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Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Talking Like the Utne Reader

Posted by on January 3 at 16:36 PM

PI business columnist Bill Virgin slaps the Seattle “Establishment” today for failing to make stuff happen. Basically, he accuses the Establishment of not acting like the Establishment. It’s a nice column.

His prime example? Transportation. Specifically, he dings them (and Mayor Nickels) for failing the monorail. Even though Virgin is coming from a different POV then I would on the monorail, he ultimately nails exactly what was so maddening to me about Mayor Gridlock’s monorail flip-flop last Fall—in a way that I couldn’t seem to articulate when it was all going down.

Virgin points out the the Establishment had the power to do something. He also points out Nickels’s hypocrisy on the monorail, by showing that Nickels’s final monorail animosity was/is inconsistent with his support for other financially unstable projects.

Here’s Virgin’s hit on Nickels:

The most vivid illustration of The Establishment’s malaise can be found, not surprisingly, in transportation and transit.

For all its dreamy-eyed origins, the Seattle monorail idea had considerable merit; had The Establishment taken an early interest, it could have helped build a workable financial and engineering plan. Conversely, had The Establishment made a decision from the start to quash the monorail, it might have saved everyone considerable time and expense. Instead The Establishment exhibited little public interest or involvement, until Amateur Hour collapsed under the weight of its severe miscalculations.

So where are the new members of The Establishment going to come from?

They could come from government, although that currently seems unlikely. Supporters of Greg Nickels like to depict the Seattle mayor as bringing a Chicago-style “city that works” sensibility to town. Yet Nickels made a definitive call on the monorail only once it was obvious and expedient to do so. Nickels also has shown plenty of appetite for public boondoggles (the South Lake Union streetcar, the tunnel replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct, also known as Big Dig West) that Seattle would seem to be overloaded with already, what with the light-rail mess.

Meanwhile, Steve Leahy, president and CEO of Seattle’s Chamber of Commerce, fired off a pretty defensive e-mail to Virgin, basically saying that Chambers don’t have the kind of power they used to.

He writes:

Believe me, I wish there were a czar for every important issue that seems stuck in the mud. My list would resemble yours: one for transportation; one for homelessness; one for quality K-12 education——geez, it’s so self-evident you wonder why we haven’t done that before now! [But]The “establishmentā€¯ that supposedly led Seattle in the 1950’s won’t work in a decentralized region of 3.3 million people in four counties. Which is exactly why tools like Leadership Conferences, Study Missions to other regions in the US and abroad, and Prosperity Partnership economic strategies are valuable devices in bringing people committed to our region’s future together to help sharpen their wits and align their focus and energy behind the “critical fewā€¯ priorities that will actually make a difference.

What a town: Columnists berating the Establishment for not acting like the Establishment, and the Establishment talking like the Utne Reader.