THE THREE STOOGES came to our office last week. Unfortunately for the city of Seattle, one of them will be our next mayor.
Moe (City Attorney Mark Sidran), Larry (King County Council member Greg Nickels), and Curly (Mayor Paul Schell) put on quite a show for Seattle Weekly's editorial board.
SIDRAN: "M.F.S WITH GUNS"
Sidran came off as a belligerent, insulting bully. He sniggered during many of the mayor's answers. His cell phone went off at least four times during the interview (he either couldn't or wouldn't shut it off). He bad-mouthed his hosts. He showed a frightening proclivity for scapegoating: Asked about the city's troubled race relations, he gave a quick nod to the existence of institutional racism and launched into a wild diatribe against the clique of black "gang-banging, drug-dealing m.f.s with guns" who terrorize the respectable African-American community at large. Nothing about racial profiling by the police department, nothing about an inadequate system of review of police officers' use of force, nothing about the impact of racism on achievement in education or job advancement. He attempted to define homelessness as a "public health" issue of mental illness and drug addiction, ignoring the root cause: the loss of cheap housing to redevelopment and gentrification.
Sidran and I do agree on one thing, however. He says that his election as mayor would show that Seattle is ready to depart from the liberal, consensus-oriented, process-filled political culture that has been our hallmark. It would indeed, but I firmly believe that Seattle will not see Sidran's brand of scapegoating authoritarianism as a solution to the real problems that we face.
NICKELS: PASSION AND OATMEAL
King County Council member Greg Nickels is the embodiment of Seattle nice. West Seattleite Nickels has served in government for all his adult life, is proud of being a "liberal Democrat," and comes off about as dynamic as oatmeal. Unfortunately for him, not many people know who he is and what he has done. To make matters worse, when he does articulate his record of achievement, it is stunningly thin. Probably his biggest claim to fame is that he has been doing the heavy lifting on Sound Transit's light rail from the time it was a ballot measure to its current identity as the region's most glaring example of why government cannot be trusted with billions of tax dollars. Not exactly a record to campaign on.
Nickels revels in being passionate about the "nuts and bolts" of government. This means he has spent his time launching small-scale projects like the West Seattle water taxi, bouncing violent video games out of Seattle Center, battling tobacco companies over their street advertising, and rejiggering Metro bus service. It is hardly the stuff that inspires confidence in his ability to take on the breadth of the city's challenges.
Nickels is counting on Seattle wanting to change our mayor but not the "Seattle way" of governance itself.
SCHELL: AN UNTENABLE RECORD
And speaking of Hizzoner: Because Schell must claim that his leadership of the last four years has been a success, he comes off as out of touch with reality—a problem further exacerbated by the goofy ad campaign he launched last week where he is pictured hugging a tree.
It is true that Schell has had successes. His ability to convince Seattle voters to tax themselves—thereby providing the city with an unprecedented $600 million for libraries, parks, and community centers—has facilitated peace in the long-running battle between downtown and the neighborhoods, and will create a tangible legacy that will endure long after the memories of WTO and Mardi Gras fade away.
Unfortunately for the mayor, that time has not yet come. When, after the bloody night of Mardi Gras, the mayor did not fire Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske for his disastrous crowd management decision, Schell gave himself an untenable record to run on. It is impossible to pretend that Kerlikowske has the confidence of his own officers or the general public when he clearly does not.
And, of course, firing Kerlikowske would not have addressed the underlying racial problems that Mardi Gras so sickeningly demonstrated. Since February, race relations in Seattle have been complicated by the police shooting of Aaron Roberts in the Central District, the detaining of Asian-American students for jaywalking, and the assault on the mayor himself. All of this has eclipsed the mayor's real achievements. If he is going to be re-elected, he will either have to address our city's very real problems or hope that the voters are just not paying very close attention.
Where's "none of the above" when you need it?