Photo via PubliCola

Three months ago I shared Tom Fucoloro’s lament that “right now, the nervous pack of challengers is playing it “safe” and letting McGinn run away with the label as the most progressive and inspiring candidate on transportation issues.” Unfortunately, since I wrote that piece the situation has only gotten worse.

Tim Burgess, who is generally a friend of the kind of transit system and infrastructure improvements this blog supports, has dropped out.

Although Peter Steinbrueck told Martin he supported Link and ST3, when in front of his lesser Seattle base he stated his opposition to spending city money on studying Downtown to Ballard Light Rail.

And then when Bruce Harrell finally broke his silence on transit issues, it was to call for more parking at Rainier Valley Link stations.

Right now it appears the only McGinn challenger who isn’t openly hostile to the ideals of this blog and our readership is Senator Murray – although his constant framing of two highway expansion bills and the 99 tunnel as his greatest transportation achievements is worrying.

As a transit/livable city supporter first and a McGinn supporter second, it is disconcerting that my main issues are only being championed by one candidate.

NOTE:  I am not on the STB editorial board.  The opinions expressed above are solely my own.

60 Replies to “Transit and the Mayors Race: It’s Only Gotten Worse”

  1. Sometimes wishing something was true, doesn’t make it so. McGinn is heads above the rest of the pack when it comes to local transit.

  2. I am really worried about what happens with Murray as mayor – he already did close to a 180 on subarea equity within the space of a couple days, and according to Publicola he claimed that the state doesn’t fund local and county roads. I really want to see the video of this and hear the context…because the state had a much better percentage of state gas tax revenue go to cities/counties until Murray got his hands on the transportation committee! And Murray was no help on getting the promised MVET to save Metro service during the viaduct debate. It’s really disturbing to hear what he’s taking credit for, when we are so far from adequately funding transit and we still need real advocates in Olympia.

    1. I think it’s possible to be rabidly pro-transit and oppose subarea equity, although I find the underlying political assumptions of that position to be unconvincing. The charitable interpretation is that Sen. Murray, who is not exactly armpit-deep in city issues, criticized McGinn with a poorly crafted sound bite about the city not being able to “afford” to go it alone, and has ended up reverse-engineering a position from there. As the mayor will have little to no influence on the fate of subarea equity, I think the whole issue is not disqualifying for the job.

      However, I agree that his legislative record is not incredibly inspiring to a transit-focused environmentalist. The only unambiguously good transit legislation to come out since the RTA law in 1994 is the temporary authorization for the “Congestion Reduction Charge” a couple of years ago. Dysfunction in Olympia is not his “fault” but at the same time he hasn’t risen above it on transportation issues.

      1. As subarea equity is a board policy, the mayor would have a large impact on it.

      2. Isn’t SAE enshrined in the RTA law? It would take legislative action to remove it.

      3. Changing the subarea equity principle would take two-thirds, or 12 votes, of the 18-member Sound Transit Board.


        Also, Sound Transit is governed by RCW 81.112, which makes no mention of subarea equity that I can find.

      4. I think we can admit that subarea equity was a compromise that got us light rail, which is and will be an even more important asset when it opens North and East. Not an ideal policy. But Murray wrote his pieces with the bull in the china shop approach that supposedly describes McGinn.

        Murray obviously has a long legislative record and a couple positive wins for transit, but right now he is taking credit for huge mega-projects while missing the bigger picture regarding funding authority from Olympia for maintenance and preservation. He’s trying to have it both ways. If I were a county or city lobbyist, it would give me an aneurysm.

  3. I was at the candidates forum on Wednesday, and someone asked if you support the districting plan for council elections. Surprisingly, McGinn was the only one to say yes.

    Does anyone know what his logic is behind that (and why Steinbruck doesn’t support it)? It seems like it should be the opposite.

    1. Which forum was this?

      Oddly, Ed Murray was a major outspoken supporter of the previous districting initiative. This isn’t necessarily inconsistent with his current position, given they are two different proposals, and the one last time was led by a cadre of Democratic Party activists, while the one this time is led by well-known SOV-infrastructure supremacists, and heavily financed by an Aurora Ave businesswoman who has fought for years to stop any sort of HOV or BAT lanes on Aurora.

      Peter Steinbrueck (who I lobbied to oppose the previous initiative) was against the previous initiative.

      1. It was sponsored by the Neighborhoods Committee (I think, it was neighborhood something).

    2. I am in favor of district elections, but not the proposal on the table – I don’t like the idea of candidates running both in the primary and the general by district. Would rather mimic the school board elections which are district in the primary and citywide for the general. Likewise, I’m for fair elections, but not the proposal on the table.

      1. Kate,
        I must admit I like this as a solution for providing some of the benefits of electing the city council by district while mitigating some of the downside. On the other hand I’m not sure such a policy has gotten us a particularly functional School Board.

    3. I don’t know his logic, but my support for it comes largely because it would dilute the power of the city Council. Rather than be beholden to the same interests, they would be more easily influenced by neighborhoods. Some supporters claim this would help them fight growth. I believe it would help them gang up on each other and direct growth.

      1. Im at work, so I won’t go into too much detail, but look at cities like Cleveland and Detroit, and how screwed up their council is. There’s no way to vote out people that aren’t from your area no matter how screwed up they are. Cleveland has a felon as well as a 3x DUI driver on their council, because they pander to their area.

      2. The devil is in the details. Look at the actual districts in the proposed map. Of the seven, only two (#3 and #6) have majorities from dense areas. #2, #4, and #7 are all drawn to outnumber dense areas within their territory by adding lots and lots of quasi-suburban voters. #1 and #5 are solidly SFH-dominated. This is a map drawn to pack one type of voter and maximize the power of another. (And, yes, I know Richard Morrill drew it.)

      3. There will be another districting commission appointed in 2021. Surely, it will be a non-biased body with nobody drawing a district in order to run for it.

        Oh, and they outlaw “gerrymandering” in the initiative, so no need to worry that it will ever happen.

      4. Well, Cleveland and Detroit may be messed up, but the fact is nearly all major American cities elect councilmembers by district.

        Look at how much money has been raised in the city council races in the last few years, and how few candidates they’ve drawn. Now we have a proposal to fund these campaigns with tax revenue to enable candidates to get their message out to the whole city. I’d rather enable old-fashioned retail politics with districts.

        That said, the proposed districts do give me pause. As a Belltowner, I’m not at all comfortable with being lumped in with Magnolia.

      5. If all the money in the world can’t remove an entrenched incumbent, then cost of campaigning is a deceptive figure. Mayor McGinn spent a little over $100,000 to unseat a 2-term incumbent mayor. Supporters of Alice Woldt spent over $200,000 in their failed effort to unseat former Rep. Helen Sommers.

        Go through the election archives and find the last time an incumbent Seattle state legislator was defeated in a re-election bid.

      6. @Matt L.,

        Seattle districting has never produced any results since it has never been done.

        But if it does happen, the current city councilmembers as of 2021 will be in charge of that process.

        Define “results”. I count very few elections in which an incumbent is thrown out, except for swing districts where there is an “R” and a “D”, er “prefers G.O.P” and “prefers Democratic”. I’m not saying state reps should be elected at large, but some element of proportional representation, instead of letting the Redistricting Commission determine the balance of power, sure would be nice.

      7. Seattle districting has never produced any results since it has never been done.

        But if it does happen, the current city councilmembers as of 2021 will be in charge of that process.

        Wrong. The redistricting will be done by a commission, where only 2 of the 5 members are selected by the council, and the council has no power to amend the plan adopted by the commission.

        “Results” as I use it here means districts that are compact and contiguous, not like that monstrosity I linked to.

      8. If all the money in the world can’t remove an entrenched incumbent, then cost of campaigning is a deceptive figure.

        Think of all the intelligent, thoughtful candidates we might have if the first thing anyone who expresses interest in running is told wasn’t that in order to be a viable candidate, they need to sit down and call wealthy people they don’t know asking for $700 checks until they’ve raised $100,000.

      9. Matt L,

        If you were a political consultant, and someone came to you and asked how much it would cost to defeat Sen. Ed Murray (just as a random example) in his next re-election bid, how much would you tell her/him it would cost?

      10. The virulently anti-transit Aurora businessperson funding the districts initiative, and the “professor” who drew up the district boundaries after of a lifetime of John Bailo-level “scholarship” lambasting urban density and the very notion of public transit, are counting on liberals duping themselves into thinking this plan will represent their interests.

        Fact: Most cities with shared mayor/district-council power structures have “strong mayor” systems, in which the executive is given a great deal a latitude upon receiving input from council members. We have a “weak mayor” system, wherein the council wields its total budgetary control like a baton, and any given council member with an axe to grind can gum up the process. Handing such power over to anti-urban-stacked districts is just begging for NIMBY rule.

      11. Brent,
        Even if Districts pass, elections for city office in Seattle will still be non-partisan. That said there are darn few Republicans left in the City of Seattle and the ones who’ve been tempted to run for office have not been terribly successful even if they do tend to run to the moderate end of the spectrum.

        AFAIK the only Republican elected to local office who actually lives in Seattle is Tom Albro and he is very moderate and quite uncomfortable with the direction his party has taken in recent years.

  4. We do know where Councilmember Harrell stood on the the Highway 99 tunnel: He was completely for it.

    The Seattle Times caught Harrell in a major waffle recently. He was for settling with the Department of Justice on the Seattle Police Department’s unreasonable-use-of-force problems, until he decided he needed to run to the other side of the mayor, and is now retroactively in favor of having held out longer against settling with the Department of Justice.

    Given this outlandishly dishonest manuever by Councilmember Harrell, how long will it take before he claims in front of the right audience that Mayor McGinn didn’t do enough to fight the Highway 99 freeway tunnel?

    1. And just who would that ‘right’ audience contain when even the post turtles know that McGinn was royally crucified for his continued attempts to derail the tunnel?

  5. At what point does being “inspiring” and making a lot of noise about something give way to an effective politician who can make things happen.

    McGinn ran on one issue in his first campaign. Anti-tunnel. He failed and in fact set up a plebiscite so that his opponents could claim unfettered victory. On light rail he’s criticized costs, but his alternatives of a cheap route to West Seattle and/or Ballard seem to have fallen on deaf ears. And the proposed BAT realignment of Aurora shows no sign of a bike lane, despite that being one of the facets of his plan.

    In sum, “Mayor” McGinn seems to have no more influence on the course of transportation events than any one of us ranting in comments. At best, we hope that we can sit back and say “see I told you so” when the whole thing collapses, or else merely right light rail when they finally built a station somewhere proximate to our residences.

    1. Agree with you completely on this one, John. Murray drank the deep bore tunnel Kool-Aid by the gallon, and none of his subsequent transportation discussions have indicated to me that he gets the transit issues any better now than he did then.

    1. You are correct about the need for east-west connectivity, and your description of the lackluster, at-grade-compromised Ballard routing options presented yesterday as “disjointed incrementalism” is so good that I’m going to start using it.

      But the idea of employing the far-west BNSF tracks for anything resembling urban transport is so harebrained that it detracts from your other excellent points merely by sharing their paragraph. It is well understood that the poor station siting and the backtracking required for nearly anyone to use a BNSF routing render it not worthwhile.

      1. There were two fully grade separated options yesterday, and as staff said many times, they intend to mix and match.

      2. The Ballard stop on the Sounder route is already approved, but not funded. It would be an intermediate stop between Edmonds and King St Station. Nothing harebrained about that.

      3. Kate:

        The Sounder stop has not been funded because, as a commuter station, it would only run two trains a day to a location far from the center of downtown, at a time of day when express buses run at a competitive pace in the same direction without requiring a 15-minute backtrack on foot from the populated parts of Ballard.

        You would be exceedingly unlikely to get permission from BNSF to run any sort of frequent service on their existing tracks, and even if you could, the pedestrian backtrack on both ends would remain an overwhelming disadvantage.

        I have frequently contended on these pages that your east-west subway proposal to connect to the primary Link line is, by contrast, very good policy. In that case, the minor cost of out-of-direction on an end-to-end trip travel is justified by the density of destinations along both the east-west and UW-downtown segments, which exponentially increase the origin-destination possibilities and offer direct access to a large, populated area. But crucially, and unlike your West Ballard suggestion, it does so without a significant pedestrian access penalty.

        I actually enjoy your creative thinking about these things, so please do not be defensive about the above contrast. But while many independent thinkers feel as I do about the east-west proposal, there is near-universal consensus that the BNSF proposal is silly.


        I was glad to see the two fully grade-separated proposals yesterday. I am aware of the stated “mix and match” intention, which prompts worry when one notices some of the odd and counterproductive “mixing and matching” that has already been considered — how they arrived at the silliness cocktails in Options 1 and 6 is anybody’s guess. Kate’s description of “disjointed incrementalism” was especially on the nose about those two.

        I would feel a lot better about the current proposals if we could draw immediate lines in the sand about certain deleterious elements.

      4. It’s worth remembering that Sounder North and Sounder South do not perform the same. Sounder South is significantly more successful, goes through larger population centers with larger cachements areas on both sides, and has more track capacity to expand frequency. That’s part of the reason why investing in a Ballard station has been such low priority.

  6. All this backtracking on transportation is indicative of just how weak all the candidates perceive McGinn to be. It’s generally recognized that whoever survives the primary will face McGinn in the general, and that any of the challengers (except potentially for Steinbrueck) would beat McGinn in a head-to-head contest. So right now all the candidates are playing it safe and staying away from anything bold or controversial.

    Hence little to no “vision” from any of them, because “vision” opens you up to criticism and possible ridicule, and “vision” divides the electorate into believers and anti’s. In an n-way race “vision” becomes a path to defeat.

    That said, there is a lot of room to the pro side of McGinn on transpo. McGinn lost the electorate when he switched from anti-DBT to “I won’t fight the DBT” to “I am going to use the office of the mayor to fight the DBT.” The electorate handed him his head on that one by a wide margin, and the majority aren’t in the “more sharrows” camp either.

    All a candidate would need to do to beat McGinn on transpo in the general is: 1) remind the voters of the DBT debacle, 2) remind the voters that McGinn hasn’t really accomplished anything “brick and mortar” in transpo, 3) show a bunch of pictures of sharrows and green boxes while saying “McGinn” over and over again, and then 4) promise to actually do something.

    1. Aye, aside from the Transit Master Plan, accelerating HCT to Ballard, accelerating the Aloha Extension, Center City Connector (and making sure exclusive right of way was included), and UW-SLU HCT studies, pushing Sound Transit to start their ST3 studies 5 years ahead of schedule (based on pre recession time line, who knows when they would have actually started) and pushing ST for a 2016 vote, what’s McGinn ever done for us?!?!

      1. Lot’s of planning, talk and paperwork. Pretty light on bricks and mortar.


        McGinn is the mayor in a weak mayor/strong council system that LOVES process. He’s not a dictator. There is very little brick and mortar stuff he had the power to do in his first term (especially after the Council watered down Prop 1 to the point of failure). By getting these long term infastructure projects started, he’s set the stage for later ‘brick and mortar’ work.

        Would you rather someone who DIDN’T get these projects started?

      3. @Seattlite,

        Actually, it might seem that Seattle has a weak mayor-council form of government, but Seattle actually has a “strong mayor-council form of government. It’s just that our mayors don’t always use the powers given to them by the city charter.

        Nickels was the exception, he actually used a lot of the powers given to him, and he got compared to Daley and accused of “Chicago politics” for doing it — but he was much more effective than what we have now. And he got us ST2

      4. Lazarus: The council maintains total budgetary control, to the point where the mayor really cannot any enact any agenda or make any significant changes in policy without council approval. This is the crux of “weak” versus “strong” mayoral arrangements.

      5. William,
        Big transportation projects being what they are, especially when they don’t involve more capacity for SOVs, require the “planning, talk, and paperwork” be done before you can move on to the bricks and mortar. This is especially true in the Seattle area as we are rather infamous for our “process”.

    2. Murray has a shot of beating McGinn head to head, but I’m not sure about the others. Harrell????

  7. Is it wrong that I wanted to punch the Steinbrueck rep at the Ballard open house? Just on general principles. Steinbrueck is going to make a fine mayor of 1980s Bellevue.

  8. I voted for Mike McGinn because the better-qualified candidate I previously supported ran his primary campaign as though he either thought he had the job in the bag or as though he didn’t really relish the job-second point highly understandable that year.

    His current opponents would have had a better chance at my vote if any of them had run against him last election. Could be a matter of age, but I suspect more people vote more on this kind gut-level feeling than on parking policy.

    Mark Dublin

  9. My problem with Murray is that he seems to want to be a discussion facilitator for the entire Puget Sound region rather than Mayor of Seattle, so you get him saying things like this after the city council recently nixed funding for a study of a new ship canal crossing for rail:

    State Sen. Ed Murray, who chaired the House Transportation Committee for four years and also is in the race for mayor, said he doesn’t think it should be an either/or discussion of rail versus bus.

    “Mode wars are counterproductive,” Murray said. “What’s going to move the most people with the best connections? It’s a discussion we need to have with the entire region.”

    1. Murray has said plenty of dumb things about public transportation. This is not one of them.

      1. Why not? When he says “It’s a discussion we need to have with the entire region”, I hear 1) we need another layer of process and 2) Our transit infrastructure should prioritize long-distance suburban commutes.

      2. I hear what you’re saying, and your sentiments reflect my overall feelings about Murray’s past statements endorsing regionalism at the expense of true urban needs.

        But the actual quotation above spells out a basic principle of transit functionality that I’m surprised to see any politician — much less Murray — articulate so clearly and succinctly. Transit does need to be conceived as a holistic network that permits people to get from place to place, using the best-fitting tools available for each component segment of that. We are silly to fetishize random spindles of rail (and worse, poorly implemented segments of rail) that contribute little to the goal of improved mobility for anyone — the “disjointed incrementalism” Kate Martin described.

        I’m not a Murray supporter, and I don’t think he takes the right approach to implementing these principles on the ground (especially if he tends towards added layers of process). But he clearly understands that one root principle, which many in Seattle’s transit conversation do not.

    2. My problem with Murray is that he seems to want to be a discussion facilitator for the entire Puget Sound region rather than Mayor of Seattle

      I also find it very disturbing that he seems to prioritize the interests of the suburbs. I can only assume he is so used to having to horse-trade with suburban legislators that he has forgotten how to baldly assert the city’s interests. Not something I want in a mayor of Seattle.

      We are already well down the path of building good transit to link Seattle to most of its suburbs. By contrast, there are three huge areas of Seattle proper (NW, N, SW) that we haven’t thought about at all, beyond repainting a few buses red and adding a bit of TSP.

      1. Isn’t it obvious? Murray doesn’t want to be mayor. He wants to be governor some day.

    3. A desire for endless discussion is not something I’ve ever seen Ed Murray be guilty of. Rather, his penchance for making up his mind, not listening to constituents, and trying to run roughshod over opposition, while not giving a darn if anyone takes offense when he opens his big mouth, has been much more his style.

      Sometimes, this gets results. Sometimes, it can backfire in dramatic ways, like throwing the State Senate to the Republicans because he couldn’t have a civil well-thought-out discussion with a detractor in his caucus. So instead of privately negotiating, Murray very publicly told him off. But his famous temper trantrums are so last year. This year, he is into “collaboration”.

      Ed sure has no room to go after Mayor McGinn on style issues.

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