On the road to Damascus (or its bike-ride to City Hall equivalent) Mayor Mike McGinn has gone from elbow-flying teen to Eagle Scout proselyte in less than a week. The mayor's get-tough conversion could signal a leadership sea change or perhaps the subtle power of a political maxim: When the U.S. Department of Justice has you by the short hairs, your heart and mind will follow.
As Steve Miletich, Jonathan Martin, and Lynn Thompson report in this morning's Seattle Times, the mayor has stopped the finger pointing and gotten religion after the Justice Department's damning police-department analysis.
"Facing mounting public outcry, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn Wednesday ordered Police Chief John Diaz to immediately begin carrying out reforms urged by the U.S. Department of Justice in its scathing report on the Police Department's use of force," they write. It's a big deal, especially if the mayoral reforms have teeth. In fact, it will "set the city on a course that could result in the most sweeping changes in the Police Department since it was fundamentally altered in the 1970s, after decades of corruption and payoffs."
In Crosscut today, Matt Fikse offers a trenchant read. "More than snowstorms, potholes, or even larger holes in the ground, a big city mayor’s career can be made or broken by how he handles public safety issues and the management of a city’s police force," Fikse writes. And the task itself will require a public-policy miracle worker exhibiting farsighted leadership. "Still to be resolved is how McGinn and Diaz will transform policies into the cultural shift that many of the city's political and community leaders say is instrumental to reform." No easy task, that.
Is the Justice Department engaged in a nationwide crackdown of alleged police-department abuses? Most recently, the DOJ determined that cops in East Haven, Connecticut, have deliberately targeted Latinos. Matt Zaretsky of the New Haven Register writes, "East Haven police have systematically broken federal law and violated the civil rights of Latinos, the Justice Department said in a scathing letter that includes a host of changes the town must make to correct the problems."
The feds' prescriptive approach in East Haven echoes Seattle: Get in line or pay the price. The report states, "The pattern of practice of discriminatory policing that we observed is deeply rooted in the Department's culture and substantially interferes with the ability of the EHPD to deliver services to the entire East Haven community." There may be a political component to the DOJ's actions, coming less than a year before the 2012 election. Thankfully, politics can't diminish the need for birddogging alleged police abuses.
The story of Theodore Szal is the story of the American West (and the Northwest, in particular). Where better to reinvent yourself, tabula-rasa style? As the Oregonian's Dominique Fong writes, the Beaverton man started life anew in 1977 (imagine Jack Nicholson's character, Robert Dupea, in the final scene of Five Easy Pieces.) "More than 30 years ago, Theodore Szal abandoned his car at a Chicago airport and didn't look back," Fong writes. The problem, as Fong notes, is "For the next three decades, Szal went about his life, not knowing that his family thought he'd been murdered by a serial killer."
The serial-killer angle will generate tabloid interest and the inevitable Dateline special. The broader Szal narrative is richer, however. One of the best fictional accounts of starting over in the Pacific Northwest is Bernard Malamud's evocative A New Life. There are second acts in America, you just need to head West.
One promising piece of news for soon-to-be-laid-off workers at Everett's historic Kimberly-Clark mill: They will qualify for federal aid. The Herald's Mike Benbow reports, "Workers at Everett's Kimberly-Clark Corp. will be eligible for special help in job training, job searches, health insurance, and unemployment pay, Rep. Rick Larsen said today." Interestingly, the workers qualify for trade-adjustment assistance because operations are moving overseas. "Everett was the corporation's last pulp mill operating in the United States," Benbow writes. For the men and women at Kimberly Clark, globalism is no abstraction.
Lastly, another reason your European or Asian relatives will make fun of you this Christmas? You're fat. Fat enough, in fact, to sink a ferry. Seriously. "The Coast Guard recently announced it had changed the capacity on several vessels because passengers now weigh more. Coast Guard Lt. Kirk Beckman said the old test weights assumed an average rider weighed 140-160 pounds, but now that the average American weighs 185 pounds, those figures had to be recalculated," KOMO's Theron Zahn reports. "For example, the Yakima used to be allowed 2,000 passengers, but will now only be able to carry 1,783 passengers."
It's embarrassing, yes, even if the ferry service is something of an obesity enabler. All those donuts and cheese burgers served on the Yakima. What's a discriminating commuter to do?
Seattle Times, "Mayor to police chief: Do what feds requested"
Seattlepi.com, "Obesity epidemic forcing ferries to lighten thier loads"