Reflections with McGinn, Part 2: Durkan's Legacy and Mayor Harrell's Opportunity
Release Date: 01/05/2022
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City of Seattle - Race and Social Justice Initiative: https://www.seattle.gov/rsji
“Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan leaves a mixed legacy shadowed by crisis” by Sarah Grace Taylor from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/seattle-mayor-jenny-durkan-leaves-a-mixed-legacy-shadowed-by-crisis/
“Durkan Leaves Behind a Mess After Four Rudderless Years” by Doug Trumm from The Urbanist: https://www.theurbanist.org/2021/12/31/durkan-leaves-behind-a-mess-after-four-rudderless-years/
“Outgoing Seattle Mayor Durkan looks back with pride — and some regrets” by Nate Sanford from Crosscut: https://crosscut.com/politics/2021/12/outgoing-seattle-mayor-durkan-looks-back-pride-and-some-regrets
“WA Supreme Court dismisses recall effort against Mayor Durkan” by David Kroman from Crosscut: https://crosscut.com/news/2020/10/wa-supreme-court-dismisses-recall-effort-against-mayor-durkan
“Recall effort against Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant can move forward, state’s highest court rules” by David Gutman from The Seattle Times: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/recall-effort-against-seattle-city-councilmember-kshama-sawant-can-move-forward-washington-supreme-court-rules/
MRSC - Public Facilities Districts (PFDs): https://mrsc.org/Home/Explore-Topics/Economic-Development/Financing-Economic-Development/Public-Facilities-Districts.aspx
“Don't do it, Jackson: Misdemeanor jail would disproportionately affect residents of color” by Cliff Johnson from Clarion Ledger: https://www.clarionledger.com/story/opinion/2021/11/17/jacksons-proposed-misdemeanor-jail-would-hurt-citys-black-residents/8631447002/
“Custodial Sanctions and Reoffending: A Meta-Analytic Review” by Damon M. Petrich, Travis C. Pratt, Cheryl Lero Jonson, and Francis T. Cullen in Crime and Justice, volume 50, 2021: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdf/10.1086/715100
[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes. Today, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a co-host. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show and today's co-host: activist, community leader, former mayor of Seattle, and Executive Director of America Walks, the excellent Mike McGinn.
[00:00:57] Mike McGinn: I'm glad to be here, Crystal. Pivoting to Durkan, I mean, I just look at all of the background behind the abandonment of the East Precinct and the stories that have since come out - about how that went down and how the communications were occurring. And what you see there is that there was just no - the police department, by that point, was acting completely independently. And I think you can say that about any mayor and any police department, right? There are always officers and maybe some people in leadership who aren't really following the directions from the top. But this one went right up to a layer beneath the chief, where people felt they didn't have to listen to the mayor, or even really communicate. Yeah. Even the chief was surprised that the precinct was abandoned. So there was a breakdown in management there that was really, really severe.
I think a lot of the policy on sweeps, like the attempt of the City Council to try to pass policies that determine how and when, and the practices should be followed in sweeps - I think a lot of that is management. If you want these things to be done well, it's up to the people doing them too. The mayor hires the department heads and the department heads hire the next layer down, and they're the ones who can really monitor and work on specific behaviors, or specific patterns, or specific implementation. And that's just not something a City Council can do, and I think that a lot of the homelessness response - we've seen this thing over the last election cycle where it was like, "Oh, it's the City Council's fault." It's like, "Hold it." We've got two mayors in a row who write the budgets, who have a lobbying team in D.C., who hire the department heads, who set the policies. How is it somehow the City Council's fault when we've got two mayors in a row - now, again, this is a problem that's bigger than a mayor, no mayor is going to solve it alone in a city. But if there's anybody who was the most power in a city to make a difference, it's the mayor. So why are we blaming the City Council on this, when it's the mayor who has the budget-writing authority, the hiring and firing authority, and the management authority to mobilize a response? And they don't have to check with eight colleagues on everything on the fine points of the policy. They can just implement. And I think that that's a challenge under any circumstances, but I think we have not seen people responding to the scale of the problem from the executive branch in the way they should, and passing the blame off to the City Council with the help of the business community, which doesn't want to pay more taxes, so it must be the City Council's fault.
And that's just been a recipe for disaster. And Mayor Harrell is going to have to break that pattern. He's going to have to mobilize resources on homelessness and get people aligned and have a better approach to this. And if -
[00:04:07] Crystal Fincher: Well, he doesn't have to, but I certainly hope he does.
[00:04:10] Mike McGinn: Well, otherwise, we're just going to be in the same cycle. We're just going to be in the same cycle. And I just don't want to hear it's all the City Council's fault on this next go-around. He's got to take responsibility.
[00:04:22] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. I mean, I really do hope we have an honest conversation moving forward. But to your point about just what's possible, the Council can ultimately approve a budget that is largely set forth by the mayor setting the course on that. They approve it, they kind of hold the purse and dole out the money, but really, it's just giving the mayor the money to do with it what they will do. And so, the implementation of that policy that this - the setting of that course and the ability to do that is - it is largely on that. And certainly, they're steering a very big ship. A lot going on with it right now, and changing the course of that ship is not a simple or quick thing, but it is possible. And there are some meaningful things that can be done in the short term and in the medium term to get that accomplished, so it'll be very interesting to see what's on the horizon.
I mean, I think a huge opportunity for the Harrell administration - left by Durkan - is that I think that there were many balls dropped by Durkan in a lot of different areas. And just the ability to pick those up and to deal with the low-hanging fruit, and in some of the several areas where they could start to make an immediate impact, will reflect really well on the Harrell administration. There's a lot that they could immediately take action on that could help people and be a reflection on them in a very positive way, frankly.
[00:05:53] Mike McGinn: I want to give credit to my predecessor for a couple of things, which are - there were things that had started under his administration, which I continued - the Race and Social Justice Initiative. I didn't feel like we had to rename it or rebrand it or somehow or another. It was good the way it was. The Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative - those were programs that could be expanded. I think that's another challenge that Mayor Harrell will face is - I don't think after Murray, who at the end of his term, didn't really leave Mayor Durkan with many new initiatives. I don't think Mayor Harrell is going to be left with that many new initiatives either. I'd love to be surprised. Because I think that there was obviously some drift there when Mayor Durkan decided she didn't really enjoy the job anymore and was going to move on - and that's been a year.
I think you tend to get a situation in government of - it takes a special type of City employee to drive Initiative and create new programs when they're like, "You know - we're going to get a new mayor soon, and how much will this be still supported in the future?" So I think that's going to be a challenge for Mayor Harrell - is coming in and he's going to have to get more things started than he might have because of that.
And it's kind of telling to me, and all mayors - oh God, I hated this - the round of interviews at the end, the exit interviews with all the media, and what's your legacy, and all of that. And nobody's even going to remember any of these things in a year, so I don't think mayors should worry that much about legacy. I think they should just try to do a good job. There'll be another mayor along, whether it's four or eight years. There's going to be another mayor along and a new controversy, so just try to do your job.
But in kind of watching this round and watching Mayor Durkan speak, it seems to be talking more about how hard a job it was. And it is indeed a very hard job, rather than about what happened. And here we are - well, seriously, we are further from a reformed police department today than we were when Jenny Durkan and I first signed that consent decree in 2012. We are further from a reformed police department. A lot has gone on in those years, and they're not good. They're not good. And that's a challenge. We talked about - obviously, the protests were a extremely difficult time, led to the abandonment of the precinct. Where are all the text messages that were deleted? And covered up - the deletion was covered up for months. And where are the consequences for that? The idea that the Seattle Ethics and Election Commission has not referred this to the Attorney General, the City Attorney hasn't referred this to the Attorney General to investigate - they have the power to do that, if they feel conflicted or they don't have the authority to do something here. It's right in the statute. They can refer an investigation for that. So the idea that somehow or another, Durkan is leaving off as the victim of a hostile public that was unappreciative of her work, and there's no accountability for this. And people died in CHOP and CHAZ. That was a hard time, and neighborhoods were teargassed. What happened? And the idea that you can just delete the texts and there's no consequence - not good. That's sending the wrong message to every elected official. And honestly, I think the Seattle City Council should be taking a hard look at how ethics are monitored in the City, if this can occur with no action taken to try to figure out what happened and what the consequences for that should be.
[00:10:04] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. I mean, certainly a troubling message and reinforcement of a message sent. I mean, you just talked earlier about - it is very blatant what types of programs we choose to scrutinize and which ones we don't, and who those programs serve. There is a never-ending trail of questions if a program is going to serve poor people, that is going to serve in a way that unhoused people are asking to be served and not one that is being dictated from on high. And certainly, Black people, people of color, being served - endless questions, endless needing to prove the worth and providing data, while other stuff slides through. And then we're looking around at who is being held accountable in the City - who is being targeted for - hey, it's not okay - we're having conversations in this City about people needing to be held accountable somehow "for being homeless."
[00:11:14] Mike McGinn: Correct. Correct.
[00:11:16] Crystal Fincher: Meanwhile, we've got deleted texts. On-purpose deleted texts - illegally - after training, after we know on record that they were told not to delete this. From a former federal prosecutor - who their job was holding people accountable who broke the law - who is then not subject to the same standards themselves. If you can't tell, I find this extremely objectionable, abhorrent, ridiculous, preposterous, shameful really. And just the lack of accountability here is extremely troubling. It sends a horrible message.
And I mean, it really goes to how we view - what is public service. Are people accountable for spending the public tax dollars for the power that we put in their hands? There seems to be a message coming from those in power to, "Don't worry about it. Don't worry about what I'm doing. Don't worry about if it's serving you or not. Don't worry about if it's helping or not. Don't worry if I'm living up to my word or obligations, or even just the bare minimum standard of following the law. Don't worry about it. Don't ask me any questions. You're not entitled to this information." And they're literally legally entitled to the information.
[00:12:34] Mike McGinn: Let us compare the recall effort against Kshama Sawant and the recall effort against Mayor Durkan. One was dismissed by the courts. And the gist of the recall election was that she had lost control of the police, and her defense was, "I'm not in charge of the police." I'm sorry. The defense was kind of an Exhibit A in, should you be mayor or not, if you are claiming that. But that charge was dropped. But the charge against Kshama, the recall against her was continued. And you look at that and it really does feel like certain people get different treatment than others.
So here we are. We've got the round of exit interviews for Durkan and the retrospectives, and we're getting articles about how hard it was to be mayor. And it was particularly hard in a pandemic and in the face of this, but every mayor - I had May Day riots, I had a consent - I had a DOJ investigation, I had snowstorms. Look at Paul Schell. Look at Wes Uhlman, who did it through the Boeing Bust years, and he had a recall election against him for trying to integrate the fire department and the police departments. So mayors face hard times - that's their job. And mayors get a lot of negativity sent towards them. And you can't be bitter about that because you were given an opportunity to serve that few are given. You just can't be bitter about that. It comes with the territory. And I think just going through -
[00:14:21] Crystal Fincher: I mean, the interesting thing when you say that is - you've chosen not to be bitter about that. Mayors certainly can and have been bitter about that, will continue to be. You shouldn't be. It is helpful when you're not. You have chosen not to be, but, oh my goodness, some are.
[00:14:39] Mike McGinn: If you get me in the right day and in the right mood, I can let go with a little bit. I'm not going to act holier-than-thou here, but you shouldn't be out there doing interviews that way, as if somehow or another that it was an imposition to have to serve as mayor, and that you were mistreated, and all the rest. It's not quite seemly. So this is - let's focus on what the real stories were. Where are we on police reform? We're further behind. Where are we on homelessness? Even further behind. And again, these are big external forces, but we remain further behind. And it was the City Council that provided more money for it and gave more tools to do it, and we didn't get there. And there was a - we still don't - leaving, as you pointed out, kind of just skating off with no consequences for obstructing justice and deleting texts and evading accountability. And this is pretty important stuff that we should be focusing on moving forward, as to -
[00:15:42] Crystal Fincher: Pretty important stuff.
[00:15:43] Mike McGinn: - how are we going to address these things, and that requires an honest appraisal of what happened.
[00:15:48] Crystal Fincher: Well, and from Durkan's own rhetoric when she took office, I mean, similar to what we heard from Ed Murray - they were going to be the person who brought everybody together, the person with the experience and the know-how, and could be the adult in the room, and get everybody together, and will listen to all perspectives, and wasn't divisive like other progressive mayors with the last name McGinn were, but were more reasonable and were friendlier with the business community and not proposing all these radical bike lanes and road diets and that kind of stuff. And really, what that was code for was, "I'm friendly with the business community. I don't scare people who don't want taxes as much as the other person was." But it did not, in any way, translate to any less contention. In fact, if you just look at the state of the City, it not only increased the amount of contention - but that was really a result of inaction and being stuck on so many issues and not wanting to upset the coalition that they had built that got them elected - that they ended up not taking action on so many things that were issues.
And also, this habit that we have in Seattle where the centrist candidates take on the general rhetoric of progressive candidates - end up sounding very similar - so people get the impression that they're going to govern more progressively than they actually do. And then there just being that disconnect between what people were expecting and that creating more public dissatisfaction with the leader in charge and with the inaction on the problems that they consider to be most important. So I mean, I think a big challenge was the goals, just the tone that was articulated initially by Durkan just wasn't ever followed through on. And on top of not being able to bring people together and to create solutions and there being gridlock, it really did seem like she did not enjoy the job much and kind of took a backseat after that. I think some of the execution suffered because of that and a lack of engagement, and to your point, alignment between department heads and the mayor's office.
And then this focusing on the rhetoric. And for me personally, I always get very wary when people consider the signing of a piece of legislation the win. The win is actually when that's implemented and helping people, when it's delivering on the promise that it was. And so to me, it was always kind of a red flag like, "Hey, we're announcing this initiative. We're moving forward with this program."
[00:18:44] Mike McGinn: Right.
[00:18:44] Crystal Fincher: And then we didn't hear much after that. And then the stories would trickle in about like, "Hey, all of this promise to build this many housing units and to be able to house many people and that's falling apart," or announcing that you're going to be moving forward with this partner, and that partnership falls apart. And that seemed like it was a continuing dynamic throughout that administration. And so, I am hoping, in the Harrell administration, to not see the same type of, "I'll bring everyone together because I listen and get along with everybody. And that, in and of itself, will make everything okay." There are going to have to be decisions made. Some of them, people will agree with; some of them, people won't. But the thing is, you have to make a decision and you have to move, and there just seemed to be a hesitance to make decisions in that office.
[00:19:37] Mike McGinn: You made so many good points in there. I think one of - you really don't know which one to dig in on first, or to comment on first. One, I think, is that it's just gotten harder - with the rise in inequality and with the rise in housing costs and all of its effect in the City and the rise in homelessness - it's become harder and harder for a candidate from the business side to bridge that gap between rhetoric, between the progressive goals they say they espouse, and the obligations they feel to their base to not raise taxes or change the rules or policies too much. Right? And I'm restating what you just said. I think it becomes really harder. So you create this dynamic where the candidate comes in and say, "Well, the problem is just it's the personalities of people, and what we need is someone with that personality to bring people together and get everyone to agree," that somehow it's a personality thing.
And there's really some underlying dynamics that are in play here. And one of those underlying dynamics is - if you're elected from the business side, they don't want you to raise taxes. They don't want you to change the rules too much. And part of that coalition is also the people who live in neighborhoods who don't want to see their zoning change, and they really don't want to see their on-street parking spaces disappear, and they're skeptical of bus lanes and bike lanes. So you get tied to trying to assuage... Assuage? Assuage - satisfy that set of constituents by not changing things too much, but you've run for office on a rhetoric of, "I'm going to change things." And that gap just gets harder and harder to bridge as things get more divided in the country. So your point is well-taken - that to make those promises and get nowhere close to achieving them, it's actually pretty divisive too, right? And it's not because the person is impolite or can't work with people or something. It's because those are the underlying political dynamics that the person faces.
And the other thing is - I really love your point. One of the things I didn't - there were many things I didn't understand when I became mayor, and one of the things I didn't understand was that the media - we all decry horse race politics and campaigns. They're just covering who's ahead and who's behind, who's scoring points or not. Well, the media gravitates towards that during the term as well, except the horse race and the score-keeping is, what bills you passed or did not pass. Right? So if you didn't pass some, if you tried to pass something and you didn't, you lost. And if you tried to pass something and you did, you won, as opposed to, is there actually progress being made on things.
So Ed Murray, for example - HALA, the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, was a win for Ed because he got a big stakeholder committee to agree to present a series of recommendations, many of which got adopted. Well, getting a stakeholder committee to agree is kind of a mayor's job in the first place. And they did in fact pass a number of them, and a number of the changes were good. It's not close enough to the scale of the problem. Housing prices have continued to go - just blow right through the roof, right? It just wasn't - we need to do more than what was in that bill. But the coverage of that is just focused on the legislative win or loss, or the who stood with them and who didn't stand with them. And it really calls for a different type of media coverage, right?
And I appreciate, honestly, that places like The Seattle Times, with the Homelessness Lab or the Traffic Lab, are really trying to analyze what's working and what isn't, rather than simply kind of covering the day-to-day of the legislative back-and-forth. And so, yeah, those are both great points that you made about the challenges for a mayor and just getting the public not actually seeing beneath the surface to see whether or not progress is being made.
But you can't fool the public. They figure it out. They just have to look around. Right? The streets are still congested, there are homeless encampments everywhere, and things aren't working. So that style of governance of, "I'll get a set of people to stand up with me for a press conference and that'll show unity, and I've got a committee working on something, so I'm doing something on that topic. And I just passed a bill that sounds good," - you can keep that afloat for a while, and then the public goes, "No, it isn't working, and we need something new." And I think the timeline keeps getting shorter and shorter on that. Maybe you could keep that afloat for eight years before, but it's pretty hard to keep it afloat for more than a couple of years now, because people are mad and they want to see something happen. And this is going to be something moving forward
[00:24:40] Crystal Fincher: It's going to be something moving forward. I'm really interested to see what the initial moves and what the Harrell administration comes out of the gate with, because it is going to take making some decisions. And you've got some people who are going to view that through a kinder lens upfront. You've got some people who are going to view it through a more critical lens. But I do think that, to your point, if we do examine it critically and say, "Okay. What is this doing for people? What is this doing to meaningfully address this issue? What impact is being made on the ground?" Even if he starts out with that and takes an action that can initially be viewed as unpopular, if it ends up working out and he's got time for things to work out, it's a win. That is the win. And that, you can run on. And that, you can message on.
And it'll be interesting to see - one of the things I think about just in comparing different mayors and tenures and thinking about you is just - a lot of things that were controversial and that lots of people disagreed with you on - where you were vindicated. There are quite a few of those things, but the runway on those was really long, so it was after your term where a number of those things were just like, "Oh, road diets aren't evil and they don't create chaos in cities," and "Oh, okay. I understand. Yeah. Maybe people swearing that there aren't going to be cost overruns in defiance of every single project ever, maybe they aren't being completely aboveboard and straight." Like, "Hey, maybe we should plan for that. It would be prudent to plan for that."
But the runway on those was really long, so a lot of that came post-tenure for you. So just thinking through that lens on - just kind of putting on the political hat. So what does that mean in terms of what the Harrell administration may or may not choose to pursue, or make some big decisions on, if that's factoring into it or not? But there are times where if the goal is meaningfully solving the problem, and kind of these issues that we're running into with rhetoric-based solutions and PR-based solutions, and let me put together a nice press conference, without consideration of actually solving the problem. People seeing that the problem isn't getting any better and in fact worse.
[00:27:06] Mike McGinn: It's got to be homelessness, right? Number one.
[00:27:09] Crystal Fincher: Got to start there.
[00:27:10] Mike McGinn: Number one -
[00:27:11] Crystal Fincher: Got to start there.
[00:27:12] Mike McGinn: - you really have to see - what's the progress being made in housing people, and giving people options. And that is going to take an extraordinary mobilization of resources - more than we have. And some of the things are going to take longer than others, obviously. Changing our - there's the immediate response to people in need, but there's also changing our land use rules to actually allow more housing in the City, and allow people to build things that cost less to build, because they don't have to go through endless design review over the color of the bricks, right? Or they don't have to build parking spaces at a cost that's excessive, or why not bring back small apartment buildings in neighborhoods? People love them - fourplexes, sixplexes. Maybe all of our apartment buildings shouldn't be immediately next to arterials, and the air pollution are caused by them. And instead, look at some of the older parts of our City. One of the things that makes Capitol Hill so wonderful is that you got these gracious old apartment buildings all through the neighborhood, not just on the arterial streets. Why not allow that type of incremental improvement in housing throughout the City, as well as making deep investments in shelter and interim housing and permanent housing and affordable housing? It's going to take - it just is a major lift. And I think -
[00:28:46] Crystal Fincher: I mean, it's a major lift. Go ahead, go ahead.
[00:28:49] Mike McGinn: It's a major lift. And I think that the issue is, and I'll speak to this, you come in and there are all these things and people give you all these tweaks or these little things you can do. It's not going to be enough. It's got to be so much bigger. That's what I would say, if I had one thing to say to Mayor Harrell. It's going to be much bigger than what the people around tell you to. Ask them to come to you, not with the plan that they think will get through the process of Seattle. Ask them to come back to you with a plan that will actually get you to the finish line. And get that plan. I think we've all trained ourselves in this arena to think small in terms of the changes, because it's all hard. Building a tiny home village in a neighborhood is hard. Raising money for affordable housing and new taxes is hard. Siting some type of affordable housing in certain communities is hard. Changing zoning is hard. They're all hard. So we keep saying, "Well, what's the next incremental step we could take that we could get through the system?" Well, if you look at all those next incremental steps to get you through the system and it doesn't actually solve the problem, then send them back. And that, I think, there's a kind of courage it takes from a mayor to do that. And I don't think I had that courage in my first year in office, honestly. I had some courage to take on some things, but didn't have enough depth of understanding or knowledge to send them all back and say, "Come back to me with a better plan."
So unsolicited advice, you don't have to listen to me, Mayor Harrell, but really have some courage here, push them even harder, and have the courage with the public to go big. Because if we just keep thinking that if we ring the alarm bell and ask the Feds for help, or if we make this tweak to policy, if we do this thing differently - that that's - it's good, it's incremental, it's not going to be at scale. Go at scale, even if it makes some of your original supporters mad, because that's the type of boldness that I think will be rewarded politically in this environment. And not going big, you can keep that afloat for a while, but if there's not substantive change on the ground, it's going to come back at you because there's been enough promises on this one that the incremental and, "I'm making progress," and "Please wait and give me more time." There's just not enough patience for it anymore.
[00:31:20] Crystal Fincher: There's not enough patience. I completely agree with you that I think big choices, big decisions, taking big steps in leadership and saying, "I know this is a lot. I know this is more than we've done before. I know I'm asking for more than I have before, but we've got to get more done than we have before." Particularly in Seattle - people are there, people are there. And kind of baked into this conversation, I feel like we're baking in an assumption that, "I don't know how it's going to turn out yet," - in a response to homelessness, that there is going to be meaningful investment in addressing some of the root causes and a real initial push to move on - getting towards the amount of new housing units that are needed in that.
I hope it happens. I don't know if it's going to happen. Certainly between, not just Harrell in there, but we've also got Ann Davison in as the new City Attorney. And so, criminalized solutions are certainly on the table, and that's an area where it seems like Ann would likely be comfortable with making some bold decisions and big solutions in a different way. So I think a question that's going to be put in front of Seattle is, "Hey do you view it as a solution, is getting this issue solved - if fewer people are on the street in a tent, but our jails are full?" And we're spending money and resources there, and we're dealing with that mess in municipal courts, and really flexing that system, which is also under strain, which there are crises of capacity that exist. And that it seems like Seattle definitely has the appetite for moving back, and backing off on that, and looking at addressing some of the root causes. Or are we going to see what - if we talk about data-based solutions, right? Filling up jails also increases all of the other problems, right
[00:33:43] Mike McGinn: Yeah. Absolutely.
[00:33:43] Crystal Fincher: If that is the direction that things are going, do Seattle residents call that out right away? Does Seattle media pay attention to that and call that out right away? Is there tracking on, "Hey, what are the outcomes that are coming based on criminalized solutions, versus those and programs that aren't"? I'm wondering if there's going to be that kind of a lens, because I see those things being relevant in the conversation in the coming year to two.
[00:34:13] Mike McGinn: I've always felt that there is in fact - your point about the public being ready. I've always felt, during the last two terms, mayoral terms, and even during my term, that there was in fact a basic policy consensus already established. And we like to think - and I guess it depends on what and how you define policy and how granular you want to get about policy, but I think there's a basic policy consensus, which is that people - from the public - people who want housing should have access to a roof over their head. They should have meaningful access to a roof over their head, and people that need services should be able to get them, right? That is the policy consensus. And that means that parks should be parks and sidewalks should be sidewalks, right? It's okay to ask people to not camp in a park, if in fact there's a place they can go, and if in fact there are services they can get.
We're in this situation because we abandoned, in some way, that commitment to it. And abandon is a strong word. I know there are people working hard to provide housing opportunities and roofs over people's head, but not at the scale that was actually needed, right? And the same thing is true of services, not at the scale that was actually needed. And so, we started getting into this "one weird trick" kind of aspect of policymaking. Well, if we could just do this one weird trick, it would have this effect. If we could do this thing, it would have this effect. And really, it was scaling up the services and the homes and the housing. And as what I've said a bit earlier, that's actually really hard. And it requires a much bigger commitment of resources than we believed it would - in a time of rising inequality, and it turns out the Feds weren't going to come help for a number of years at the scale needed. And they still may not. But now is the time. So when I saw Mayor Durkan not taking federal money to get hotels for homeless, it's like, "What are you doing? What are you doing? Take the money. House the people." Right? This is hard.
So I think that there is a policy consensus, and I think that a mayor who embraces that policy consensus and tries to avoid the one weird trick style of governance - if only we did something differently, we just need to be harder on the homeless, or ship them to McNeil Island, or they're all drug users, right? All of these easy, handy soundbite solutions people start throwing out at you - no, no. We're talking about a refugee crisis here, right? And it's the refugees from our own economic system, and they're here on our streets because they are our communities, and they are our people, right? And we need to treat it like that and put the resources in place to deal with it.
And that's just a lot harder to do because we get anchored in the budget priorities of the past, and we have this weird blaming thing going on, "Well, they must have done it to themselves somehow. They're broken people," - instead of like, "No, it's a broken system and we have control over the system, so let's fix the system." And that's, I think - no, we don't know how it's going to turn out. And that would be the boldest thing that Mayor Harrell could do - is to embrace the scale of the response, and let the chips fall where they may after that. And I think they'll fall into the right place, but it surely will make some of his backers angry, because they just think you need to get a few more of those homeless people out of downtown and we'll have this economic recovery, and that's what's most important.
[00:38:08] Crystal Fincher: Yes.
[00:38:08] Mike McGinn: That's just not...
[00:38:09] Crystal Fincher: Let's just hold them accountable and let's get back to the economy.
[00:38:11] Mike McGinn: Yeah. Do not listen to the Convention and Trade Center folks, or the tourism bureau folks, or the hotel folks. They are right to be concerned about what their street is like. They are right to be concerned about that. But the answer is, it's got to be a whole lot of resources to actually give people services and give people roofs over their heads - and embrace that, and don't go for the shorter, easy palliative here.
[00:38:40] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. And hey, everyone else has skin in the game. Everyone else is being asked to be taxed and contribute to resources, and so they've got to do their fair share. If they want a voice in this solution, then they need to meaningfully be part of it from beginning to end - not just on demanding you write a policy that satisfies my needs, but in providing the resources to meaningfully address the problem.
[00:39:06] Mike McGinn: Look, we've got $1.7 billion for a downtown convention center, paid for by taxes through hotels. $1.7 billion. Yeah, we have resources.
[00:39:20] Crystal Fincher: Well, and so, I need to see where that landed. I actually had a - Dow [Constantine] and I talked about this in the conversation that we had on Hacks & Wonks. And so, I think he took the temperature of the room and thought this is not going to look very good for the many reasons that you had articulated in print and voiced over the past couple years. And so, they found a lot of private money in place of the public money that they were going to be putting up for that.
[00:39:55] Mike McGinn: They found private borrowers and private lenders.
[00:39:55] Crystal Fincher: They found private borrowers.
[00:39:56] Mike McGinn: Excuse me. Private lenders.
[00:39:58] Crystal Fincher: Yeah.
[00:39:58] Mike McGinn: And that $1.7 billion debt is entirely paid by taxes from a public development authority.
[00:40:05] Crystal Fincher: Yikes. Are we still there?
[00:40:07] Mike McGinn: Yeah. That's how this works. If the downtown business community wanted a convention center because they believe it's important to their business environment, they're wrong. There's lots of great talks out there. So the legislature set up a public development authority [public facilities district], which has the authority to tax, certain taxing authority, mostly on hotels themselves, and there we go. So the hotels voted to basically - and urged to tax themselves to pay off those bonds, and it's $1.7 billion. Now, that's a tax source that could have been used to build affordable housing for the people who clean the hotel rooms, right? Or who provide the security down there. The money is available.
[00:40:57] Crystal Fincher: 100% percent. If you're selling this by saying, "It's going to help the people who are working there. It's going to provide jobs," then why are we funneling it through a multi-hundred-million-dollar-aire and - instead of just giving it directly to the people? It seems like that would be the more efficient and more effective way to do it. Like, "Hey, if we're trying to help the construction worker, let's actually help the construction worker and not have to give the person employing them - not give Matt Griffin millions of dollars and have him give a tiny hourly wage to a construction worker."
[00:41:39] Mike McGinn: But it's a great example. Where was the public debate on spending $1.7 billion on a convention center? Where was the public vote? Where was the decision made? It wasn't, right? Seriously. We were talking earlier about programs for returning felons and youth violence prevention - that went through extensive public debate. And the City Auditor looking at it, and arguments about what the data showed or not. And we were literally arguing over $800,000 expansion, or $400,000 expansion of a program. And this is $1.7 billion of tax dollars that was raised, and their argument was, "Well, the public has no right to talk about this, nor even to elect the people who voted to ultimately pass these taxes." And when the place ran into trouble, they went to the public to make the loan.
There's two sets of rules, right? And that's the question again for Mayor Harrell - is what set of rules is he going to play by? Is he going to engage in that where literally hundreds of millions or billions of dollars are spent on projects that are demanded by the powerful, or money is not spent because the powerful don't want to raise taxes for them on things that benefit other people? It's a choice. It's a hard choice, but it's a choice. And it's not just a question of everybody getting along. We're having good media, getting good media coverage, so everybody feels a little better that there's a little less arguing going on amongst the public officials. The problems are too big for that.
[00:43:30] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. I completely agree. I will also just say, since you brought up the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, wow are we paying for not investing in that and continuing that program today?
[00:43:43] Mike McGinn: It was -
[00:43:44] Crystal Fincher: I think about that really frequently.
[00:43:47] Mike McGinn: It was my understanding, and I wasn't in on it, but it was - basically the new mayor, the mayor after me, felt like there needed to be a program that had his stamp on it.
[00:44:02] Crystal Fincher: That is exactly what -
[00:44:02] Mike McGinn: And so, there needed to be a new approach. And shots fired were up, murders were up in the City. And this is a nationwide issue, but I do think local action can make a difference in places to ameliorate that, to work on that. And you just can't throw up your hand and say it's a big national - if you're over here, you can't throw up your hand and say, "Well, there's a big national issue." And you can acknowledge the severity of the issue, but you got to figure out, in the billions of dollars the City spends, and the people that it employs, how can you make a difference in your own community? And that, I think, is another serious issue for Mayor Harrell and mayors across the nation. How are we going to deal with this rise that we're seeing in shootings and killings?
[00:44:58] Crystal Fincher: Yeah. And there's a good bit of data out there about what makes a difference. And really, it all boils down to addressing root causes.
[00:45:07] Mike McGinn: Yeah.
[00:45:08] Crystal Fincher: And a watershed study came out, a huge research project came out, showing that carceral solutions are actually ineffective for dealing with this. It is not dealing with the root cause of these issues, and not making the problem better. It's making it worse. So I do hope we look at that. I hope if we look at things in general.
We've been talking for quite some time now, and what I anticipated originally was going to be just a simple little week-in-review, maybe we have some expansive stuff talking about the year. Now will be split between two episodes. I mean, we technically probably have enough for three episodes - we'll try and cap it at two. But this is what happens when we talk. We end up having conversations like this. We just had a lot of it with the record button pressed, as opposed to it not being pressed this time. And off the air, but I always appreciate you and your insight. I always appreciate your ability to reflect and to look at what you did, and you're like, "Hey, this went really well, could have done this better." And I have certainly learned a lot from that over the years.
So I thank all of you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on this Thursday, December 30th, 2021. It's December 30th, oh my gosh. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler with assistance by Shannon Cheng, and our insightful co-host today was activist, community leader, and former mayor of Seattle, and Executive Director of America Walks, Mike McGinn. You can find Mike on Twitter @mayormcginn. That's M-C-G-I-N-N. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I. Now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcast. Just type "Hacks & Wonks" into the search bar, be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the episode notes. Get boosted, stay away from the Omicron rona. It's getting everybody out there. Please be safe, and be kind to your neighbors. And we'll see you in 2022.