There’s a Maya Angelou saying about people that goes like this: When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. Mayor Jenny Durkan has recently revealed a lot about who she is, and it’s not a great look.
The mayor’s recent attack on Tammy Morales, which inaccurately dismissed the progressive District 2 candidate for City Council as a “socialist” and baldly lied about her support for Seattle’s Navigation Team, tells us much more about Durkan than Morales.
In a city like Seattle, where liberalism is more or less assumed, the mere fact of being a Democrat means little. You can say all the right words much of the time and still be on the wrong side.
If there is one core truth for the times we are in, it is this: America is an oligarchy, controlled by wealth and distracted by racism. Democracy has been compromised and eclipsed by the power of money. This is where our attention should focus.
Think Seattle is any different from Washington, D.C.? Think again. The mayor’s red baiting tactics toward Morales come straight from the Trump playbook.
To understand where power really lies in Seattle, follow the money. Look at who’s behind the “City Council Reset” rhetoric, see who funds who, and ask yourself who benefits?
The mayor’s maneuvering on Seattle’s Sweetened Beverage Tax was another big reveal. Durkan recently accused the City Council of raiding the tax to defund programs that meet basic human needs. She manufactured a funding crisis — pitting communities of color against human services advocates — when her draft budget wasn’t even due to Council for another month.
Revenues raised through taxes on soda were supposed to support equitable food access in the minority communities most impacted by the tax. This was why people swallowed yet another regressive tax measure in Seattle. The beverage tax was and is about racial justice.
Instead, the tax was used in 2017 to replace general fund dollars for human services. When City Council took action to right the wrong and return those funds to their original intent, the mayor held human services hostage and sought to enlist vulnerable communities in her dirty work.
These zero-sum political games were especially odd in that this is a year when Seattle’s economy is strong and budget knives have been mostly left in the drawer.
Happily, most people saw through the ploy, and the purported pawns refused to play. Community organizations announced that the mayor’s divide-and-conquer tactics would not work, and the Council approved their fix by a veto-proof 7-1 margin.
Meanwhile, the mayor wants a $9 million budget add for SDOT to restart the City Connector project, tying together the First Hill and South Lake Union street car lines.
Since 2016, the cost of this project has literally doubled, from $143.2 million to $286 million and it’s still rising. The project was halted last year to assess the escalating costs, but the requested $9 million would be a commitment to moving street car construction forward, despite its troubled history and absence of economic sense.
Earlier this year, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat pointed out the covert logic behind the project.
According the city’s own report, both the South Lake Union and First Hill street cars are hemorrhaging both revenues and ridership. As public transportation, they’ll be slower than a bus and far less flexible. Worse, light rail will make the South Lake Union line redundant.
Westneat asks how this makes sense and finds the answer in a study of U.S. street car systems. Turns out, they’re not really about transit at all.
“We find that new streetcar investments no longer primarily improve transit accessibility,” said the authors, writing in the Journal of Transport Geography.
“Rather, modern streetcars are part of strategic amenity packages cities use to achieve real estate and economic development goals. The expected benefits from streetcar projects,” they conclude, “accrue mostly to local property interests.”
In a world where money talks so loudly that the courts have defined it as speech, the question is always who’s listening. This mayor is all ears.
Tim Harris is the Founding Director Real Change and has been active as a poor people’s organizer for more than two decades. Prior to moving to Seattle in 1994, Harris founded street newspaper Spare Change in Boston while working as Executive Director of Boston Jobs with Peace. He can be reached at director (at) realchangenews (dot) org
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