Sneaking forward

Want to see Seattle politicians get all misty-eyed? Invoke the mighty "Forward Thrust," that 1968 ballot-clogging package of bonds and levies whose passage still rates a spot in the Museum of Political Miracles.

Every day Seattleites play in parks paid for with Forward Thrust monies, school kids look at fish in our FT-funded Seattle Aquarium, motorists drive on bond-repaired streets, and, well, you get the picture. Occasionally, we even get extra value out of Forward Thrust projects, like when we imploded that crazy Kingdome. (That was an impressive dust cloud, wasn't it?)

But there's no surer sign of election season in Seattle than some well-meaning politician envisioning a big package of ballot issues "like Forward Thrust." Dream on, folks. When Mayor Norm Rice stacked school construction, police facility improvements, and proposals for new libraries on the 1994 ballot under the catchy title "Kids, Books, and Cops," Seattle voters said, "Nope, no way, and no thanks." A neat name also wasn't enough to save Snohomish County's 1998 Forward Thrust clone—"Ascent 21" slid downhill quickly, with all five ballot measures losing spectacularly. Even nostalgic politicos sometimes forget that five of the 12 Forward Thrust ballot issues didn't survive the 1968 election, including a light-rail transit proposal.

So this news flash may come as a big surprise for anyone who thinks Mayor Paul Schell can't do anything right: His administration is already halfway to notching a package worthy of Forward Thrust—call it Forward Stealth.

Start with 1998's $194 million library bond issue, throw in last year's $72 million for Seattle Center repairs and new community centers, and factor in plans for a $160 million parks package this November. Slip in $70 million or so to fix roads and bridges in 2001, and you've got a four-year package funding half a billion dollars in infrastructure improvements. Other folks can gripe about political caution or pork barrel politics, but filling each of these ballot issues with numerous neighborhood projects and taking them one at a time is just smart political thinking. Already, there's some grumbling from well-heeled supporters of the aquarium and Woodland Park Zoo that their institutions are getting short shrift in this year's parks levy package. Hey, we feel their pain and all that, but the disapproval of a few fat cats is the best advertising the parks levy campaign could have.

Even if establishment thinkers don't like it, the modern electorate prefers big lists of little neighborhood proposals to big-ticket ber-projects. Grafting a slew of community center projects onto last fall's levy to fix the Seattle Center Opera House may have annoyed the Seattle Times editorial board, but pro-levy campaigners understood what they were selling. "Let's Continue Supporting Our Centers" screamed the headlines on pro-levy flyers. You had to read the fine print to realize you were also getting a multimillion-dollar opera house fix up as part of the deal.

Political consultant Cathy Allen says Seattle officials are especially eager to load up the November ballot with new taxes alongside the Gore/Bush battle. Presidential races bring out occasional voters, who are generally in a more giving mood then stalwart ballot-casting blocs such as senior citizens, she notes. "There is no better election than November of a presidential election year to get what you want, what you need, or what you just might like to have."

Sidran bargains for terms

We didn't realize City Attorney Mark Sidran's political gear box included a "reverse" setting.

But, sure enough, that was Sidran telling the Seattle City Council last Thursday night that he's willing to back off on prosecuting many of the citizens arrested annually for driving with a suspended license—if the council lets him keep towing their cars. The council is currently considering a proposal by council members Nick Licata and Richard McIver to seriously scale back the city's vehicle towing program. The two council members cite disproportionate effects of the current law on low-income residents, for many of whom an automobile is their only significant financial asset and a lifeline to jobs and child care.

Licata isn't sure he and McIver have the five votes needed for approval, but Sidran seems to have faith in their chances for success.

Still, Sidran may not have chosen the best spot to establish a compromise. One of his big selling points for getting the impoundment law passed in the first place was the claim that he wanted to "jail cars, not people." Council members were displeased to find that, under the 1999 law, the city was generally doing both of these things.

In praise of Eric S.

Seattle Weekly staff writer Eric Scigliano may have gone on leave and traveled to a different continent, but he's still one influential guy.

It seems the Washington Credit Union League noticed Eric's story about Alexis Hendricks, a Seattle resident whose car was seized by a local towing company because she tried to pay with an out-of-state credit union check ("Tow to nowhere," SW, 9/30/99). Well, with the league's help, the state Legislature amended the archaic state law the tow-truck bullies used to snatch the car.

Think about it: If Eric had written a story about the state budget, the Legislature might be able to pass one of those, too.

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