MOHAI: Is mayor looking ahead?

Mike McGinn seems to be intent on dividing people. This may make political sense, but how long can it work for the city?

Mike McGinn seems to be intent on dividing people. This may make political sense, but how long can it work for the city?

Mayor Mike McGinn is continuing his efforts to alter a deal reached with Museum of History and Industry over several years. Admittedly, the city is facing a very tough budget deficit and needs every dollar of revenue it can find as well as a review of every program and government function to be able to operate the core municipal services of government.

But there are some interesting and troubling aspects to this latest “us versus them” strategy against MOHAI. First, there are several misrepresentations of the mechanics and history of the deal, which I wrote about recently. Second, there is the now familiar strategy of pitting groups against one another.

Remember during the campaign when we were told that the tunnel project would take resources away from education and cost the city $927 million? A couple truths that were inconvenient to this narrative: The state’s funding for Alaskan Way Viaduct comes out of the transportation budget (there are three state budgets: transportation, capital, and operating). Education funding comes out of the operating budget. The revenues do not come from the same sources and can’t be mixed. Second, the $927 million in city expenditures has to be spent regardless of what form of replacement is chosen — this is for replacement of the seawall and utility relocation.

And now relocation assistance to MOHAI from the state will supposedly take money away from immigrant families. Actually, the MOHAI move saves the city money because the museum will maintain and operate the Armory — a facility the city can't afford. This is the reason the city asked MOHAI to make a deal. (Having so many facilities creates budget pressures previously discussed.) 

Using the new "logic," it would be just as easy to say MOHAI's taking over a city facility will free up money to help immigrant families.

But there is a more troubling issue with these debates:  It appears the mayor is trying to divide Seattle in order to score political points. And his strategy may work in the short term. He can be seen as the defender of the poor and dispossessed, while the council is cast in the role of defenders of the powerful and greedy. One problem with this strategy is that many of the people he is attacking are key to helping the people he is fighting for. Many are, for instance, on boards of organizations like the YWCA, Compass Center, DESC, and others. They care about helping people, too.

They also raise private funding to help accomplish the goals the mayor professes to work towards. These people will be key in raising investment dollars to complete the new waterfront plan still in the works. And with the budget situation, public-private partnerships are more important than ever.

You know, like getting a museum to take on fundraising to create a new facility in a property the city can't afford.

The mayor has three more years to show he can be a leader and accomplish things that benefit the whole city. Dividing the city will not accomplish anything. His strategy may make good political sense for a time, but in the long term it is bad for governance and bad for the city.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Jordan Royer

Jordan Royer

Jordan Royer is the vice president for external affairs in the Seattle office of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.