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McGinn And Conlin In A Parallel Universe

2011 April 6
by dan bertolet

By coincidence, on Monday my inbox received contributed Citytank posts from the two most powerful politicians in Seattle—Mayor Mike McGinn and City Council President Richard Conlin. Clearly the Universe meant for their posts to run back to back, adversarial history notwithstanding.

And that juxtaposition got me thinking about how tragic it is that these two capable, passionate, and forward-looking public servants have not been able to find a way to work together for the good of Seattle. Because a unified Council and Mayor’s office driven by a commonly held set of sustainability values might actually stand a chance of getting something meaningful accomplished. Divided we fall and all that.

The fact is, McGinn and Conlin probably agree on about 99 percent of everything. This shouldn’t be like trying to get Dumbledore and Voldemort to play nice. But sadly—and yes, stupidly—a single issue has negated all the commonality: the deep-bore tunnel. Sometimes it seems that all the toxic divisiveness created by the tunnel could end up doing more damage than would be done by the tunnel itself.

But if McGinn and Conlin could get beyond their differences and start tackling issues as a team, the potential would be huge. With their combined constituencies, who would stand in their way? Plus, a united Seattle leadership would present a much more formidable political force when it comes to dealing with the Seattle-bashers in Olympia.

Granted, that’s a big if, but stay with me. What McGinn and Conlin need is a fresh, untainted issue that they could both get behind together without getting bogged down in baggage. And I have two suggestions, each of which has the potential to  play a massively positive role in transforming Seattle for the better over the long term:

  1. Yesler Terrace: This will be a brand new 30-acre, mixed-income neighborhood built from the ground up, and an unprecedented opportunity to implement our best thinking on sustainable design. But the economics are such that creating a world class example of cutting-edge sustainable development at Yelser Terrace is not going to happen without the City stepping up in a big way. Southeast False Creek in Vancouver, BC, is a recent example of what we should be aspiring to match or surpass.
  2. Transit-oriented Communities: Our public investment in light rail will never pay off until we start doing a better job of facilitating transit-oriented development at the stations outside of downtown. These areas represent the City’s best opportunities for accommodating growth in a sustainable manner, but so far, little progress has been made. What’s needed is a focused, city-wide effort to physically plan the sites, establish incentives, and invest in infrastructure. Examples abound nationwide.

Okay, back to this Universe. It may well be that the McGinn-Conlin feud is a lost cause. But I’m putting out this bit of “what if” happy talk anyway because there’s so much at stake. We can’t afford to let wedge issues sabotage our power to make progress across the spectrum of sustainable urbanism. Call it the Citytank challenge: to unite, not to divide.

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Matt the Engineer permalink
    April 6, 2011

    3. A gondola system to connect our neighborhoods. (sorry if I sound like a broken record, but I think it’s a great idea that could be built quickly and cheaply if the right set of people pushed for it)

    Oh, and I think the fact that they’d agree on 99% of the issues won’t keep them from battling. This is politics – Conlin may want the mayor job, or at least wants himself to look good. McGinn wants to keep his job and make himself look good. My hope is that they are getting good government done behind the scenes and we only read about the fights in the news. If I’m wrong and they really are gridlocked then they’ll have to learn to play nice quickly or maybe we find someone else for both of their jobs.

  2. Cascadian permalink
    April 6, 2011

    I don’t understand why Conlin and McGinn can’t agree on the surface and transit improvements independent of the tunnel/viaduct decision. No matter what happens with the 99 freeway through downtown, we need more transit and surface improvements on the corridor. Maybe to separate it from the bad blood over the tunnel they could propose a city-wide transit improvement plan that could include the improvements in transit-oriented development that you suggest, and extra transit service across the city including the 99 corridor. Even if all it achieved was to get the state to grant additional taxing authority for the city to increase transit service by regional agencies within the city limits, it would be an important victory.

  3. Wells permalink
    April 7, 2011

    I don’t buy it, Dan. The bored tunnel decision is being made with complete disregard of public input. City and state officials have NOT shown good faith regarding public concerns. From the day of the earthquake, Wsdot lengthened the planning process unecessarily for years, studying the most expensive cut/cover tunnel designs first and forced to finally make public the lowest-cost design last. Their preference until March of 2007, was a replacement viaduct. Incidentally, the last cut/cover, the one in the DEIS, is also the least disruptive to construct, but does the public realize this? No.

    There are dozens of critically important aspect regarding the engineering and environmental impact of the AWV replacement project which City Hall is keeping from the public! Wsdot is most to blame but city, county and state leaders have been rudely dismissive and violate the public trust and their oaths of office.

    Forget it. Mayor McGinn is right to fight. The bored tunnel and Mercer West are horrible engineering, insanely risky, with egregious environmental impacts! The Alaskan Way boulevard design too should be reviewed for what appear to be severe flaws in its design for traffic management. Little mister Conlin and all the rest smile as if consoling uphappy children. It’s outrageous. Wsdot is most to blame, and probably a few within Sdot know better, but the council is clearly in the wrong and their failure puts the city in danger all to supposedly avoid inconveniencing Seattle’s mindless motorists. It’s a scandal and a disgrace.

  4. Brad permalink
    April 10, 2011

    I blame it on The Stranger article in November 2009 anointing Conlin the real mayor. It apparently went to his head. McGinn may be remembered for a failed and distracted one term mayoralty, but Conlin will be remembered for the stuck tunnel boring machine that will be left, broken and stuck under the federal building for centuries to come, blocking future underground transit development.

  5. Curlove permalink
    April 13, 2011

    Thank you Dan!

    Equitable TOD has an incredible ability to bring a huge variety of interests into alignment. Where is the leadership on this issue? Who is going to fulfill the promise of all the benefits transit was supposed to bring to the Rainier Valley? It will be hard to bring another transit initiative to the ballot if we don’t have good examples of healthy communities around the transit we alreay have.

  6. October 17, 2011

    Thats an all around amazingly written piece

  7. December 5, 2011

    Probably your best article I have ever seen.

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