This is the time of year for resolutions and wishes. My resolution is simple: To remain healthy in 2009 and contribute usefully to my community. My wishes are numerous and may, in fact, be shared by many of you.
1. That able opponents will materialize to challenge Mayor Greg Nickels and City Council incumbents in the fall elections. A complacent council has yielded too often to a willful mayor, and the interests which fund his campaigns, over his two terms of office. Just as at national level, it is time for change here in Seattle. Several prospective mayoral and council candidates have surfaced. Those truly interested need to jump into the ring early in 2009. Their early entry will, if nothing else, generate needed debate about policy options in a time of difficult choices. Among those choices are those involving go-no go calls on expensive public-works schemes such as Nickels' proposed Mercer Project and streetcar-line extensions. (I would vote no on both.)
2. That the current state-government budget crisis will result in a genuine review of priorities. Gov. Chris Gregoire has, at the outset, announced her intention to cut education and social-service programs. This is a usual political tactic in such circumstances, intended to generate a flurry of protest among those who benefit from such programs — and, thus, kindle support for cuts elsewhere or new taxes the governor is afraid to propose on her own. Gregoire, as previous governors, has pledged to review the billions in state tax benefits and subsidies extended to favored companies and sectors. Removal of even a few would cover the entire state budget hole the governor and Legislature are trying to fill. This is the time to do it.
3. That the Alaskan Way Viaduct and 520 Bridge issues will be finally resolved. These are state highways and fall under the governor's and Legislature's jurisdiction. Nonetheless, the City of Seattle, King County, and numerous private stakeholders have become involved in decisionmaking. (A bored tunnel is my own preference for a Viaduct replacement.) Whatever option is chosen, construction needs to proceed ASAP. Same for 520 bridge modernization, which is much less further along in the decision process.
Inevitably, it seems to me, tolling will have to be imposed on both highways, and perhaps on others, to make up for the funding shortfall that is sure to develop for these projects. A decision on the Viaduct is supposed to be forthcoming by the end of this month. It is roughly seven years late and both the Viaduct and 520 bridge present safety hazards.
4. That Seattle Public Schools will return to a genuine "neighborhood school" concept. The present debate about school closings and/or consolidations could lead to discussion of the common-sense option that always seems to be discarded — namely, the reestablishment in the city of a genuine neighborhood-school system in which students of all ages attend the schools nearest their homes.
We are spending school-transportation money, breaking neighborhood cohesion, and loosening parent-school relationships by assigning kids so routinely to schools which may be miles from where they live. This is all in aftermath of the late-1970s voluntary move by the Seattle School Board to desegregate the system by busing. The move took place, ironically, at about the time the rest of the country had given up on busing. The result here was the same as had occurred elsewhere. As kids were bused away from their neighborhoods, and academic standards fell during the process, parents who could afford it put their kids in private school or moved to suburbs with stronger school systems. We have yet to recover from the policies established then.
Here is a thought: How about setting high educational standards for all schools in all neighborhoods? We might find parents wanting their kids to attend them. We also might find the schools returning to their traditional roles as rallying points for their communities and neighborhoods.
5. That our dreary local sports scene will brighten. If other things go badly, solace often can be found by rooting for our Huskies, Mariners, and Seahawks. Husky and Seahawks football and Mariners baseball, entering 2009, are about as dismal as they can be. The Sonics are gone, and good riddance to them. We shall see how our new professional soccer franchise develops. Husky basketball appears headed for a respectable 2008-9 season. But new leadership presents new hope for both Husky football and the Mariners in the coming year.
Tyrone Willingham drained Husky football of all spirit and competitiveness. Steve Sarkisian, the new coach, has a can-do, enthusiastic demeanor which can only bring improvement — if he also can coach (and most who have worked with him say he can). Even a sub .500 record, with a Pac-10 win or two, will be enough in 2009 to revive enthusiasm of Husky alums and fans. The oft-vilified Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong appear to have hired a professional management team for the Mariners in general manager Jack Zduriencik and manager Don Wakamatsu. They are assembing a roster that, already, appears superior to that which ended the 2008 season. Additional new talent is on the way.
The Seahawks? Mike Holmgren's last coaching season here disappointed him as much as anyone. As often happens in football, key injuries made the difference between winning and losing in several games. A healthier roster, under new head coach Jim Mora, an ex-Husky, should bring us better football in 2009 — especially since the Hawks' low standing this year will bring valuable draft choices this summer. Holmgren deserves our applause on his departure. He likely will turn up soon coaching another National Football League team, if only because he does not want to go out on a losing note.
6. That better times lie ahead. Our levels of unemployment, home-price declines, and foreclosure rates are regrettable but are comparatively low compared to those elsewhere in the United States. They appear likely to remain that way. The country's financial and economic systems have taken huge hits in recent months yet, despite all, we are nowhere near collapse. There is reason for optimism in the fact that the new Obama administration will contain financial/economic policymakers who are truly experienced and skilled. And a new President Obama already has demonstrated his leadership skills.
May 2009 be more prosperous for all of us. And, beginning now, may we extend special help to those among us who are hungry, homeless, jobless, or suffering from afflictions beyond their capacity to manage. This is a wealthy, highly educated city which, nonethless, has a high population of people needing help. May those who have take care to remember those who have not.