Politicians would ignore logic in voting against arena: The scary possible reason

Jul 18, 2012, 7:03 AM | Updated: 9:38 am

By Mike Salk

Chris Hansen has had all the right answers. I just hope that will be enough to get an arena built.

In theory, being right is enough. We would all like to believe that the strongest argument carries the day, whether in political debates, courtroom battles or even arguments with friends or family. But we all know that often being right is not enough.

What we say is not always as important as how we say it, or to whom we say it.

It is one of the first rules of politics and it’s a hard lesson to learn. Unfortunately, I wonder if Hansen is learning it right now.

When his name first surfaced, Hansen was seen by sports fans and arena supporters as a previously unknown savior. He was from Seattle and cared deeply about Seattle sports. He had enough money and connections to put together an investment team and, most importantly, a unique and killer plan to get it built.

The mayor and county executive were on board, even leading the fight. Developers marveled at the creative way his plan used the city and county to get access to money at a better borrowing rate.

But while we saw him as an angel, how was he perceived by those with decision making power?

In the past few months, the Port has raised its objections to the location, The Seattle Times has officially opposed the project and we’re now hearing rumblings that there may not be enough votes on the Seattle City Council to get this passed in its current form. Plenty of important people were unimpressed.

This despite Hansen’s ability to counter every weak argument with facts, figures and logic.

So, what gives?

I have suggested before that The Seattle Times’ editorial board writers seem to have made it personal. They have consistently attacked Hansen personally, using his profession and his residence in the Bay Area against him. At first, I figured this was just a silly vendetta, but I’m starting to wonder if it’s more than that.

Having worked in local politics in Los Angeles, I can tell you that politicians often act for reasons that have nothing to do with logic. What they say publicly can have little or no correlation with their true reasons for casting a vote. Maybe they owe another councilperson a favor, maybe they are getting revenge for a past slight, maybe they have a relationship with a lobbyist, maybe they have taken money from stakeholder or maybe they simply just vote based on whether they like the person asking them to act.

I’m worried that Chris Hansen has run afoul of some of these politicians.

Maybe The Times is picking up its “anonymous outsider” sentiment from the same politicians that are likely to oppose this measure.

Hansen began this process by meeting with Mayor Mike McGinn and King County Executive Dow Constantine, an obvious starting point for anyone attempting a project of this magnitude. Both leaders jumped on board, perhaps swayed by the benefits to their respective constituencies, perhaps pleased to be the first ones invited to the table, perhaps for political gains. I won’t pretend to know what combination worked.

But before he had the opportunity to consult with the 18 members of the two relevant councils, The Seattle Times broke the story and everything went public – perhaps before Hansen was ready?

I can’t help but wonder how many of the potential “no” votes are simply bitter about being late to the party. Were they not courted well enough by Hansen?

Do they see him as an outsider that hasn’t paid his dues in Seattle? I could see councilmembers upset that some new rich guy is planting his flag in their town without properly kissing the ring. I could see them reacting by wanting to teach him a lesson or two.

My gut tells me one of those reasons is the real one. I don’t want to believe that elected officials would oppose a great deal for their city simply because they aren’t sports fans – they should understand the value here that goes well beyond a debate on the prioritization of sports.

But I’m open to other possibilities.

Maybe certain members of the City Council see an opportunity to oppose the current mayor in an election year where some of them may run for his seat. In politics, it is sometimes better to split from a prospective opponent on a polarizing issue just so that you can twist the facts and better contrast your candidacy. Even better, by killing a good proposal, you can prove how your opponent is ineffectual and weak.

Regardless, I hope Chris Hansen has a plan to lobby this group behind the scenes. No vote has been cast yet so there is still time to build a coalition in the council. I know he has hired some powerful and well-connected lobbyists – they seem to have a lot of work to do.

I sure hope he understands how to win by showing members of the council why this is in their own best interest.

Too many of them seem to care more about that than the best interest of our community.

Note: I’ll be appearing Monday evening, July 30 at EVO in Capitol Hill on a panel discussion along with former Seattle City Council president Peter Steinbrueck, Seattle Port Commissioner Tom Albro and Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien. Please come!

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Politicians would ignore logic in voting against arena: The scary possible reason