We need a mayor who understands that Seattle’s current blessings are not granted in perpetuity. That we are, quite to the contrary, at a tipping point.
THE upcoming mayoral election finds Seattle facing choices that may well determine our economic fate and social makeup for decades to come. Such times demand leadership with a clear, realistic, passionate view of the Emerald City’s future, and the skills to bring this vision to life.
We need a mayor who understands that Seattle’s current blessings are not granted in perpetuity. That we are, quite to the contrary, at a tipping point. The city needs someone who can chart and navigate an innovative new course to nurture the sources of our prosperity while improving livability for all residents.
This is a golden time for Seattle. Our booming economy, led by the technology, hospitality, tourism, maritime and health-care sectors, has pushed unemployment to the 3 percent range, a full point below the national rate. The median household income for Seattle residents tops $80,000, compared to the U.S. average of about $58,000.
This expansion has brought attendant problems. Perhaps the most glaring of these is Seattle’s housing costs, which are pricing low-income and even many middle-income residents out of the city.
Seattle’s chronic homelessness problem continues seemingly unabated despite city spending. We need a fresh approach. The new policies should include continued efforts to provide what is needed to help the homeless get off the streets and rebuild their lives. There should be incentives for homeless residents to use existing shelters and disincentives to live in parks and public places.
We have the fourth worst traffic in America, and the second worst afternoon rush hour, according to a 2016 study by the TomTom navigation company. Seattle needs to dramatically up its traffic game through the adoption of new technologies and new thinking at the Seattle Department of Transportation. This must be done while striking a realistic balance among the needs of automobiles, transit, pedestrians and bicyclists.
Such problems have prompted justified concern that we are becoming a glittering city of a fortunate few at risk of losing its soul as the middle and lower socioeconomic classes are squeezed out, taking with them invaluable social and economic diversity.
These challenges and worries are familiar to any city that has experienced explosive growth. But in our well-intentioned effort to avoid becoming another San Francisco, we can’t allow ourselves to become the next Leningrad.
Enacting laws that hobble business owners’ ability to operate effectively and imposing controversial taxes on a narrowly targeted segment of city residents may appear “progressive.” Ultimately, they are facile actions that will hurt the city.
I came to a startling realization during my work on the mayoral commission that crafted the city’s phased-in $15 minimum wage. Seattle’s elected leadership must gain some perspective on what it takes to successfully operate a business. This is a critical qualification for those charged with balancing the needs of the citizenry and commerce.
This weakness was evident in the council’s unanimous adoption of a “secure scheduling” law, which requires many businesses to post work schedules two weeks in advance and pay compensatory wages when schedules are modified after being posted. This measure is particularly onerous to the city’s hospitality industry, where staffing needs fluctuate based on last-minute events, like a Seahawks playoff win.
Perhaps most troubling is the council’s recent 9-0 vote to impose a municipal income tax on residents earning $250,000 or more annually. It was wrong because it could run afoul of Washington’s state constitution, and it’s wrong because advocates initially offered no concrete reason for the tax other than supposedly providing “a new formula for fairness.” Supporters eventually declared that the new revenue would be used to soften the impact of possible cuts in federal aid. No matter how well intentioned, such a ready-fire-aim approach is no way to make thoughtful, successful long-term public policy.
Without a mayor who has a more effective vision, and the strength to stand up to the council, this dangerous trend will continue. Among the ideas being floated at City Hall is rent control, a sure path to a stagnant and degraded housing stock.
Our new mayor must have the willingness and skill to use the office to bring all segments of the community together to solve our collective issues. She should champion public-private partnerships and policies that give every side all of what they need, and some of what they want. That approach served Seattle well in the late 1990s. Then Mayor Norm Rice and the council partnered with developers to create Pacific Place, the urban shopping center that revitalized the retail core, moved Nordstrom into its present flagship site and built Westlake Park.
If Seattle is to make the right choices, we need a mayor who will lead — not jump on the loudest bandwagon or kowtow to council majorities. As Martin Luther King Jr. observed, “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus.”
Amen to that.