‘Political liar’ questions city’s tactics leading up to Seattle Tunnel vote

Jun 20, 2016, 2:24 PM | Updated: 2:41 pm
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Once the Alaskan Way Viaduct is no more, drivers will have to choose between and tunnel and surface streets. (WSDOT)

A man calling himself a former “paid political liar” for the City of Seattle alleged on KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson Show that some of the tactics used to get the Seattle Tunnel project approved were questionable.

George Howland told Dori his job as spokesperson for the city between 2006-2008 was to spin the truth, and that he was told polling showed voters would have preferred a new viaduct over a tunnel.

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“I didn’t see it myself,” he notes.

However, “it seemed very credible at the time and the person who told me would have no need to lie to me,” Howland said.

And that wasn’t the only thing that made Howland suspicious. Ballot language that asked voters which option they preferred also raised some eyebrows, as pointed out by a columnist who wrote to The Seattle Times. The language asked voters if they would prefer a new elevated structure or a cut-and-cover tunnel under Alaskan Way, Howland wrote in his blog. The strange part about the ballot was that instead of giving choices “as a head-to-head matchup,” voters were asked two yes or no questions: 1. Do you want a tunnel? Yes or no; 2. Do you want a new viaduct? Yes or no.

In short, voters could vote for both a viaduct and tunnel, or neither one.

“I thought it was a bizarre way of phrasing a question,” Howland said. “The only thing I could think is that it was a setup so the tunnel could not be defeated by the viaduct.”

Then-chair of the city’s Transportation Committee Jan Drago wrote an op-ed to explain why the viaduct ballot asked two questions.

Howland points out that in the end, voters rejected both the tunnel and a rebuilt viaduct. That was good for those on the pro-tunnel side, he writes; state and city leaders soon began showing their support for a deep-bore tunnel.

“Voters had said they didn’t want a cut-and-cover tunnel, so the politicians gave them a different kind of tunnel,” he wrote.

And who was to blame for the convoluted language on the ballot? Howland says the office of then-Mayor Greg Nickels.

Howland believes there was a “big consensus” among Seattle politicians that the viaduct should be removed to make the waterfront more amiable for tourism so that developers could make “oodles” of cash.

Dori agrees.

“That’s where I’ve always had concerns,” Dori said. “I do know that there were developers and property owners who stood to reap the benefit of increased property value.”

Though Howland never saw people greasing political palms, he did see what he thought was favoritism to big property developers.

And how does Howland feel about helping city government spin the truth?

“I felt sick … I felt terrible about it,” Howland said. “It was counter to my nature.”

Dori Monson on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
  • listen to dori monsonTune in to KIRO Newsradio weekdays at 12 noon for The Dori Monson Show.

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‘Political liar’ questions city’s tactics leading up to Seattle Tunnel vote