Robert Rosencrantz, a real estate broker with considerable experience creating affordable housing, and Mike O'Brien, former president of the Sierra Club and CFO of the Lawrence Stokes law firm, are running against each other in one of this election's most hotly contested races. The issues they've staked out: transportation infrastructure and the Viaduct replacement; affordable housing; the environment; and job growth and the economy.
The hot-button issue for both candidates has been replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct: O'Brien is staunchly against the tunnel, citing its $4.2-billion price tag, the likelihood of cost overruns and what he sees as a myopic approach both to spending and to solving transportation issues; he supports the "surface option," which rings in at $900 million less, a considerable sum, he says, in this ailing economy. He would like to see that money spent on schools, libraries and public transit. Rosencrantz argues that the tunnel -- now -- is the only option on the table that accommodates the north-south throughput necessary for industry and job growth; he has stated, however, his commitment to making sure that cost overruns are paid for by downtown businesses and developers rather than the average Seattle taxpayer.
On a more general level, both candidates agree that infrastructure investments need to be made in transportation and public transit. Of the two candidates, O'Brien's commitment to public transit is tethered more tightly to his general platform. There has also been some brouhaha over O'Brien's -- as he has said elsewhere, "flippant" -- comment that he would consider placing tolls on roads "everywhere," not just on Seattle highways, in part to pay for infrastructure and reduce driving. Rosencrantz opposes the idea of widespread tolling, saying it would "hurt business and families."
Both candidates strongly support the housing levy. But when discussing additional options for creating affordable housing, Rosencrantz tends to have more specific and wider-ranging proposals: future expansion of the levy as well as the inclusion of a local voucher system, within the levy, similar to Section 8 housing assistance. He also cites his 14-year project for King County growing affordable housing around Microsoft through early investments as an example of ways Seattle could create more housing.
Both are also pro-density, but with a difference: O'Brien wants to see somewhat less regulation of zoning building codes to encourage density, especially in areas with planned transit investments; Rosencrantz argues that current zoning already allows greater capacity -- and he has stated that he would protect single-family occupancy neighborhoods.
The two candidates diverge on Councilmember Tim Burgess' proposed "anti-aggressive panhandling" law: Rosencrantz supports it -- he sees "aggressive" panhandling as a public safety issue that, he admits, needs to be delicately balanced with the preservation of civil liberties; O'Brien opposes it on the grounds that it further criminalizes poverty and that panhandling "is not a career choice" but a signal that the city is making the wrong investments when there "are no opportunities" for the poor. On a related note, whereas both candidates support the Tent Cities, Rosencrantz does not support a permanent site for Nickelsville as O'Brien does, citing its failure to establish itself through formal processes involving both the city and neighborhoods.
On the broader issue of poverty, O'Brien is clearly the more progressive -- supporting raising taxes to fund the city's ailing human services, greater investments in creating opportunity and implementation of more effective programs; Rosencrantz tends to combine progressive goals with an approach that, sometimes, can at first seem (and he'll be the first to admit this) a bit hard-nosed: he does not support raising taxes to fund human services, but he does want to see more people reach self-sufficiency and better outcomes through a restructuring of allocations and more cost-effective programs within human services. Here, as in many of the key issues in this election, the two candidates espouse rather different approaches to achieving similar general goals.