At last Friday’s Greenwood-Phinney Chamber of Commerce monthly meeting, a number of candidates joined the group to discuss why they’re running for office.
Mayoral candidates included Jan Drago, Michael McGinn and Norman Zadok Sigler. City Council Position 2 incumbent Richard Conlin joined Rusty Williams, Robert Rosencrantz and Bobby Forch, who are all running for City Council Position 8. County Executive candidates included Ross Hunter, Fred Jarrett and Larry Phillips.
Current Port Commissioner Lloyd Hara is running for King County Assessor. That office is not on the primary ballot, but will be on the general election ballot in November.
Candidates work the room at the packed Greenwood-Phinney Chamber of Commerce meeting last Friday.
With that many candidates and just one hour, there wasn’t time to go too in depth. Each candidate was allowed 60 seconds (but some took much longer) to state what office they were running for and why. Then Chamber President Steve Giliberto asked the candidates their positions and reasoning for several hot issues. (Not everyone spoke on every issue, and my fingers couldn’t type fast enough to catch everyone’s statements, so not every candidate is equally represented in this post.)
Current County Council member Larry Phillips said he is running for County Executive because he wants to rebuild the economy. And while he likes the “Seattle process” in many ways, “We have a tendency in this town to analyze, reanalyze and paralyze,” he said. Commenting on it taking Seattle 40 years to get light rail, he said, “yes to process but no to delays.”
State Rep. Ross Hunter says we need to re-imagine our entire regional government system. He wants to reorganize county government to provide regional services, not local services that are best left to the cities. As county executive, he would build better partnerships with cities to make sure everyone is working in tandem.
But he said he’s not afraid to make the hard decisions. “I have a level of impatience that is not native to the Pacific Northwest,” Hunter said to laughter. He said he would listen to all constituent groups, but then try to move forward with decisions so the county is not paralyzed with indecision.
State Rep. Fred Jarrett is a former mayor of Mercer Island and worked hard to get the I-90 bridge built and was a leading force behind Sound Transit. He said he’s also frustrated by how long it can take to get important things done.
Mayoral candidate and current City Council member Jan Drago said she is the only one of the nine candidates with both private business and public service experience. While growing up, her family ran a Christmas tree farm, and while still in high school she owned a Tastee Freeze franchise. She moved to Washington in 1980 and opened the state’s first Haagen Dazs franchise.
While often agreeing with current Mayor Greg Nickels, she takes issue with his top-down style, and cited Nickels’ firing of Department of Neighborhoods Director Jim Diers as one of Nickels’ first official duties eight years ago. Drago said firing Diers “decimated neighborhoods and the Neighborhood Matching Fund.”
Norman Zadok Sigler has a strong background in contracts and budgets, most notably as Manager of Finance and Contracts for the Maintenance Division of Alaska Airlines, where he oversaw a $250 million maintenance budget. He says one of the first things the city needs to do is renegotiate its contracts, because in a down economy, there are better deals to be had.
“We can’t expect government to solve all of our problems. It’s expensive and not going to work,” he said. “I’m proposing that we agree to disagree but we need to move forward.”
Sigler wants transit that provides better east-west connectivity, and better neighborhood connector bus service so that residents of Phinney can travel to Capitol Hill without having to transfer several times.
And he wants better communication with city residents. “There’s nothing the smart people of Seattle can’t understand if we give them the right information,” Sigler said.
Mayoral candidate Mike McGinn was a lawyer in private practice for 13 years, also volunteering for a variety of organizations (the Sierra Club and the Greenwood Community Council), before founding Seattle Great City Initiative. McGinn said he’s worked for years on neighborhood issues such as sidewalks, street trees, parks, and a more vibrant business district for Greenwood and Phinney.
“I’ve also demonstrated the ability to stand up to people in power and say, look, we’re going in the wrong direction,” he said. He pushed for the recent successful Parks Levy, which passed over Mayor Nickels’ objections, and for separating transit from a roads-heavy levy.
“I’m probably known as that guy in the race who’s against the tunnel,” he said, explaining that the tunnel’s cost is equal to all the other special levies in the city. “If we put all our taxing money in the tunnel, we’re not going to have the money we need for other things. We need to make better choices for our future.”
Port Commissioner Lloyd Hara said he’s running for King County Assessor because he wants to make sure that all of the county’s 660,000 properties are assessed fairly and equitably. He said the number of assessment appeals went up from 3,000 to 12,000 this year. “There’s no reason for that,” he said. “We need to get to the place where you can rest assured that the system is assessing properties properly.”
City Council Position 2 incumbent Richard Conlin only has one opponent in the primary, so, because it’s a Top Two primary, we won’t vote on that race until November. As council president, Conlin said he worked hard to help the Phinney Neighborhood Association purchase its long-time rental home from the Seattle School District.
And as a former small business owner, “I know what it’s like to have to work with payroll, I know what it’s like to stay up late going over budgets and wondering whether to pay employees or take the money myself for my own salary, and, you know, you have to pay your employees first.”
As a council member, he knows all about Seattle “process,” but explains, “you have to make the right decision, not the hasty decision.”
City Council Position 8 candidate Rusty Williams is a lifelong Seattleite and a small businessman. “The big elephant in the living room is the economy,” he said. “We are not the federal government, we cannot print money, we cannot do Cash for Clunkers. But we can do something.”
He said we need to keep taxes low for small businesses so they can grow. “Small business will get us out of this more than any other thing,” Williams said.
City Council Position 8 candidate Bobby Forch is currently a strategic advisor in the Major Projects Division of the Seattle Department of Transportation. He calls himself a “job advocate.” “Small businesses are having a really tough time,” he said. “I think the base of a neighborhood is small business and jobs.”
He said he started his work life as a laborer, and eventually worked his way up to city contractor, managing millions of dollars of contracts. “I’m running because of you,” he told the chamber members.
He said the good news is that because of the down economy, bids for city services are coming in 20-30 percent less than in the good times. “So we’re getting value,” he said, but added that we have to start making decisions on bigger spending. “As we wait and delay, the cost gets bigger, not just the dollar cost, but all the other costs associated with it. We gotta move. If we don’t move, we essentially lose.”
City Council Position 8 candidate Robert Rosencrantz said he knows the Phinney-Greenwood neighborhood well, because years ago he and his wife bought an apartment building at 71st and Greenwood. “And we bought our hot water tanks from Greenwood Hardware, and we still do.”
Rosencrantz is running for city council to help grow the economy and make it easier on small business owners. He wants to double the Business and Occupation tax exemption. “I’m running for city council to create opportunity,” he said.
He added that the city too often lets citizens down in providing services and charging too much. He doesn’t think the city should take money and then expect neighborhoods to ask for it back. For example, parking meter revenue should stay in the neighborhoods where it’s collected. “Empower the neighborhoods. Let them know they actually have a seat at the table,” Rosencrantz said.
While he’s not a fan of the Viaduct replacement tunnel, Rosencrantz said it’s now state law and he has a plan to come up with a way to deal with cost overruns.
Chamber President Steve Giliberto asked the candidates about the controversial Bag Fee, which would charge consumers 20 cents for every plastic and paper bag used at grocery and convenience stores.
“It’s going to save us all money if we go to reusable bags,” McGinn said. “We use these things to change behavior. It’s called ‘induced demand.’ We need to break the cycle of consumption.”
Williams said he’s had a hard time deciding on the bag tax, but right now he’s against it.
Conlin said we need to treat waste as a resource, instead of something that’s just thrown away. “The whole point of the bag fee is to use the economic system in the way it should be used, to influence behavior,” he said. “We need to help people make the right kinds of decisions.”
Conlin said San Francisco did a study that showed every plastic bag used in the city cost the city 17 cents, from litter pick up to recycling, to cleaning up stray bags in the bay, to bags stuck in the recycling machinery.