Mayor McGinn's Pothole Problem

A major bump in the road to re-election.

When Alan Valiev drove over a large pothole on Northgate Way in March, the resulting impact caused more than $1,000 worth of damage to the Verizon account-executive's car. Fortunately for Valiev, he was able to submit a claim with the city of Seattle and get his repairs made—all on the taxpayers' dime. Valiev isn't alone. In fact, he's part of a trend—one that Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn's office erroneously claims doesn't actually exist. Because in the first full year for which data is available since McGinn took office, nearly three times as many drivers have filed claims with the city for pothole-related damage, leading to nearly three times as much money spent on compensation. In a response to a public-records request, the city's Department of Finance and Administrative Services provided Seattle Weekly with figures from the past five years. What those figures show is that there's been a 270 percent increase in the number of pothole claims (from an average of 164 in each of the previous four years to 443 for 2010–11) and a 241 percent increase in the amount paid on those claims (from an average of $36,739 to $88,735). The Seattle Department of Transportation isn't shying away from the problem. It says the spike was caused by a combination of cuts in staffing (the department lost 22 positions last year) and an unusually harsh winter. "We had the severe freeze of Thanksgiving weekend, the Pineapple Express the next month, and record rainfall," says SDOT Operations Manager Steve Pratt. "It was a confluence of the worst possible events for asphalt paving." McGinn's office, however, says that the real culprit is the numbers. In a bizarre claim, mayoral spokesperson Aaron Pickus says that the data is flawed because it's broken down by years beginning in July and not January. Essentially, he says that since the mayor took office in January 2010 and the year in question (as measured by FAS) started in July of that year, the numbers aren't an accurate reflection of the McGinn administration's road stewardship. Yet unlike the city's too-numerous-to-count potholes, Pickus' argument doesn't hold water. Yes, technically McGinn has only been in charge for one full year (again, as measured by FAS)—the 12 months between July 2010 and July 2011. But those are the same 12 months in which the numbers nearly tripled. Whatever the case, the McGinnistration needs only look to predecessor Greg Nickels and his 2009 primary thumping for lessons on the importance of nipping the pothole problem in the bud. Then again, with a 23 percent approval rating and an issue that most affects his strongest (and possibly only remaining) constituency—cyclists—McGinn could likely fix every pothole in Seattle with his own bare hands and still not get re-elected.

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