Blank Ballot: As Mayor Murray Exits Will Things Get Better for Housing in Seattle?

The answer is, I think, no. In case you missed it, Mayor Murray resigned from office leaving today at 5PM. Last night Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon both gave horrible debate performances. Moon, in my opinion “won” the debate, having a better and more confidant command of the issues than Durkan. I can tell that Moon really likes to talk about housing even though she doesn’t really know what she’s talking about. Durkan, on the other hand, speaks the I would about soccer; with pain and a deep sense that it’s really hard to understand how people can get excited about a sport that has scores like 1 to 0. Durkan doesn’t care, but she is more favorable to business. Moon really cares, but favors really bad and silly ideas like taxing speculators. We’re doomed. I’m already sort of missing Mayor Murray.

If Moon won the “debate” (the quotes indicate that it was more of a colloquia) then The Seattle Times’ Vernal Coleman won the moderator contest. The socialists and communists gave that win to The Stranger’s Heidi Groover who did her job, asking questions that Stranger readers would ask (how will you approach housing from a social services perspective etc). Coleman asked about the high costs of non-profit housing citing the figure of $350,000. I had hoped he’d cite my figure of $500,000 but still, he pressed the issue with the question. The answer? I don’t remember. Neither candidate answered it.

Durkan’s total failure came with two phrases, “housing is a human right” and that she would “tap developers” for money to subsidized non-profit housing. She and Moon repeatedly referenced “HALA” as the new tax on housing that would be charged under the City’s Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning (MIZ) scheme it calls Mandatory Housing Affordability or MHA. That’s bad enough, but Durkan who is supposed to be “pro-business” said numerous times that builders would be paying for subsidized housing. And while she said “housing is a human right” she also supported sweeps. I don’t think that Durkan knows what that phrase even means. And if she does, I know she won’t do anything to make it happen. It’s what we call pablum.

Durkan further goofed when she tried to call out Moon for not having run a big organization. It was supposed to be a knock out moment, like “you don’t know how to run a City.” Instead Moon beautifully pivoted and pointed out that she’d run a business with just as many people as Durkan managed when she was a prosecutor. “Have I ever run a $6 billion organization?” parried Moon. “No. But neither have you.” Total win. Moon wasn’t able to shed her weird idea of taxing foreign investors and came across as defensive. She also said, more or less, that market rate builders were part of the problem not part of the solution. She wanted to convey she was with the Oliver, Hasegawa, and Stranger voters.

Based on last night’s debate, Durkan does not deserve the vote of hard working builders. Neither does moon. Knute Berger had as fine a take on the end of Ed Murray as anyone. He said of Murray,

He seemed to embody the strongman-type mayor many Seattleites have yearned for — he used his office to drive agendas, whether the HALA housing plan or raising the level of urgency on homelessness. He wasn’t at constant war with the City Council. He yanked the reins of control on the neighborhood councils to show who was boss.

Not really. He wasn’t so much a strong man as a stubborn man. But he was effective at confounding his technique of putting antagonists in a room and bullying them into a solution. And the outcome was a thing called HALA which was confused with a tax on new development, MIZ. I always said Murray was like the dad driving the car who threatened the kids in the back who were making too much noise. “Don’t make me stop this car and come back there!” Did that technique solve any problems. Of course not. But it shut everyone up except those of us who had nothing to hear from the Mayor.

Murray failed, in the end, to resolve the housing issue. He shut almost everyone up, including even the contentious and skeptical Stranger who dutifully supported his MIZ scheme. That’s something. But that isn’t consensus. And it isn’t policy. It’s just shutting everyone up until the next bathroom stop. But Durkan and Moon seem like they’re auditioning to host a low wattage pod cast rather than running a government and solving a pressing and urgent problem which is more about ending abusive ideology and looking more at data. We don’t have a housing crisis (as Durkan repeatedly mouthed over and over) we have a housing shortage.

Our next Mayor doesn’t have a clue about the distinction between those two concepts. Today, my advice to builders is that we have more leverage if we leave our ballots blank. If one of these candidates wins by 500 votes, we can at least say we made up the difference. That might mean something. Durkan thinks she’s entitled to your vote because she thinks we’re afraid of Moon. I’m not. You shouldn’t be either. Neither one seems to understand the business of building or the economics of housing. Why vote for either one when a vote for Durkan means voting against Moon if she wins, and if Durkan wins, it means a vote for someone who has said she’ll make you pay for non-profit housing. I don’t see the benefit of voting for either. I’ll probably leave my ballot blank.

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