Transportation the big issue separating Sidran, Nickels; mayoral candidates stress their qualifications at Queen Anne Chamber lunch
Tuesday, October 23, 2001 5:00 PM
Sidran's humor and Nickels' quick, sound-bite thinking aside, both men emphasized their leadership qualities and experience as a reason to vote for them.
Nickels said he has been drawn to politics practically his entire life, first as an intern with Warren Magnuson, later as an aide to Norm Rice for eight years when the former Seattle mayor was on the City Council, and finally as a member of the King County Council for the past 14 years.
Sidran touted his 20 years of experience as a prosecutor - 10 of which as city attorney demonstrated his management skills, the Queen Anne resident said.
"I think all that experience will stand me in good stead if I'm elected mayor," he said.
Nickels, a member of the Sound Transit board, addressed the issue of transportation, repeating his often-heard contention that light rail needs to be built now, and that it should have been started 30 years ago as part of the Forward Thrust bond issue.
As mayor, Nickels said he would make sure light rail reaches Sea-Tac Airport and North Seattle. "I would also work with the monorail board," he said.
"We also need some immediate action to make our current (transportation) system work better," Nickels said, adding that strengthening east-west bus routes is one example. He also said that the current state of mass transit in Seattle is "the number-one threat to our economy and maybe our mental health."
Sidran said transportation is obviously a critical issue for the city, but he took pains to slam Sound Transit, again calling the latest route plan "the train to nowhere."
The city attorney also believes Sound Transit has become a public-relations fiasco for the city.
"I believe that in the last five years, Sound Transit has done more to squander public trust than anyone could have imagined," he said.
One of the first things he would do if elected mayor would be to go to Olympia and ask the Legislature to abolish the Sound Transit board, Sidran said.
Sidran also played the law-and-order card, saying city residents live in a time tempered by terrorism and beset by economic uncertainty. "I believe we can have safe streets in Seattle," he said.
Nickels addressed public safety as well, stressing the need for leadership and referring to the Mardi Gras riots last spring when police commanders in the field either didn't make decisions or didn't make them in a timely manner, he said.
"We expect our police to do a very good job," Nickels said. But he also said police aren't always given the training or the skills needed to tackle that job. Nickels said the city needs a system of accountability for the police department so that corrections in procedures can be made.
"Public safety is a very, very important issue throughout our city," Nickels said, adding that as mayor he would make sure everyone was safe in their homes and on the streets.
Sidran said the city's police department has gotten better and better over the years.
"There will always be individuals who don't do their jobs," Sidran said of some officers. But Sidran also added that he thinks there are opportunities to improve police department policies.
He referred to the impound ordinance he shepherded through the City Council as an example. The ordinance, which calls for the cars of unlicensed drivers to be impounded, cuts down on the amount of time police have to spend on each incident, Sidran said.
The issue of homelessness in the city also came up at the luncheon. Nickels said there are approximately 6,500 people living on the streets at any given time in Seattle, many of whom are suffering from drug addiction, alcoholism and mental illness.
"As a city, we need to be taking action to make sure our mentally ill get treatment, that they get places to live," he said.
When the state began to close down mental-health-treatment facilities 30 years ago, promises to provide local alternatives were broken, Nickels said. He noted one result of that inaction.
"The King County Jail is the third-largest mental-health facility in the state," Nickels said.
Sidran agreed that homelessness is a problem in Seattle.
"I very much believe ... that the fundamental issue is not the cost of housing," he said.
Rather, the issue is one of public health and addictions, Sidran said.
Seattle, in the last 15 years, has tripled the amount of money spent on homeless programs, yet the number of homeless on the streets hasn't seemed to change, he said.
The city needs to shift away from policies that allow people to stay on the streets, but the strategy of expanding the number of shelter beds has not worked, according to Sidran. What's needed is a shift in focus to prevention and treatment, he said.
The two mayoral candidates also pointed out their differences over neighborhood planning and capital projects in Seattle.
Nickels said he supported capital projects such as a proposed new neighborhood center on lower Queen Anne because they would provide family-wage jobs. Nickels also said he supports neighborhood matching-fund projects in which sweat equity is matched with city money.
But he cautioned that the city has used the arrangement in the past to say no to projects that should be tackled, even though there is not enough neighborhood support to qualify for matching city funds.
Nickels described the neighborhood plans as a blueprint for different areas of the city, but he didn't offer blanket approval of them.
"As mayor, I will go back from time to time to see if they are working," he said.
Although he said he was a strong supporter of neighborhood plans, Sidran was less sanguine about the issue.
"I've been saying since May that the next mayor will have to cut the budget," he said.
Capital projects outlines in neighborhood plans will put pressure on operating budgets for core city services, he said.
"We're going to have to make some hard choices about priorities," Sidran added.