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[UPDATE: Ungratefully, I’ve already managed to take for granted successful negotiations with the Amalgamated Transit Union to accept a labor cost freeze that saves 130,000 hours a year of bus service. So make that three accomplishments.]

It’s time to recognize the quiet accomplishments of County Executive Dow Constantine. In his short time in office, he’s had two three significant transit-related political achievements: unanimous adoption of Metro’s new service allocation guidance, which banished the hated 40/40/20 rule; and a 7-2 vote in favor of a temporary tax increase to maintain Metro’s service level, avoiding potential failure at the ballot box and buying time for a long-term solution. For good measure, he also threw in elimination of the Ride Free Area, about which many transit reformers are cautiously optimistic.

To not only achieve these things, but obtain broad consensus for them, is a significant political achievement. The next battle will be in Olympia, and here’s hoping he’s able to match his local success there.

21 Replies to “On Dow Constantine”

  1. This is what happens when we manage to elect a smart, principled urban planner to an executive office. Pretty much the only thing I have disagreed with him on is the tunnel, and even with that I have to say he does the best job of anyone presenting an articulate defense of the project. Instead of platitudes like “let’s move forward” or invoking gridlock, he makes a nuanced statement about importance of freight mobility. I can at least respect his reasoning.

    I really hope Dow runs for Governor eventually. I think he has the best combination of political savvy and governing skills I have seen in a long time, plus he has a real understanding of how to plan for good land use and transportation.

    1. +1. I’ve thought since just about his first act in office that he’s heading for a bigger stage—as opposed to a certain mayor elected around the same time.

      1. On Mayor McGinn, Mayors are on the front lines of all the problems in the country. They have almost no power to raise taxes and all of the problems: homelessness, drug abuse, rising energy costs, climate change, population increases and in general greater demands for city services. All during a time of economic change that is huge.

        We are actually really lucky to have McGinn. He’s way out in front on the issues. The problem is he hasn’t been able to move the citizens along with him. But he’s getting better at not being a huge lighting rod for the “stay the same” crowd while still moving us in the right direction.

      2. I would say that Constantine is a quiet “doer” and McGinn is a loud “talker.” Constantine has accomplished a huge amount in his time as executive and has successfully used his position to get his way on the Council, and will be able to point to those accomplishments in the future. Unfortunately McGinn has made a lot of good speeches but hasn’t gotten much done and has not bullied the council in a productive way. I actually like the strong mayor system because it allows a strong executive the leeway to “get stuff done,” and the council acts in more of an advisory role to make sure stuff doesn’t go too far. Right now in Seattle the Council is on top and the Mayor is marginalized, which is not a good way to run government. It ends up being government run by committee. Constantine has been very forceful, especially lately with his strong remarks on the radio against the council (for considering sending the $20 VLF to the voters) and against Kemper Freeman and Tim Eyman.

      3. Gary, I have few problems with Mike McGinn’s positions. It’s his and his team’s complete lack of political acumen, total unwillingness to build consensus, and generally bumbling ways that constitute the problem.

        No, it’s not easy being mayor in our form of government or in this economy. But it is still possible to succeed, and he’s done nothing to make it any easier on himself.

  2. On the Tunnel, I suspect that Dow just doesn’t want to get in front of this issue. It’s a hot potato with the downtown business group and the Seattle voters. So he’s staying far away. It’s a no win situation for the King County Executive.

    I’ve heard him speak, and he’s smart and articulate. Probably would make a good governor. But it’ll be 8 years before he has a chance at it. Maybe Murray will retire from the Senate first and he’ll go for that job.

    1. Ok, I take that senate run back. Murray’s term ends in 2013, She’ll be 63, runs one more time, that’s 8 more years. Dow will be 60. He’s better off looking for an open House of Rep. Seat, or an appointment to a Cabinet level job. I can’t see him running for a part time lawmaker’s job in Olympia. And he’s not running this time for Attorney General.

      So here’s hoping he stays satisfied with the King County Exec’s job. Get’s smart on transportation issues and social services and keeps King County working and moving. He could do a lot worse.

      1. Dow’s already been in the legislature. If he goes back to Olympia it will be as Governor. He could also decide to keep running for KC executive like Sims or Spellman.

      2. He seems like a much more natural executive than a legislator. He’s really grown into this role so I would like to see him either stay with the county or move onto either Governor or Mayor of Seattle.

  3. Too bad Mallahan didn’t get elected for Seattle Mayor. I think the two of them working together would’ve brought great things for this region. Maybe if Mark Sidran runs for Mayor…

    1. I don’t think Malahan was up to the job. His campaign staff didn’t have very nice things to say about him when the election was over.

  4. Dow is a great leader. King County is fortunate that he was elected. Remember Susan Hutchison? Please, please, don’t let Robbie McKenna be elected governor. Please.

  5. 1) bus, 2) bus, and 3) bus. I don’t see rail in there anywhere. I realize that his job description puts Metro more on his turf, but there is still a lot he can do for rail.

    Instead, he came out very publicly for the tunnel, at a time when Ben’s team was landing some blows, and his statements on the issue seemed to clearly outline a general position of containment regarding rail. As far as the unions, you can make a reasonable case for a freeze during times of duress, however it’s also true that we need those strong wages propping up the rest of the economy. That’s what unions are for.

    I remember when SEIU announced his support for him, I was at a complete loss for why (other than legislative experience-I’ll certainly agree that’s important). I asked SEIU what their thinking was, and to their credit they replied that they were simply following through on the wishes of their membership.

    But for my own .02, he just comes across as yet another Democratic politician who tries to act hip and promises change, but once in office religously serves and re-entrenches conventional wisdom.

    I don’t mean to sound so negative, and would be happy to be proved wrong. But Jesus, once you hit your early 40s, haven’t you seen enough of these types to recognize them a mile away?

    1. Well, the ATU deal affects rail as well.

      Constantine has a big role shaping the Sound Transit Board, but there just hasn’t been a lot of clear pro or anti rail decisions to make recently, since he inherited ST2.

      I’ve slammed him over his tunnel rhetoric in the past. It doesn’t detract from the fact that he’s gotten a lot done to improve the transit situation in agencies he controls.

      1. Yeah, I’m totally eating my words on Dow this week.

        Last week’s compromise has the potential to totally reshape how Metro goes about its business. That he got 7 of 9 on board, given the region’s polarized transit-policy climate, is a near-miracle. I really didn’t think he had it in him, and I’m truly impressed!

      2. Well thanks Martin for highlighting that for me; perhaps in the future we’ll have clear and compelling reasons to celebrate him moving the ball foward on rail.

  6. You could add the favorable outcome of the tunnel “referendum” to the list, although this blog seems to be dominated by “write about the surface option until the tunnel is opened” folks vs. recognizing that a decision has been made and making the best of the decision that’s been made. See: http://crosscut.com/2011/08/16/transportation/21207/Deeply-boring:-Moving-on-from-tunnel-fatigue/ for some ideas on where to channel energy: land use and zoning around light rail stations. Let’s all hope that completion happens before the next major earthquake.

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