Friday’s post on Kemper Freeman Jr. generated quite a few angry responses from apologists who insisted it was unfair of me to brand the Eastside real estate mogul with his own shameful family history. But if Freeman insists on wielding his wealth and power to influence public policy, I think it only fair and useful to evaluate his words and deeds within a broader historical context.
There is no such thing as a self-made man, and Freeman is arguably less so than others. Inheriting a family fortune built on the suffering of Japanese Americans and the taxpayer largesse that built two floating bridges to his Bellevue real estate holdings, Freeman’s own business investments can be seen as a continuation of a development strategy first laid out by his father and grandfather decades earlier. This is the family that raised and trained him, and from whom he clearly inherited the auto-centric/anti-rail philosophy that drives his civic participation. So why should his family history be ignored when attempting to discern Freeman’s personal motives?
Of course, I don’t raise these issues merely to fling poo at someone with whom I disagree politically (although I must admit that it can be pleasantly cathartic), but rather to chip away at the undeserved credibility Freeman appears to enjoy on transportation planning issues. The fact is, Freeman and his family have prospered handsomely from the public subsidy of our automobile culture, and thus his vehement pro-roads/anti-rail advocacy must be understood in that context. Likewise, as the great-grandson of a Confederate veteran and the grandson of the president of the Anti-Japanese League, it is only reasonable to explore the roots of Freeman’s passionate opposition to allowing South Seattle rail riders convenient access to his exclusive Bellevue properties.
Again, this all comes down to credibility. If his credibility largely stems from his personal wealth, then the circumstances of his wealth are fair game. But if his credibility is supposedly based on merit, then that should be evaluated too.
For example, my first introduction to Freeman came shortly after I began blogging in 2004, while covering Initiative 883, the Freeman backed measure that would have opened up HOV lanes to single occupancy vehicles, while diverting money from transit and other programs to build more highway lanes. After spending $350,000 on the campaign, 90% of it his own money, Freeman abruptly pulled the plug on the initiative just weeks before the petition filing deadline. The campaign told the Seattle Times that it had collected about half the 197,000 required signatures, but even that is surely an exaggeration.
So how do you spend that much money on a signature drive, and yet fall so far short of the mark? Well, you do it by spending your money very poorly.
According to PDC reports, over the course of its several month signature drive, I-883 spent only $92,000 on “voter signature gathering” (enough for maybe 60,000 signatures, tops), compared to $180,000 on “management/consulting services.” That’s gotta be the most inefficient signature campaign I have ever seen.
To put this in perspective, were Freeman put in charge of our region’s transportation budget, and he managed it as efficiently as he managed the I-883 campaign, for every $1 billion we spent constructing new roads, we’d spend an additional $2 billion on management and consulting fees.
So much for the private sector being more efficient than the public.
I mean, any idiot can successfully run a well financed signature drive (you know who you are, Tim), and yet Freeman couldn’t even manage that. And this is the guy who routinely attacks our regional transportation planning as wasteful and inefficient?
So if Freeman’s perceived credibility on transportation planning doesn’t come from merit, and it doesn’t come from any particular expertise on, you know, transportation planning (former State Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald labeled some of Freeman’s proposals “wacky“), where does it come from? Apparently, simply by virtue of him being Kemper Freeman Jr.
And that’s all the more reason to make every effort to put Freeman’s advocacy in its proper context.