide minimum wage hike. (Full disclosure: I served on Murray's transition team and am working with his office on a maritime, manufacturing, industrial agenda.) My prediction: Newly-elected Kshama Sawant and her supporters will be unhappy with the process, striking out at anyone who disagrees with them.

As City Council members position for district elections in 2015, the politics will become less global and more local with a focus on equitable police staffing, road repair and parks. Sixty-seven percent of voters approved the move to district city council elections last November. They didn’t do it because they thought the council’s policy focus was where it should be. A hard landing awaits.

The Tunnel-Waterfront Mess

The success or failure of the large projects that make up this program will undoubtedly be the measure by which voters judge Mayor Ed Murray in 4 years and 2014 will be critical to his long term success. Already, the outgoing Mayor, Mike McGinn, left an unexpected Christmas present — a $30 million cost overrun for the Seawall Replacement. According to a Seattle Times story, this problem was known during the summer and was not disclosed to the City Council. Surprise! And the fact that WSDOT left a pipe behind to jam Bertha the tunnel borer also erodes citizen confidence. What other surprises await in 2014?


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Jan 8, 11:21 a.m. Inappropriate

"Besides, the port has a public affairs staff with local knowledge who can educate the new CEO."

Now we know the source of the problem.

Posted Wed, Jan 8, 8:39 p.m. Inappropriate

I have not yet read anything about what west coast ports stand to lose when the Panama Canal is finally widened, allowing ships three times the size (according to NPR today) to pass through. I would think that could be a game changer for both coasts and it's as if it isn't happening. I would think that would be a big(ger) deal.

I did once ask the Port for some facts -- a fact sheet really, tonnage, interesting NW shipping stats, that sort of thing -- from their PR/Communications department and gave up in frustration when they said that did not actually produce something/anything like that. But that was decades back, hopefully things may have changed.

Posted Thu, Jan 9, 8:30 a.m. Inappropriate

Southender -- Yes, Panama Canal expansion is an issue that has been talked about for some time. They're experiencing delays and cost overruns currently, but will eventually be open for business for the Post-Panamax vessels. The bigger, more immediate challenge to the PNW Gateway (Seattle and Tacoma) is Canada. In fact, the Port of Prince Rupert has grown cargo in the almost exact amount that the PNW lost. Coincidence? Still, we have many advantages: natural deep water. Big ship ready docks and cranes, and extensive rail infrastructure. The challenge for the Panama Canal Authority will be how to set rates to recoup investment costs while staying competitive. And East Coast ports (Savannah, Charleston, etc.) are not big ship ready and will need to raise money for dredging, dock reinforcement, new cranes, etc. And their dredging is not covered under the maintenance dredging provisions of the Harbor Maintenance Tax (which is a tax that, again, gives an economic advantage to Canadian Ports which don't charge those fees).

Jordan

Posted Thu, Jan 9, 7:57 p.m. Inappropriate

Regarding the waterfront mess, the key question is whether Team Murray will take a fresh look at the budget, the park design, the revenues for the park, and the governance mish-mash. From what I know, it really needs a re-think. But the politics of reopening this can of worms and angering the powerful interests behind the park would give a new mayor pause.

Posted Fri, Jan 10, 8:33 a.m. Inappropriate

Let's see? Will Puget Sound continue being polluted, as are all other waterways?
Will freeways still be congested, and probably more so than in 2013?
Will the Obama administration (and King County/Washington State) do everything it can to encourage ever-more poorly-educated and English-deficient illegal and legal immigrants to come here, adding to an already too rapid growth in poverty? (Done at request of big business anxious for unlimited numbers of cheap labor, and always pursuing an assumed unlimited growth)Thus exacerbating every problem we have, from education to health care to incarceration rates?

Posted Sat, Jan 11, 8:53 a.m. Inappropriate

On the national front, I think it's entirely likely that Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey will be forced to step down or at a minimum not run for President. Tempers are fuming on the East Coast that Christie's staff (using texting, gmail and yahoo) were able to shut down 2 lanes of the busiest bridge in the country. He's claimed he knew absolutely nothing but he's played this game before. What is now known is that his chief legal counsel, Charlie McKenna, was involved so the scandal goes all the way to the top.

In addition, his staff has wounded the Port Authority by making them look like an agency that has no authority at all, since this scandal proves that political appointees can wreak havoc and no one at the Port stepped in.

Perhaps the most shocking is the appearance that this was all done to the people of New York and New Jersey because the Mayor of Fort Lee, whom Christie claims he's never met, wouldn't endorse Christie for Governor.

Posted Sun, Jan 12, 11:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Answers to above: Yes, the freeways will be more congested, and at all hours. The question is: Why?
Will there be more in the poverty category? Since the definition gets more liberal, and we continue making it difficult for those millions in other countries escaping the unsustainable conditions of their home countries to resist the many rewards of coming here, there will be more poverty and homeless and the bureaucracies that no facilitate them.
And the efforts to solve problems like poor education, degraded infrastructure, and traffic "solutions" will all turn out to be political appearance temporary alleviations, and never
solutions.
And the anwer to the above is unsustainable population growth, mostly created by not enforcing the law on illegal immigration and a big increase in legal immigration if Obama's so-called reform is enacted.

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