Laughably Awful Pedersen Op-Ed Justifies Printing Out Seattle Times

7

Paper is compostable.
Bad opinions are not.

Oh, for an easier assignment than to address the flubs and follies of Councilmember Alex Pedersen’s Seattle Times op-ed about the challenges facing Seattle’s next mayor. With a weak sauce open letter format followed by four strawman questions followed by a listicle, his piece is not so much a coherent article as a messy stack of room temperature scrod. And just like fish left to slowly fester on the counter, his clarion call for the next mayor to kiss the ring of commerce should be kicked to the curb. After a year like 2020, we deserve better. 

To be honest, Pedersen’s listicle forgets that half of 2020 happened. Pandemic and racial justice take a distant back seat to straight up cash. The virus only shows up to justify another lost year of the Durkan administration or putting women back to work. Similarly, Pedersen speaks of race only in economic terms. Race is a platform for addressing the “expensive” police union contract. Marginalized communities are only talked about in terms of jobs. The dogwhistle “urban problems” is repurposed as a pitch for some tech savvy entrepreneur to develop an app.

Admittedly this is on brand for Pedersen, since it was Chamber of Commerce money that bought his council seat. But his call for “common ground at City Hall” is the howl of a self-appointed victim whose voice is overwhelmed by a vicious liberal majority. It’s also quite false. The narrative that City Hall is irrevocably divided ignores that there were only 29 times the Council voted non-unanimously out of the 580 votes they took in 2020. Eight of those non-unanimous votes had Pedersen as the sole objecting vote. On the other hand, Councilmember Kshama Sawant was the sole objection on 11 votes. By that scale, if we’re truly talking common ground, there should be a stronger shift to the left.

After his revanchist call for common ground, Pedersen tries to base his remaining points on a report from The Brookings Institution. Saying its smart strategies come from “outside our City Hall bubble,” Pedersen gears up his list of market-driven priorities. But a reading of the actual Brookings reports show Pedersen dropped the link without getting past the titles. 

Even with metrics heavily tilted towards economic activity, the Brookings authors go headlong into leading rebuilding with racial equity. “Rebuilding better, with a commitment to quality and equity suffused throughout state and local recovery strategies, can help communities begin to transcend the weaknesses that plagued their economies before the crisis and restore faith in the public, private, and civic institutions that steer places through both prosperity and adversity.” The first Brookings principle for action is “set goals to increase prosperity and racial equity” followed by establishing a framework to test success and failure. Pedersen’s list of challenges skip that part.

If we look at the top 40 words Pedersen used in his 1000 word article, race doesn’t even make the list. Chamber interests like business, companies, and employers dominate. The counclmember appears to have lived through the 2010s and is headed straight back to 1980’s Reaganomics. 

A word cloud of the terms that appear in CM Pedersen’s Seattle Times Op-Ed. It’s more cohesive than the actual article.

Perhaps history is the place where we have to start in order to see the actual challenges that the incoming mayor faces. 

Let’s start with the 1930’s redlining map that drew economic walls around Black and immigrant communities. Every zoning law that is on the books as well as the layout of Seattle’s highway system and the location of industrial pollution is based on that map. By 2024, the city will create a new Comprehensive Plan that must decide whether it will break with segregation or double down.

A redlining map of Seattle shows the Central District and Delridge indicated in red for "hazardous."
Redlining map from the 1930s. (Credit: Kroll Map Company)

Let’s go to the 1940’s where Seattle’s wartime boom and forced relocation of Japanese Americans was met with the city’s initial forays into public housing. That produced Yesler Terrace and defense worker housing in Holly Park. And then we pretty much stopped. Small, scattered developments of public housing grew across the city. Or parts of the city. Or selected locations that were not objectionable to single-family homeowners. This played out again and again, most recently with the Mandatory Housing Affordability rezone debate. The new mayor faces the challenge of building housing, not just depending on a market to magic it into existence. 

How about the 1950’s where the construction of Interstate 5 and Interstate 90 in Seattle displaced 40,000 people or 10% of the city’s population at the time. But today the removal of trees for an extension of light rail warrants Dewey Defeats Truman size headlines in the local fishwrap. There’s no question that the same publication printed Pedersen’s trash editorial. 

I-5 construction. (Seattle Municipal Archives)

On the subject of transit, let’s also pick up the pieces of the failed 1968 and 1970 Forward Thrust initiatives. They set up Seattle’s feast or famine pace of transit. The next four years will see the opening of 24 new light rail stations. And then famine as progress stalls until some time in the 2030’s. It does not have to. We all saw how uneven transit in this city allowed expensive light rail to run virtually empty while we cut routes and frequency for the buses that carried essential workers to our hospitals and grocery stores. The mayor has the chance to make sure the next wave of light rail and streetcar and RapidRide expansions are financed, equitable, and completed soon. 

And, of course, we’re still going to be cleaning up 2020. Even with herd immunity, there will be years of operating vaccine clinics, shoring up hospital capacity, and potentially tamping down new variants of the virus. At the same time, the institutional fallout is only beginning. Clunky response to emergencies has put Seattle Department of Transportation on notice that their processes and priorities are going to change. The uneven reaction of the Seattle School District (and heavy-handed overreach of neighbors) has many questioning why the state has 300 school districts (hint: racism). And unequivocally, the new mayor must continue the fight to defund Seattle Police Department (SPD). This is not a question of rebuild or reset or any of the other light adjustments that Pedersen talks about. Institutions that have failed will be disassembled. The new mayor will lead their replacement. 

The dumbest strawman that Pedersen throws out is that an incoming mayor must “admit government can’t do it alone.” Since no one actually makes that argument, it can only be understood as an attempt to sucker punch some effigy of democratic socialism and Councilmember Sawant. Prioritize common ground, indeed.

Alex Pedersen poses in a suitcoat in a City Hall hallway
Councilmember Alex Pedersen poses at City Hall. (Courtesy of Pedersen campaign)

“To deliver upward mobility and a deeper stake in the community, a mayor can incentivize the rapid creation of condominiums in all neighborhoods with transit to enable thousands of Seattleites to become homeowners. Let’s incentivize larger Seattle businesses to buy more goods and services from women-owned and minority-owned small businesses. Let’s incentivize local universities to expand efforts to incubate new microbusinesses owned by people of color.” -Alex Pedersen

But it is going to take government standing at the front to actively and forcibly root out the segregationist causes for inequities and institutional failures. It will be painful, messy, and difficult. And the City will often appear alone, which happens when you’re at the front. That means you’re leading. Being alone versus being a leader is a difference that Pedersen does not appear to understand.

The reason rooting out racism must be done is glaring in the unstated parts of Pedersen’s listicle. Wage gap, digital divide, uneven recruitment, failed infrastructure. Charging ahead on these issues under a “common ground” banner only serves to paper over the reason these inequities exist. Our system, working as it was designed, produced them. We can add as many market-driven bandaids as we have in the box, but the wounds will never heal without rooting out the infection and building anew.

Every mayor sits at some sort of an inflection point. Whether it’s apocalyptic bust or more catastrophic growth, there’s the possibility for every mayor to make an indelible mark on Seattle. The current one had countless opportunities handed to her, but is only crawling to the finish line in a cloud of tear gas while mumbling about pandemic. She has only herself to blame. 

That leaves the bar fairly low for whomever comes next. The challenge, then, becomes whether they will take Councilmember Pedersen’s advice and capitulate to another lost mayoral term. Or the next mayor can clear the 20th century debris and set the city on course for the next hundred years.

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Ray Dubicki is a stay-at-home dad and parent-on-call for taking care of general school and neighborhood tasks around Ballard. This lets him see how urbanism works (or doesn’t) during the hours most people are locked in their office. He is an attorney and urbanist by training, with soup-to-nuts planning experience from code enforcement to university development to writing zoning ordinances. He enjoys using PowerPoint, but only because it’s no longer a weekly obligation.

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rdpence

Yes, how horrible to have a City Councilmember not moored to current “progressive” orthodoxy. Divergent viewpoints are not good for the system. Everyone should be marching to the same drummer.

ThePenIsMightier

Wow, Ray, you really have a lot to say about the strongest City Council advocate for safety. Of course government can’t do it alone. Seattle needs to embrace private and non-profit assistance to progress. Seattle also needs to provide for the safety of its urban population. This is not accomplished by “refunding,” but rather by having an actual plan. This scathing article you’ve penned is simply another rant without a plan. Please enlighten your audience about your decisive plan of action to move Seattle forward.

ronp

I supported Pederson’s opponent in the last election and Pederson annoys me but I try not to hate on the guy. He is not that far ideologically from most people in Seattle, his staff works hard and are sincere and honest. We could do much worse than the him for a council member. I hope he moves towards more progressive politics to reflect his district more, otherwise I think a challenger will beat him in the next election.

Phyzzi

As someone who lives in his district, I got a campaign flier about how we should support him because he somehow supports safer biking (it had a little girl on a bike for the big picture).

This is the guy who led the charge to dismantle the separated bike lanes on 35th Ave. NE.

Sorry, there is nothing honest about the man, and if his staff are honest, they don’t make it possible for his constituents to contact him (in the experience of several people I have talked with) or actually help him to be a voice of honesty. So I have to disagree with you, he’s absolutely loathsome, or if he is not, he’s not willing to put an ounce of effort into anything that resembles an honest and authentic viewpoint and whatever staff he has haven’t brought him to his community or done an ounce of work to make him seem less loathsome.

And before you think it’s just that he’s a moderate, I feel like I need to say that I don’t hate Durkin. She’s a moderate, sure, and probably should have acted decisively several times when she didn’t. I can’t disagree with the analysis that she didn’t always make hard decisions when they were called for BUT I think she genuinely represents a lot about Seattle and especially more traditional Seattle that isn’t necessarily conservative but simply a little inclined to be measured even in the face of dramatic changes. I see that, and while it’s not the way I necessarily vote, it’s a thing I understand… but that’s not who I see Pederson as. He’s the worst combination of selectively avoidant of the people he should be actually listening to and happy to pop up with an “opinion” that’s just pedaling the conservative minority’s fiscal and social desires in neo-liberal clothing that I’ve seen in local government in a long time, and I’m ashamed of who it says I am that he “represents” me.

Daniel Thompson

I also thought Pedersen’s editorial was campaign fluff. I would have liked to see more detail, on transit, bridges, road repairs, affordable housing, homelessness, crime, zoning, completing the convention center remodel, downtown businesses, and so on. Ray relitigates the past, but this election is about the future, although that is cliché. Ray is spot on 2021 and probably 2022 will be digging out of the pandemic, with some huge revenue gaps, and the election for mayor will likely occur before Seattle knows what it will look like post pandemic, and how much revenue it will retain.

In the end total tax revenue will decide what Seattle can and can’t do, no matter who is mayor, and many cities are in this position. Right now completing ST 3 will require about $10 billion in additional levy funds from the N. King Co. subarea if HB 1304 passes, including 1/2 of the second transit tunnel and new bridges to West Seattle, Ballard and Magnolia. Metro is going to need a lot more revenue if frequency and routes are not going to decline, including feeder buses to the light rail spine we just spent billions completing, including peak hour commutes if commuting returns, and God help us if it doesn’t. Seattle’s total annual budget is $5.9 billion, with around $1.3 billion in general fund expenditures. There are also large proposals for affordable housing, and restarting the service industry, dealing with evictions, and restarting retail vibrancy in the downtown core which is pretty dead right now. K-12 education has to improve, and it is a shame when 22% of K-12 students are in private schools and Seattle public schools have a 14% college readiness average. Candidates don’t like to discuss these things.

Whether you are Ray or Pedersen the policy differences are much smaller than imagined because tax revenue dictates what can be funded. My concern is not only is Ray’s vision unaffordable, so is Pedersen’s. I think what Pedersen was trying to say when he states government can’t do it alone is government does not create revenue, it can only tax revenue and spend it. So to the extent Seattle’s future depends on total tax revenue Seattle can’t do it alone, and revenue determines what Seattle is, and will be. So pray for increased total business revenue if you want a cut.

Seattle has had five mayors in seven years I believe, and the prior five mayors have definitely left an “indelible” mark to use Ray’s words, except Seattle’s tax revenue grew so significant during those years policy errors could easily be fixed. Durkan was suppose to be the adult in the room since district specific council elections have not had the desired effect. I will be interested to see if the voters of Seattle go all in on progressiveness (whether the funds are there to support it or not), or go with another “moderate” mayor.

Phyzzi

Even if we have another moderate mayor, I can’t see it being Durkin (and I did actually vote for her despite leaning pretty progressive myself). I think she sealed her fate when she didn’t immediately take action to protect peaceful protesters (whether or not all the protesters were peaceful, it’s undeniable at this point that some who certainly were got to be at the receiving end of some blunt and poorly handled instruments, and that real leadership should have stepped forward more aggressively to address that). I don’t mind moderates, but I don’t much love equivocation, and I think we can see Seattle as a whole is a bit tired of it too, but I do understand that leadership is hard and in the moment taking a beat can make sense… and then turn out to be obviously the wrong thing later. Overall, I think she’s not a disaster, just not the strong and decisive leader we needed in this particularly turbulent year. We’ll have to see if a moderate runs against Durkin.

As for Pederson, he’s 100% full of cow burps that power his torch-pants like an olympic flame, and he was before he got on council when he took down a good plan for bike lanes in NE that had been in the works for more than a decade and paraded it around like some kind of accomplishment when all he did was turn several good or at least reasonable ideas into steaming piles of rubbish (I bike and drive in NE and 35th is absolutely the worst of all possible outcomes now, at least for anyone who actually lives here and isn’t trying to drive through at several times the speed limit). Then he ran on that dumpster fire and won, spinning hot cow burps out of two sides of his mouth with election ads that left me literally open mouthed at the shameless deception and pandering. His reputation now is that he’s essentially inaccessible to his constituents, a trait that might be admirable for someone with more moral clarity or a longer record or a larger and more varied constituency, but which is somewhat preposterous for someone serving their first term on city council. I guess if you don’t come knocking with a big Amazon bag of bribe money, you aren’t worth his time. He’s just about the worst you can get for a “liberal” and if conservatives hadn’t collectively seemingly lost their minds this year I would say I would be considering voting for literally anyone else, and as it is, I will be donating a what I can to whoever seems best positioned to take him out of office.

Durkin made some mistakes, but I think she’s an okay person with a real opinion. I don’t know if it will save her, but I’m not solidly in the “toss her” crowd until I see what the other options are. Pederson needs to go, as soon as possible, even if the replacement is just someone with the same views but an honest bone in their body and half a care for their actual constituents. If by some miracle, Pederson himself sees the light and stops circular breathing mostly chewed cud, then I’ll even give him a chance, but I think his op ed shows how far away that is.

Anonymous

Why don’t you run as a Mayor or a Council Member?