If you're the mayor of Seattle, there's plenty of reason not to pay attention to Capitol Hill. First, we're a community of renters compared with other parts of the city. As a result, residents tend to be younger, more transitory and less likely to vote. Political activism exists on the Hill, but whether it translates to pulling the lever on Election Day depends on many factors.
The WTO conference in November 1999 inspired many activists in our neighborhood and citywide to stage marches in protest against globalization policies that threatened the environment and workers' rights. When rioting broke out downtown, the Seattle Police Department, with backing from former Mayor Paul Schell, pushed an unruly element east toward Broadway, where additional confrontations erupted. Smoke bombs and chaos disturbed an otherwise peaceful neighborhood. Public outrage of the mishandling of this event became a major factor in Schell losing in the 2001 mayoral primary.
So with great hope and anticipation, I greeted the arrival of Greg Nickels in City Hall four years ago. He promised to pay more attention to individual neighborhoods, focus on basic city services and move transportation needs to the top of the city's agenda.
His willingness to shine a light on some of the problems affecting Capitol Hill really impressed me. Briefed on the issues, Mayor Nickels and the city council began formulating a plan of action.
His first achievement included studying and later proposing to extend Alcoholic Impact Areas into Capitol Hill and other city neighborhoods where public inebriation and addiction were fraying the social fabric.
When it became clear the newly renovated Cal Anderson Park, when it reopens next week, was in danger of being overrun by drug dealers and addicts, Nickels stepped up to the plate and agreed to increase security in the park. Additional police officers and a parks coordinator were stationed to enforce civil behavior and do outreach for people needing treatment or services.
And finally, whether you liked his proposal or not, Nickels unveiled a plan to revitalize Broadway by increasing the building heights to spur redevelopment of neglected sites. The city council enhanced his proposals by adopting neighborhood design guidelines and recommendations for exploring street and sidewalk revamping and a marketing plan for revitalizing the Broadway business district.
So why am I not happy with this mayor? By all accounts he's lavished more attention on our neighborhood than the past two administrations combined. My discontent is driven more by the mayor's style than the substance of his policies.
While earning my master's in public administration at the University of Washington, I learned about the importance of collaboration, working cooperatively to solve thorny problems and the necessity for open, transparent communication among policy-makers and the public.
My impression of this current administration is that in order to consolidate mayoral power, Nickels has done anything but practice these principles. He uses his aides to stonewall city employees, any accomplishment must have his name stamped over it and he is rarely gracious in his dealings with the city council, instead practicing an iron-fisted form of rule.
Perhaps one might argue that this form of governance is a necessity based on public perception, that City Hall is all process and no action, which led to intransigence and an inability to get anything done.
Still, I'm not convinced Seattle and Capitol Hill's interests are best served by a strongman who acts like his way is the only way. Witness the Nickel's total embrace of the monorail, which now teeters on the brink of extinction. Did he ever ask the hard questions about the financial solvency of the project?
His willingness to fund the Lake Union streetcar at great city expense when other more pressing issues like raising the cash to replace the viaduct and other crumbling infrastructure concerns me. And while building a viable downtown is a priority for keeping Seattle's tax base alive, the city council has stepped in to ensure that the mayor focuses on the amenities and quality of life issues that developers aren't going to offer unless they are required or negotiated by the city.
So while Greg Nickels has had his share of successes, in light of a fragile still recovering economy and crumbling infrastructure, I argue he is not the man to lead us forward.
For city residents, there are few alternatives. Regardless of the lack of name recognition of his challengers, I will consider sending a message by voting for one of them in the Sept. 20 primary. Sadly, due to the incumbent's financial advantage, and lack of a credible challenger with name recognition, it's unlikely that protest vote will make much of a difference.
Note: Sept. 20 is the primary election. For information on registering to vote, call 296-8683
Jack Hilovsky's column appears in the second issue of each month. He can be reached at editor@ capitolhilltimes.com.