O'Brien needs a backbone


Honorable people can disagree over the recent Seattle City Council passage and mayoral veto of the aggressive-panhandling ordinance. But anyone watching City Councilmember Mike O'Brien's all-too-public flip-flop over the vote may be excused for feeling seasick.
Worse, O'Brien not only agonized about voting for the ordinance and against his friend, Mayor Mike McGinn, but then talked about the agony of his indecisiveness to a Seattle Times reporter at length.
There is grace under pressure, and then there is its opposite.
A quick review: Councilmember Tim Burgess had crafted a five-point plan to address problems on city streets. Blocking or intimidating a person while asking for something could have triggered a $50 fine or community service. Other components of the plan addressed human-services funding, mental health treatment and police presence.
On April 16, O'Brien announced he was voting for the ordinance, breaking with his mayoral friend and the progressives who helped elect both of them.
Then began O'Brien's long weekend before the Monday vote, the details of which he confided to Times reporter Emily Heffter. The April 23 story reads like a satire on the Seattle process: O'Brien said he changed his mind several times over the weekend; that he met with his advisors on Saturday morning to map out the pros and cons on a whiteboard; how, riding his bike, he wondered if maybe getting hit by a car was a more pleasant alternative than showing up for work on Monday to cast his vote.
To top it off, on the Monday vote day, the mayor went on the radio to urge listeners to call O'Brien to tell him to vote against the ordinance. O'Brien told Times reporter Heffter he didn't appreciate that and sent a text message to the mayor saying, "We should have a beer sometime."
In the end, O'Brien voted against the ordinance, which passed 5-4. Five days later, the mayor exercised his veto. The council needs six votes to overturn a veto, which it now apparently lacks.
The ordinance wouldn't have criminalized homelessness, as opponents claimed - only behaviors. Never mind the vulnerable (the old, the young, the slight) on our streets: Ideology has triumphed over street-level reality.
In his veto message, the mayor spoke of the victory of the city's "shared values," whatever that means. We do know Seattle was treated to a profile in spinelessness from a rookie council member and a rookie mayor's ongoing fecklessness.
Hold the beer, boys, and grow up.
And now, Mr. Mayor, what are you going to do about those 20 police officers you were supposed to hire?[[In-content Ad]]