My ballot for the August 18 primary election already has been marked and put in the mail. I made my choices on the basis of circumstances facing us and the candidates I thought most capable of meeting them. Let me start with the circumstances.
Our city and county have been more fortunate economically than many others in the country. (Data released Monday indicate the falloff in federal tax revenues over the past year was the greatest single-year decline since the Great Depression). Yet, in the current environment, our public budgets are overstretched. We have committed ourselves to big future spending on public-works projects of dubious value. Our incumbent city and county governments have, by and large, been insensitive to these realities and running on tax-and-spend autopilot.
Single-interest constituencies — such as Vulcan Inc., Sound Transit contractors and sub-contractors, major developers, and public-employee and teachers unions — have leveraged their money and political power to dominate our local agendas. The interests of ordinary working, taxpaying families have been subordinated to those with political juice. In Seattle, this syndrome has been exacerbated by the fact that all City Council members are elected at-large, thus making them more responsive to downtown power than to Seattle neighborhoods, which would command more attention of council members if they were elected by district.
In Seattle, we have had the worst of two worlds. Mayor Greg Nickels, who has spent his whole adult life in local politics, has never held a private-sector job. He has no college degree, which is not important in itself, but he knows little of finance or economics and has demonstrated it. He clearly has no sense of cost-benefit analysis. His operating style has been that of the Chicago School — a bullying spoils-system in which allies are rewarded, adversaries punished, and cronies lavished with contracts and consultancies.
The City Council, which has final power over the budget and all mayoral proposals, has been a perfect foil for Nickels. Among present council members, only Nick Licata consistently has demanded attention be paid to major policy and budget decisions and not yielded to the go-along, get-along mentality of his colleagues, most of whom appear to believe that anything but cooperation with the mayor would be bad manners. Jan Drago and Richard McIver, both leaving the council, have shown signs of independence. But Drago, now challenging Nickels for mayor, has for the most part been point person not only for Nickels proposals but for those of Vulcan Inc. and others seeking big public favors or subsidies. Other council members typically have the mindset of former city or government bureaucrats, which many of them are.
The situation in county government is comparable. County Executive Ron Sims and the County Council have been careless about major budget and policy decisions and run the county into financial and budget trouble. Two of the major contenders for County Executive, Dow Constantine and Larry Phillips, have been council members contributing to the problem.
As a result, both city and county government are badly in need of shaking up. Both need independent new leadership by people who can see beyond their own reelections. Both the city and county would benefit, additionally, from leaders with working knowledge of finance and economics and with managerial experience. These leaders might be more prickly than those to whom we have grown accustomed, but that would be a plus. Bland, bureaucratic, and collaborative are not the right qualities to seek at a time when trade offs need to be professionally weighed and tough decisions made and applied.
Now, as to the candidates. I marked my ballot for those candidates whom I considered best suited to these times. They included:
Seattle Mayor: Four more years of Nickels is unthinkable. Among his challengers, Joe Mallahan most possesses the qualities we need now. He lacks a long background of involvement in local issues, but he clearly possesses the energy, intelligence, independence, and managerial temperament to do the job well. He understands the world beyond government and politics. He is the anti-Nickels.
County Executive: Rather like Mallahan, state Rep. Ross Hunter is a smart, independent, tough-minded manager unintimidated by interest groups or by county bureaucrats. His critics say he is too tough minded and not sufficiently "collaborative" (shorthand for the lazy, go-along local political style). But that is a plus. Our County Executive should be just that: an executive. The independent Hunter also would be the strongest possible challenger in the November general election against former TV anchorwoman Susan Hutchison, running as an outsider but without any relevant qualifications for the job.
City Council: It is imperative that Licata be re-elected. If Mallahan is elected mayor, and appropriate council members elected to replace Drago and McIver, the whole tone of Seatle city government could change quickly for the better.
I checked my ballot for Licata, David Bloom, and Robert Rosencrantz. Bloom is a serious person and an old-style, people-first candidate not a part of the insider culture in which most council members presently swim. Rosencrantz, who has run strongly in previously unsuccessful council candidacies, would bring badly needed knowledge of real-life business and economic issues to the council. All three are their own people and would not be bullied by anyone, including a mayor.
Port of Seattle: I marked my ballot for Rob Holland and Tom Albro, both independent and knowledgeable about port issues.
Seattle School District: I voted for Betty Patu and Kay Smith-Blum. Smith-Blum is challenging Mary Bass, who for eight years has been a divisive, grandstanding obstacle to good management of the District.
Court of Appeals: Anne Ellington, clearly the superior candidate.
Referendum 1: No on the shopping-bag tax, which has been misrepresented to voters and would be a stupid nuisance.
Balloting is by mail only. Thus do not, as one City Council candidate suggested at a Crosscut session recently, "allow the ballot to become buried in a pile of magazines, mail, and circulars and eventually lost." We get the governance we deserve — especially if we don't vote.