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Horrible news for newsies

The truth is that the Seattle municipal elections now ending are most notable for their relative lack of rancor and underhanded tactics. Attempts at creating scandals have been half-hearted and fizzled fast. The ad-homonym attacks have been rare and pitifully unimaginative, the exposure of political correctness gaffes almost nonexistent. And we call ourselves a world-class city!

For people in the local media it’s been a terrible autumn. Especially if you are part of the political news and views business–normally a leering knot of malcontents–the El Nino drought is already here. I personally feel crushed when I realize that most of the few readers that I reach each week probably turned the page by the end of the last paragraph.

Believe me, it is agony trying to write a positive editorial or article; that is, if you want it to be interesting. In contrast, a negative article emerges with effortless joy, full-blown from the head of the word processor. The reason is that cynicism can pass easily for worldly wisdom these days, while an upbeat perspective runs the risk of seeming naive. The same goes for television news, where almost any political report ends with some verbal smirk that subtly challenges the veracity of whatever public official has just been heard.

But, if the media’s blood-lust is weaker than usual this year, you voters aren’t doing much better. Normally, this culture’s trend toward vegetarianism does not extend to politics; people still want red meat. Deep down, many of you folks supposedly love scandals and verbal mayhem, or else the media’s pandering wouldn’t work. But, one way or another, Seattle voters don’t seem to have been tempted this year. And I’m just afraid that if they is served much more dry cereal and prune juice like we’ve had in these city elections, the Elections Department will be lucky to get the League of Women Voters to the polls.

The candidates themselves have not done their share to inflame the campaign, either. Oh, Paul Schell did make a game attempt to tag Charlie Chong with an ethics violation. That effort was occasioned by evidence that the populist Chong apparently is benefiting from a pro-Chong committee that has raised funds not covered by the city’s $400 a person contribution limit. Schell, whose broad-based campaign has scooped up over $350,000 from some 2100 donors, perhaps could have been generous at this point and overlooked the purported legal violation. (Or he could have made the obvious point that the old $400 limit is absurdly low.) Instead he tried to enliven the race by filing a formal protest. The media reported it, and then came the public response: Nothing!

Have we become so jaded by the orgies of political licentiousness in Washington, DC that we are indifferent to a bit of exposed ankle here in Seattle? I guess so.

And what about Schell? Crooning editorials aside, the media have been more zealous than the Chong camp will acknowledge in rooting around for scandal in the frontrunner’s history. But, with what results? Well, thanks to one set of investigators we found out that this Iowa preacher’s son was actually born Paul Schlactenhaufen, but when he was a young man he changed his name. Isn’t that awful? How could he abandon a sonorous name like Schlactenhaufen? Maybe nobody, including the reader who just read it, could remember it –let alone spell it–and perhaps most American names have been changed at some time or another. But, nonetheless, what’s the matter with you people? Why aren’t you shocked?

There was also the grim revelation that Schell actually made money in development, while the people who bought his renovated buildings later lost money (never mind that the property since regained its value). For people who have followed the stock market lately, it seems that none of this was slightly interesting, let alone exciting. Then it was uncovered that when Schell, as Port Commissioner, led two taxpayer-financed missions to Europe to promote Seattle products, he finished the trips with several days of visits to his vacation place in France. Okay, so he paid for the extra travel himself and, overall, traveled less than any other Port Commissioner; so what? You voters are supposed to be appalled. I mean, once you have Port Commissioners traveling, the next thing you know you’ll have a governor going on a trade mission to China. How can we become the Peoria of the West Coast if this keeps up?

So, here it is, Halloween, and neither the media nor the candidates have found any real skeletons in the closet, or, at least, any worth rattling. And the voters don’t even seem to miss them. As a dismal consequence, whether the choice is mayor or city council, we are reduced again to choosing among generally honest and sincere people, though of varying qualifications. We wind up with a campaign on the issues and, anymore, that’s just no fun at all.

But don’t blame the media. Extend sympathy instead. How would you like to cover politics in a place like this?

Bruce Chapman

Cofounder and Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute
Bruce Chapman has had a long career in American politics and public policy at the city, state, national, and international levels. Elected to the Seattle City Council and as Washington State's Secretary of State, he also served in several leadership posts in the Reagan administration, including ambassador. In 1991, he founded the public policy think tank Discovery Institute, where he currently serves as Chairman of the Board and director of the Chapman Center on Citizen Leadership.