“Don’t fear the voters,” Peter Sherwin would say. The activist was unrelenting in his calls for Seattle officials to listen to the grass-roots movement to expand the city’s monorail.
John “Peter” Sherwin, an irrepressible force within Seattle’s grass-roots monorail movement, died Thursday from cancer. He was 70.
“Don’t fear the voters,” he would say, as he nurtured the dream of expanding the one-mile elevated train built for the 1962 World’s Fair into a citywide escape from traffic.
The upstart Seattle Popular Monorail Authority almost inked a $1.6 billion contract for a Ballard to West Seattle line in 2005, weathering fights over aesthetics and flimsy support by elected officials. But the proposal never overcame deeply flawed revenue projections, ultimately leading to a futile 50-year debt plan.
Mr. Sherwin ruminated about the lost opportunity while driving his blue Audi crosstown, unable to rise above it all. He disparaged traffic-slowing road diets, police decoy stings in crosswalks, and bus service he considered too unreliable for his beloved partner, Belinda Moutray. He told confidants he might file a citizen initiative to make the Seattle Department of Transportation director an elected post.
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He made use of hard-knock lessons as a campaign adviser for City Attorney Pete Holmes in 2009. Mr. Sherwin continued to host election-season parties at the Warwick Hotel.
Holmes recalls being a “babe in the woods” about city politics until Mr. Sherwin volunteered. Mr. Sherwin reminded him that the goal of bureaucracies is self-preservation, but that Holmes was inheriting a staff that were mostly “at will” employees. That insight led Holmes to re-interview 90 people, and release 13.
“Peter is one of those rare, one-in-a-million people who were completely honest with you, who never massaged you, and don’t you dare be dishonest to him,” Holmes said.
Mr. Sherwin was born Nov. 12, 1946, at Swedish Hospital to German émigrés Dr. George Schwerin, of Jewish descent, and Elsa Winners Schwerin, a Social Democratic intellectual whose first husband suffered fatal head injuries from Nazi thugs in Berlin. The couple, who left Germany in 1937, chose the name “Sherwin,” and Elsa later taught German at the University of Washington.
Peter played baseball and listened to the Seattle Rainiers radio broadcasts. He graduated from the UW and invested in business startups.
“Peter had a very cantankerous personality, but beneath he had a kind heart,” said John Macdonald, a close friend with whom Mr. Sherwin often sailed and golfed. For example, Mr. Sherwin welcomed a drug-addicted man to live for a while in his Eastlake-area house, Macdonald said.
Mr. Sherwin and attorney Cleve Stockmeyer sponsored a 2000 monorail initiative to create the Elevated Transportation Co., after a voter-approved 1997 initiative by local tour driver Dick Falkenbury and poet Grant Cogswell failed to budge City Hall. Voters in 2002 approved car-tab taxes to fund the ETC’s Green Line.
But it didn’t take long for Mr. Sherwin to chastise monorail executives. He told them they needed to immediately tackle their “serious problem” over a one-third shortfall in income. Wearing his trademark leather jacket, he offered strategic tips garnished by profanities, smoking on the sidewalk outside night meetings.
Yet he defended the elevated line to voters against a 2004 recall campaign, in the fourth of five monorail elections.
“They recognize we can’t keep second-, third- and fourth-guessing every project, or we can’t get anything done around here,” Mr. Sherwin said after that short-lived victory. By the time the project folded a year later, taxpayers had lost $124 million.
He met Moutray at a monorail event at Seattle Glassblowing Studio, while a cellist played and she sipped wine. “This is like a Fellini movie, and you’re adding another dimension,” Moutray remembers him saying.,
Mr. Sherwin’s sentimental side showed when he toppled a nest of baby birds while pruning branches, Moutray recalled. He cried, “I killed them!” but the couple managed to tie the nest with twine and remount it.
Last year between radiation therapy sessions, he watched the Chicago Cubs finally win a World Series, and the UW Huskies whip Oregon in football.
A doctor suggested a spinal tap Jan. 6. By then, Mr. Sherwin was done with drugs and longshots. He had Moutray reply by text: “I’m ready to meet the Grim Reaper, and entertain him.”