Monday's 5-4 favorable vote on an anti-aggressive-panhandling law was a bad moment for city government. Six votes are needed to override the expected veto from Mayor Mike McGinn. He is proving to be a rudderless leader who continues to misstep as the city's chief executive officer.
WHEN Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is not trying to block the planned deep-bore tunnel to replace the viaduct, or attempting to torpedo a hard-fought deal on a new Highway 520 bridge, the mayoral dust storm is working not to make city streets safer and more welcoming for businesses and customers.
What were we thinking, Seattle, when we elected McGinn as the city’s chief executive officer? In four months, he has demonstrated a lack of listening skills and a political compass to guide him.
Top leaders hire smart people and pay attention to their wise counsel. McGinn is a rudderless executive who cannot move out of campaign/rebel mode to managing mode. This is a complicated city with dicey budget troubles.
The panhandling law McGinn would veto offers police a way to restore a more sensible code of conduct on city streets. People who avoid downtown for fear of personal safety spend money elsewhere. Revenue generated downtown pays for a variety of city services, libraries, parks and, yes, the city’s contribution to homeless shelters.
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McGinn’s planned veto is just plain boneheaded. He will get the political win, only in the sense that he one-ups Councilmember Tim Burgess, a potential rival — to the detriment of citizens. Burgess worked tirelessly to craft anti-aggressive-panhandling legislation that provided a useful tool for police. The city truly does need to bring a new sense of civility to downtown and neighborhood business districts.
Every individual aggressively panhandled in the months ahead should blame McGinn for not understanding the way many people feel about personal safety.
Letter writers and e-mailers cite story after story of a group of visitors from Whidbey Island harassed by a few panhandlers while traveling from a jazz club to their car; of a panhandler putting the arm on an individual standing at a cash machine on First Hill; of women in high heels or elderly folks who move slower who give up on downtown because they are asked for money so aggressively.
Councilmember Bruce Harrell flipped from a supporter of the new law to a no vote. He could not get his mind around the danger people smaller in stature, older or less mobile feel in compromised situations. He repeatedly said no one has ever panhandled him at a cash machine.
Harrell is large man, a former University of Washington football player. His inability to feel the vulnerabilities of others marks a bad moment for him.
Councilmember Tom Rasmussen also changed course. His statements before the council were hard to follow.
Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who says he and the mayor rarely disagree on policy issues, sent an emphatic e-mail to reporters Friday saying he liked certain refinements and would support the law. Asked if his change of heart would last through the weekend, he said, “I am not changing my opinion.”
He must have meant until his ventriloquist, McGinn, piped in. By Monday, he changed his mind. What a rank amateur.
Councilmember Nick Licata is often the council contrarian and he was in natural form. It does matter when voters elect and re-elect him.
The council had been the antidote to the sometimes off-the-wall new mayor. Not this week. The mayor missteps dramatically by planning to veto useful legislation. The four council no votes turned their backs on those who want to make downtown and other neighborhoods safe and welcoming to all.