Al Runte is very much at home in Seattle, having lived in his Wedgwood neighborhood for the past 25 years. A big man, like his mayoral opponent, he sits affably for our interview, inviting a curious onlooker to listen in and "be entertained."
Tell us about your background. What qualifies you to be mayor of Seattle?
Runte: "I was born and raised in New York. My father was a machinist; my mother was a school secretary. I came to Seattle to teach history at the University of Washington; I enjoyed teaching, but I did not get tenure. So I've been working as an historical consultant. I've written a number of books and consulted with corporations large and small about rail transportation and the environment.
"The reason I decided to run for mayor is [that] I looked around the city and saw it was falling apart. I decided I could do better. My qualifications are [those] of a citizen, not a politician. I can talk to anyone at any time about issues that affect the city.
"I am not against development, but I am concerned that development should be channeled effectively, and that our city should take better care of the needs of its citizens, not just the rich people on top of the political food chain."
What would you do differently if you were mayor?
"My major policy difference is the kinds of people we keep company with. I have visited all the neighborhoods of Seattle; I think it's time for those neighborhoods to get the highest priority. Mr. Nickels has spent the past four years promising the neighborhoods everything, but cutting the bud-get to the neighborhoods by 22 percent while giving billionaires and developers huge public subsidies. The subsidies to Vulcan alone have been between $500 million and $1 billion."
Are you speaking of tax credits for building lower-income housing units?
"I'm talking about tax breaks and direct subsidies."
I have heard tax credits are the way funds are currently channeled from the federal government for building affordable housing. Should the city refuse these funds?
"There are federal programs, but what I'm talking about is where the city is saying to developers that we will give you subsidies to build this housing. That will bankrupt the city and make it unable to take care of its infrastructure.
"Our streets and roads are a mess. We've got to start fixing the streets in every neighborhood. If this were Chicago, New York or Boston, people would be downright embarrassed by the quality of their streets. Streets with poor lights, poor pavement and poor crosswalks are jeopardy and a liability.
"Our parks need attention as well. Mayor Nickels wants to put a parking garage in the zoo. We have to protect our parks, not turn them over to development. We also have to take care of our schools. We have to start paying teachers more to get better-quality teachers. Those needs can't be addressed if we continue to subsidize developers. Mayor Nickels and I are light years apart on this."
What would you like your campaign to accomplish even if you are not elected?
"My campaign is getting people out of their complacency and lethargy. I'm stirring up the issues and reminding people that there are other ways the city could go."
I want to ask you the same questions I asked Mayor Nickels, so that people can compare your answers. What is your plan to get Seattleites out of their cars?
"We have to start thinking more regionally, not just locally. In January I will go to the state Legislature and point out that Seattle is a major interna-tional seaport. We have to think realistically about how to finance good public transit in the city, regionally and statewide. I will work to see that all transit projects are cohesive and integrated. If there's going to be a monorail and a light rail, how do they connect?
"I would ask Europe to send us their best engineers. I would ask international groups to advise us on how to get people out of their cars. We need to stop sprawling out our highway system. In the short run, we need to put on a lot more buses, and they need to be more frequent so people don't have to memorize schedules."
Would you try to encourage people to live in the downtown area?
"Americans like the single-family home; families with children want single-family detached housing. In order to make downtown denser, you need the infrastructure. You can't do one without the other. The infrastructure has to go in first, then the development."
What's your plan to ensure our children will be able to afford to live in Seattle?
"We're not going to have children and families living in Seattle unless we address the issue of who gets quality neighborhoods and who pays for them. One sure way to drive off families with children is to not fix neighborhoods. Not to have your police and fire protection at levels where they need to be. Not to have sidewalks. Not to have good roads.
"New suburban areas have all of these amenities. They sing their songs to the people of Seattle, that if you come to Issaquah you can have good schools and modern neighborhoods and stores closer to where you live. Here in Seattle, all the amenities are being shoved downtown. That will drive off families with children."
Are you familiar with what Vancouver did to reduce car trips into the downtown area?
"I haven't been to Vancouver lately, but I know they've done a lot more with their public transportation. What a lot of European cities have done is actually tax people who come into the downtown. For instance, in London you have to pay $40 a week if you want to drive your car downtown. But before you do that, you have to have the alternatives in place."
What else would you do to make sure our children can afford to live in Seattle?
"I would make sure the developers pay their fair share of the taxes so that this doesn't all fall on the middle class. Every time we build one of these new biotech campuses, they get a full tax break. We can't afford that."
Do you want the viaduct rebuilt?
"Yes. It's just too expensive to build the tunnel. If I were mayor, I would work with all levels of government. The senators are beside themselves because they tell this mayor there's not enough money for this tunnel, but he says, 'I'm going to build it anyway.' That's arrogant. You have to sit down with [Sen.] Patty Murray and [Gov.] Christine Gregoire and say, 'How do we work this out so the people of Eastern Washington are as confident in what we're doing as the people in Seattle?'
"Besides, why would you want to build a tunnel on an earthquake fault?"
What would be your plan to end homelessness in Seattle?
"Whenever issues of homelessness and civil rights have been addressed, it has always been by the middle class. If the middle class are happy and feel their neighborhoods are being well maintained, they will reach deeper into their pockets for services for the homeless.
"That doesn't just mean for the housing. It means for psychiatrists and care givers that homeless people need. We used to have that 25 years ago, but politicians decided we couldn't afford it. So people got thrown out on the streets. If the middle class is happy in Seattle, they will tax themselves to provide housing-levies services for the homeless."
It would seem that in order to create a strong middle class, you would have to create jobs. How would you do this?
"By hiring people to fix the streets and repair the infrastructure of our city. [Such] jobs last from year to year. Development doesn't create those kinds of jobs. New construction jobs are here today and gone tomorrow."