What Danny said, and more…
A rap on Mayor Greg Nickels was that he was a strongman. He supposedly made decisions without taking the full advice of the public or City Council. Many citizens felt, therefore, that he was arrogant.
We say we want leadership… we like to whine about not getting it from our elected officials… but the truth is, we hate leadership, for as soon as a politician attempts to actually use political power and exert it, we attack him or her for being arrogant.
Take the Viaduct for example, perhaps the classic textbook illustration of the political cluster fuck we quaintly refer to as “the Seattle Way.” It’s been eight years since the Viaduct was nearly dismantled by the relatively mild Nisqually quake… eight years of watching it topple over, slow motion, onto the waterfront as its western supports gradually sink into the muck at a steady rate of a fraction of an inch a year. Eight years of knowing that we are one inevitable shake away from, depending on the time of day, perhaps the greatest man-made disaster in our region’s history.
And we could be on the verge of electing a mayor with workable plan to stop the plan to replace the Viaduct, but with no real plan to build political consensus for an acceptable alternative. I oppose the Big Bore too, and hell, I might even vote for Mike McGinn myself. But you gotta admit, on this issue at least, our city/region/state is more than a little fucked up. The Viaduct is a triple-digit fatality waiting to happen (or worse), and no elected official with an ounce of common sense or humanity could choose to allow it to stand any longer than absolutely necessary.
And the truth is, given our current financial, environmental, geographic and political constraints, there is no good alternative to the current structure—at least not one that could likely satisfy a majority of voters. The proposed tunnel is hugely expensive and technically uncertain, the current deal placing untenable risks on Seattle taxpayers, all in the service of an outmoded transportation philosophy that ignores the energy and environmental reality of the twenty-first century. Despite the claims of its proponents, the surface/transit option would likely exacerbate congestion, at least in the short term, and by dumping tens of thousands of vehicles a day onto surface streets, could prove the least pedestrian and bike friendly of the three major alternatives. And while a rebuild might seem like the perfect compromise in both price and function, no city planner in his or her right mind would propose building a double-decker freeway today across such a vital and beautiful waterfront, if one already didn’t exist, and it would be crime to burden future generations with such a stunning lack of civic pride and vision.
In their favor, by diverting traffic underground, the tunnel would do the most to open up, revitalize and beautify our waterfront into a civic treasure future generations would come to cherish. The surface/transit option is by far the least expensive and most forward thinking of any of the plans. And the rebuild… well… current generations of Seattleites grew up with the Viaduct, and if it was good enough for us, it’s good enough for future generations as well. (You know, stop trying to change Seattle into New York or San Francisco and all that.) But even if you believe there is a best alternative, good luck convincing a majority of elected officials, let alone a majority of the voting public.
Though, of course, that’s half of what Mayor Nickels somehow managed to do. He always favored a tunnel, and voters be damned, he ultimately got the governor and the legislature, who originally pushed for the less expensive rebuild, to agree to a tunnel deal, albeit an awfully bad deal for Seattle taxpayers. Call that arrogance if you want. But it’s also leadership.
And as we saw in Tuesday’s election results, we hate leadership.
In helping to end Mayor Nickels career, Mike McGinn has made blocking the tunnel one of the centerpieces of his campaign, and like him, I favor the surface/transit option, if not always for the same reasons. And if elected, I’ve little doubt that McGinn will succeed in fulfilling this campaign promise. For in Seattle, saying “no” is what we do best.
But whether a Mayor McGinn could succeed in building political consensus for his own favored alternative to the Viaduct before nature succeeds in knocking the current one down, well, that’s another question. And if he does show the leadership necessary to force his own plan into implementation, how could he possibly survive the dire political consequences of his success?