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Thursday, July 14, 2005

Why City Council Candidates Need to Distance Themselves From the Mayor: A Primer

Posted by on July 14 at 13:24 PM

In response to Amy Jenniges’ question: If Mayor Greg Nickels is so popular, and if his agenda is so smart, why do city council candidates like ex-Nickels spokesman Casey Corr need to distance themselves from him politically?

A couple of reasons: First, there’s the principal of separation of powers. The executive and legislative branches are supposed to act as a check on one another. If a member of the legislative branch is in the mayor’s pocket, he or she isn’t as likely to stand up to the mayor and question his agenda.

Second: Let’s not forget, the mayor’s agenda isn’t perfect. To address the examples Amy brought up:

• Density. Increasing density and building heights downtown will undoubtedly bring more residents and nightlife to the area. It’s also better for the environment when people can walk to work instead of driving from the suburbs. But there are good arguments against increasing density without requiring affordable housing or attractive design. Council members such as Peter Steinbrueck have raised these and other important questions.

• The “24/7 City.” Revitalizing neighborhood business districts is a good idea. But some neighborhood residents feel the mayor’s proposal, which would decrease parking requirements for new developments citywide and allow housing at sidewalk level, needs tweaking. The council - again, led by Steinbrueck - is listening to what they have to say.

• Transit. Spending money on a streetcar to serve Paul Allen’s fiefdom in South Lake Union instead of focusing the city’s energy and transit funds on underserved neighborhoods like Ballard is a questionable use of the city’s transportation funds. Again, the critical questions on the mayor’s South Lake Union streetcar have come from the council.

And remember, incumbent mayors are always popular. In the last half-century, only a single incumbent Seattle mayor - Paul Schell - has been defeated. That may be an argument for term limits, but it isn’t an argument for capitulating to the mayor’s agenda.