Election 2009: 14 council candidates on 1 West Seattle stage

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

There were moments of humor and moments of tension as 14 of the 16 candidates running for four Seattle City Council seats fanned out across several tables at center stage in the ArtsWest theater this evening.

(iPhone shot courtesy Chas Redmond – taken before Nick Licata arrived)
First – it’s become clear that for many West Seattleites, transportation is the hottest issue of all. That was one of the first questions to the candidates – listen to this audio clip as they take up to 1 minute each to discuss it (the first voice is Council President Richard Conlin, the others are each identified in turn):

Now, as for what else was said – read on:

For the record: The only ones not in attendance were Brian Carver, one of five running for the seat mayoral candidate Jan Drago is leaving (Position 4), and Jessie Israel, one of three candidates in the race for Nick Licata‘s seat (Position 6). Licata himself arrived late, about one-third of the way through the hour-and-a-half-long event. But it was no small achievement for the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce to muster such a big lineup, holding spots at the tables even for a few who didn’t commit till hours before the forum. (If you need a full scorecard for who’s running for what, here’s the official list.)

And moderator CR Douglas – a longtime local broadcaster currently best known for his work on the Seattle Channel – kept it moving.

The candidates were in largely good humor, maybe thanks in part to the pleasantly air-conditioned comfort of the theater, despite the fact the audience only outnumbered them by a ratio of about three to one – lots of distractions on a warm, clear night.

Like so many forums, this one included “lightning-round” questioning, in which the participants were under orders to write their replies on a sheet of paper and hold them up. Two questions led to good-natured joking – “name West Seattle’s 7 business districts” (nobody got all seven correct – we’ll admit even we missed one) – and Rusty Williams, who works as a commercial realtor in West Seattle (though he lives elsewhere), insisted repeatedly throughout the rest of the program that it’s “Alaska Junction,” not “West Seattle Junction.” A few others seemed designed simply as raw tests of West Seattle neighborhood knowledge — “does West Seattle have a hospital?” — “is Alki a neighborhood or a tourist destination?” (A few declared it to be both, but no one described it as only for tourists.)

One lightning-round question brought a fleeting moment of tension: The two contenders for Position 2, City Council President Richard Conlin and High Point resident David Ginsberg, both refused to say whether they thought Mayor Nickels should be re-elected. Answering the same question, Bobby Forch drew a question mark on his sheet of paper; the moment then turned humorous when Robert Rosencrantz drew what he explained was a waffle.

Do they support Seattle annexing White Center? (Ostensibly the section that’ll remain unincorporated if the Burien annexation vote for the North Highline South area passes in August.) Three said “yes” — Conlin, David Bloom, and Mike O’Brien.

O’Brien was a minority of one for the next question: Do you support parking meters in The Junction? He’s the only one who said “yes.” (He explained in his closing statement that the fact street parking in the area is often full means it’s not “priced” appropriately: “If the on-street parking is full, we need to price it so there’s always a spot for someone who wants to come to your business.” Miller promptly retorted that it sounds good in theory but would drive shoppers to other places where they could park free, like large shopping centers.)

Another car-related question: Should the red-light-camera program — which currently has two cameras in West Seattle, at 35th/Avalon and 35th/Thistle — be expanded? More than half said yes (Conlin, Ginsberg, Bagshaw, Forch, Jordan Royer, O’Brien, David Miller, Williams).

All but four indicated they support the bored-tunnel plan to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct‘s Central Waterfront section – those “no” replies came from Ginsberg, Thomas Tobin, Bloom and O’Brien. All but two said they’re for overturning the so-called “head tax” on employees – Dorsol Plants and O’Brien said “no.”

As you might expect at a forum sponsored by a business group, that wasn’t the only business-related question. All 14 were asked how they’d make a “better environment for small business.” In short, here are their key points:

Plants: Assign a “small business liaison” to every Chamber of Commerce in the city – someone to guide businesses through the tax rules and permit process

Bloom: Develop an Office of Small Business Development, and “do more to promote small business”

Bagshaw: Make it easier to get permits, review the tax system, support “minority and women” businesses, and work with local Chambers of Commerce

Tobin: Review business taxes

Ginsberg: Refocus on promoting locally owned small business

Conlin: Repeal the “head tax,” reshape the Office of Economic Development, have a “Buy Local” campaign

Kaplan: Extend the downtown “Metropolitan Improvement District” concept to neighborhood business districts

Licata: Focus on public safety and walkability

Forch: Have a “small business” department inside the Office of Economic Development

Royer: “Get out of the way”

O’Brien: Reallocate resources so it’s not all focused on large business

Miller: Create a “one-stop shop” where small businesses can “get going”

Williams (after joking that “speaking 13th, it’s hard to come up with something unique”): Get out of business’s way

Rosencrantz: Give the neighborhoods more say (such as, he said, no parking meters unless the neighborhood council votes for them and the neighborhood gets part of the revenue)

The group also was asked for thoughts on what to do with the former Huling auto-dealership properties that line so much of the Fauntleroy Way “gateway to West Seattle.” Many suggested the city needed to get involved; Williams called the sites a “gleaming opportunity for us to build the 21st century urban village”; Miller said the neighborhood plan should be used for guidance. O’Brien thought city “flexibility” could help the area become “a place that’s not built around the automobile, where someone could live with fewer autos or no auto”; Plants stressed consulting with the current neighborhood plan – “I don’t need to be sitting all high and mighty telling you what you can do with your neighborhood.” Licata said the sites seemed ideal for “signature development” — housing and retail.

Other lightning-round questions included:

Do you support the bag fee? (Seattle Referendum 1, on next month’s ballot)
Ginsberg, Tobin, Bagshaw, Royer, Rosencrantz said no; everyone else said yes.

Does Seattle need a new jail?
Unanimous “no.”

Do you support the proposal to elect some City Council members by district?
Six said “no” – Conlin, Tobin, Bagshaw, Kaplan, Royer, Rosencrantz.

At about 20 till 7, each was given a minute for a closing statement on why they’re running. Here’s our brief takeaways from those statements:

Conlin – To keep being “persistent, thoughtful,” to “take care of people”

Ginsberg (after thanking Conlin, who he was sitting next to, “for his 12 years of service on the Council) – Because the council has been “bogged down in process .. talking about things that aren’t on the forefront of people’s minds”

Tobin: Because government’s losing its grip on what matters to people

Bagshaw: Wants to unite people and solve problems

Bloom: To bring the voice of “ordinary working people” into government

Plants: To get government out of the way so that “the people who know” can do their jobs

Kaplan: To fix the economy by building it

Licata: So the council will respond to “all the neighborhoods, not just a few”

Forch: Jobs, jobs, jobs

Royer: Wants to be “the guy you call when you need something done in your neighborhood”

O’Brien: City needs someone with a background in finance, which he has

Miller: Wants to help the city “grow responsibly”

Williams: Wants to keep the city budget tight in these tough times

Rosencrantz: Wants to restore the balance of power between the council and mayor and between government and neighborhoods

Positions 4, 6 and 8 are on the August ballot; Conlin and Ginsberg in Position 2 automatically move on to the November election, since there’s no third candidate in that race. We’re continuing to take a closer look at council candidates here on WSB, too, as well as covering events like this; watch our Politics coverage archive for more.

8 Replies to "Election 2009: 14 council candidates on 1 West Seattle stage"

  • Sage July 22, 2009 (7:52 am)

    I was in attendance at the forum and this is a great report. I do wish there had been follow-ups allowed or audience questions, however. It was amazing to me how much talk there was about improvements to city services without any talk of revenue sources. In fact, the only time taxes & fees came up, the talk was about lowering them. This is especially missing the boat on transportation, where we’re slated for huge service cuts by Metro that went entirely unaddressed while candidates were allowed to pontificate about the need for multiple “transportation options”. That’s true and all, but we’re in a transit funding crisis right now. Yet the only response seems to be to cut the “head tax”. Disappointing lack of realism & plans.
    That said, in my opinion Mike O’Brien was a standout among the new candidates for actually believing in something and being willing to follow through on it, whether it was commuter taxes, paid parking, etc. Not sure I always agreed with him, but he was clearly animated by principals rather than talking points. The rest of the open-seat candidates were pretty much an undifferentiated pile of mush on most every issue — at least that’s how they came off.
    Also, I believe you left out the lightning round question on Nickelsville. If I remember correctly, everyone was in favor of making it legal except for Conlin and one or two others, though I can’t remember which others because I was surprised at Conlin’s position.

  • Christi S July 22, 2009 (8:51 am)

    Astounding coverage, Tracy. Thanks for being there, I am sorry I missed it!

  • Dorsol Plants July 22, 2009 (8:59 am)

    For the record, I also maintain its called the Alaska Junction rather than just West Seattle business district.

  • WSB July 22, 2009 (9:26 am)

    Sage, the question was something like “does Seattle need to allow a second tent city” – one candidate said “Nickelsville?” but to me the question wording wasn’t clear (“Tent City” is the official name, as I’m sure you know, of the city-approved ‘camp’ that has rotated locations elsewhere around the city for quite some time). Nor were my notes on who answered what for the “tent city” question – the lightning rounds at so many of these forums have been the bane of my existence in terms of trying to write down (even as fast as I can type) the answers of 14 (or more) people in the span of 30 seconds or so – so I highlighted the ones for which I was confident of my notes’s accuracy/comprehensiveness … TR

  • Karen July 22, 2009 (9:29 am)

    Not at all on subject but. . .
    I had to double take the picture – it looks a lot like The Last Supper painting!

  • Sage July 22, 2009 (10:59 am)

    I found the lightning rounds tough to follow as just an audience member trying to track things for my own education! Maybe you could ease your burden by just taking photos and posting those, sparing yourself the keying burden…
    But I still say I’d take a follow-up question over a lightning round any day.

  • WSB July 22, 2009 (12:16 pm)

    Tried that at an earlier forum. Doesn’t work. Also tried videotaping. Gone in the span of time it takes to pan 14 people. Plus last night’s lighting wasn’t photo-conducive … great place to attend in person, not great for photography. Will think of something brilliant before the general election.

  • Patton James July 22, 2009 (4:28 pm)

    It was worth attending, and not just for the air-conditioning. No Q and A, but there was enough information to make decisions easier for the August primary. An impressive resume when you add them all up.

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