Tonight we continue our city-candidate closeups; we took a look at them all before the primary election, and with the general election nearing, we’re checking back in with the finalists in five city races – mayor and council. We’ve already looked at mayor (Mike McGinn here, Joe Mallahan here), City Council Position 6 (Nick Licata here, Jessie Israel here) and City Council Position 8 (Mike O’Brien here and Robert Rosencrantz here); tonight, it’s Council Position 2, and we’ll conclude tomorrow night with Position 4.
By Jack Mayne
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
Richard Conlin is coming to the end of his third term as a member of the Seattle City Council and is currently council president. He says he has done a lot in the past 12 years, but has the steam to do more in the next four.
Discussing the committees he has led, Conlin says, “I have been chair of neighborhoods, of transportation, and of the environment and utilities committees. With each one of those, I have taken major initiatives and moved those forward. In neighborhoods, it was neighborhood plans and tripling the neighborhood matching funds. In transportation, I got the Bridging the Gap started, got Sound Transit approved through the city process and got bicycle and pedestrian plans underway. In environment, I reshaped our solid waste standards, did forestry work and the local food initiative and just finished the drainage code.”
“Each time I have taken an area of the city, I have done something really creative and innovative,” he says, “and that is what I want to do in my next term. There are lots of things I am looking at as possibilities, and I have the energy to work on it.” He’s challenged on the ballot by West Seattle resident David Ginsberg.
Conlin, 61, looks back to the start of his second term, saying that when Greg Nickels was elected mayor, it caught the City Council off balance, and people scrambled for a while trying to figure out how they could actually accomplish things. “Each of us wound up doing different strategies,” he says. “I did a lot of things and some of them were cooperative with Nickels and some of them were not, but I was able to get them through. It was an interesting experiment.”
But when he became president of the council, he decided to change that approach.
“I laid out a council agenda, we worked together to develop an agenda,” he says. “We went to the mayor and said this is our agenda, tell us what your agenda is and we’ll negotiate as equals. (The mayor’s office) didn’t react too well to that the first time. One of the things on our agenda was a new parks levy. The mayor said he didn’t want a parks levy, so the Council went ahead, under my leadership, and we put the parks levy on the ballot and got 60 percent of the vote over the mayor’s opposition. He actually announced he was going to vote against it.
“This is the first time ever that the council put a levy on the ballot without the mayor initiating it and to have it successful was pretty extraordinary,” Conlin continues. “Since then, we have actually had a much better relationship. I think we needed to have a council that was willing to pull together and say, ‘Mayor, we’re assertive, you’re assertive, that’s fine, meet us in the middle or we will do what we need to do and you’ll have some problems.’ Now, the ironic thing and the sad thing is that over the last year and a half, we have actually had a pretty good relationship with him and we don’t have very many of those kind of nasty things happening that happened sometimes in the past. I think the whole fighting thing between the mayor and the Council was very counterproductive. What I think we need to do with the next mayor is to have that respectful relationship from the beginning so we work as partners. That is what the public really wants, they don’t want us to fight with each other, they want us to work together.”
Conlin was interviewed for this story a few days before the council voted unanimously to authorize the mayor to sign an agreement with the state that would result in a deep-bore tunnel. That action resulted in mayoral candidate Mike McGinn to back away from his previous stand to fight the tunnel project.
Conlin said McGinn could have caused problems for the project, but said those would be bad for the city. The other candidate for mayor, Joe Mallahan, has always supported the tunnel project. He says getting the money for the project “actually is not that difficult.” First of all, about $800 million is need no matter what type of project is needed to replace the viaduct. Rebuilding the city’s downtown seawall will cost about $250 million and he says that will be financed from city revenues.
“There are about $350 million needed to relocate utility lines from the viaduct, and we will amortize that over a 30 year period, or about $10 million a year, which will (add) about 1 percent or 2 person on utility bills,” Conlin says. That work has already been started. “Then it will cost about $200 million for fixing Alaskan Way and adding park amenities.” All of this, he says, would make a lot of sense if the city had any money to spare, but Conlin says the city will have money in a year or so as the economy improves. “We don’t have to have the money in place now, we have to have it in place in a year or two,” he says.
Much of the revenue will come from such pots as the parking tax, which is largely paid by tourists, says Conlin.
He says the mayor has proposed that a transportation benefit district be formed, which would probably result in something like a $20 vehicle-licensing surcharge. “I don’t think that would be a good source for the viaduct,” Conlin says. “I would like to use that source for transit, bicycles and pedestrian paths.”
In the area of taxes, Conlin said he is urging people to vote no on Tim Eyman’s latest ballot measure, Initiative 1033. That would make the deep recession year of 2009 the base year for figuring out taxation limits.
“The initiative would be a recipe for disaster,” Conlin said. “We just had a calculation the other day and in five years, we would lose as much money as we current spend on our police department. It is like taking the whole police force out of the budget. It just cannot be done. If we had new parks to maintain, we just would not be able to do it. It is a disaster for education and a disaster for what I think most people think of as good things.”
Seattle government is growing, but Conlin says it’s at a lesser rate than personal wealth in the area is growing.
There has been criticism that money to finance the proposed two-way Mercer Street project would come from the Bridging the Gap levy, but Conlin says no property tax money will be spent on that project. The property tax money in that levy will go for neighborhood projects and repaving of streets. Part of the Bridging the Gap levy is financed by the city parking tax and that money was designed to finance big projects such as the Mercer plan.