Council letter sounds scary but is good news for arena supporters

Jul 30, 2012, 3:20 PM | Updated: Jul 31, 2012, 5:27 am
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By Mike Salk

I know many arena supporters are panicked after reading
Monday’s letter sent by the Seattle City
Council to Chris Hansen.

Don’t be.

The letter sounds scary. It uses some ferocious
language and makes it sound as if the Council is on the
verge of sabotaging what seems like a fantastic proposal.
An initial reading might make it seem as if the council is
being greedy – looking a gift horse in the mouth and
asking for more.

I don’t see it quite that way.

In order to understand what is happening here, we need
to delve into foreign territory for a sports blog:
politics. If this proposal were to pass as written, Mayor
Mike McGinn would receive a lion share of the credit,
potentially giving him an upper hand in next year’s re-
election campaign.

Powerful councilmembers Tim Burgess and Sally Clark
don’t want that. Both have been reported to have mayoral
aspirations. It would be to their advantage for the
mayor’s role as a hero to be reduced and their own role in
improving the deal to be publicized. They need to show how
they did a better job than the mayor without being seen as
the ones that ended the deal.

cedargrove
Seattle City
Councilmembers Mike O’Brien, Sally Clark, and Tim Burgess
announce the council wants changes to Chris Hansen’s
arena proposal. (97.3 KIRO FM/Brandi Kruse)

How do you do that?

Easy. Prove that the mayor didn’t negotiate the best
deal and that he needed you to come in and save the city
from certain disaster.

Is it true? It doesn’t really matter. Politics is about
perception much more than reality.

That is where this letter – and the ensuing press
conference that gets them some camera time – come
in.

In short, the Council is going to ask Hansen to solve
some of the existing traffic and freight mobility concerns
in the SoDo area. No, he didn’t cause them and no, there
is no real evidence that his arena would negatively affect
the traffic in a significant way, but that is immaterial.
This is an opportunity to use the unexpected arrival of
Hansen’s deal to free up funding to solve some of the
traffic concerns.

Councilman Burgess says that can be accomplished
without asking Hansen to commit any additional resources.

If you remember, the Memorandum of Understanding
dictates that the City would contribute $200 million if
Hansen secures both an NBA and an NHL team. In the event,
however, that he can only secure an NBA team, the City
contribution drops to just $120 million. In the Council’s
view, Hansen is admitting that he can do this deal for $80
million less than he is asking for. They would like to
start negotiations on using some portion of that money for
traffic mitigation.

If they succeed in getting even some of that money,
they can crow that they were the ones who made the best
deal for the city and it becomes a campaign platform in a
mayoral campaign.

Back to the original question. Why is this good news
for arena supporters?

The City Council will not vote for the current proposal
without getting a political win. That win will come after
negotiation with Hansen. This letter is the first step
towards making that negotiation happen.

Both Clark and Burgess reiterated Monday that this
letter (and the ensuing negotiation) is the first step in
“getting to a yes.”

I take them at their word … not because I trust
politicians to tell the truth, but because I trust them to
look after their own self-interest. Negotiating a deal
that they can say improves on the original is the win they
need.

Hansen will have to decide how much of that $80 million
he can afford to see go towards transportation instead of
arena construction. It won’t be all of it –
something Burgess himself admitted – but it will
have to be some. Hansen is a smart guy who understands the
way the political game is played. He has been willing to
work with the council so far and the relationship has not
soured.

I have faith that will continue and this stays on the
path towards a yes vote next month.

This is a long and winding road, but it’s all part of
the process.

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Council letter sounds scary but is good news for arena supporters