2023: Dawning of The Age of Seattle Austerity


Here are my alerts for the significant developments in the coming year, some of which might actually happen and some of which I only WISH would happen.

Early Start of a Governor’s Race. There are three good Democratic candidates to succeed Gov. Jay Inslee in 2024. If a challenger gets in early, that will probably prompt Inslee to declare that he won’t seek an unprecedented fourth term. It may be that a relative unknown, such as a minority candidate, will jump the gun, much as Brady Walkinshaw did in 2015 by challenging Congressman Jim McDermott, who soon decided to retire. Most likely to jump in first among the Big Three is King County Executive Dow Constantine, who would run on his strong management credentials and as a pro-business Democrat who would match up with the sour economy. Attorney General Bob Ferguson has the best war chest and a record of challenging big business (and Trump) that will attract liberals and young voters. Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz has statewide support and an environmental base. Republicans are too split to mount much of a campaign.

Austerity Politics. Now that federal bailout dollars are gone, many high-flying public agencies — such as Transit, City Hall, Seattle Schools, and homeless funding — will either need to cut back employees and programs or (more likely) seek bailouts and loans from the Democratically controlled Legislature and the Feds (where Sen. Patty Murray is incoming chair of Senate Appropriations). Since there is no real opposition party, the keep-spending-and-cross-your-fingers scenario will be more likely, unless we face (as we might) a real recession.

Downtown Doldrums. I see band-aids but not a genuine recovery. Seattle has badly neglected its downtown for years, and the tech economy means a very slow return to offices. As downtown Seattle languishes, tax revenues will shrink. Other dominoes may start to topple, such as downtown churches, arts attendance, and big-store retail. Optimists will pin hopes on tourism, conventions, and the boost from opening the Central Waterfront Park and Aquarium in 2024-5.

Sound Transit Showdown. Here again, Sen. Murray might save the transit system from hard decisions by shipping carloads of federal money, and much of the growth of Sound Transit (such as the Ballard-Downtown-West Seattle link) depends on the arrival of the federal cavalry. That Ballard line is in jeopardy, due to shoehorning stations into a built-up city and also due to outer-city anger at having to wait so long for its stations. Outlook: dieting, mostly in the form of delays, since the suburban members of the Sound Transit board could not achieve consensus to defy Seattle.

Creaky Leadership. Seattle’s economy is full of young, highly educated, and disruptive people, but the political leadership is showing its age. Moreover, many of the leaders have long been in local government and are now in the cautious, caretaker, get-elected-again, soon-to-retire mode. Ages: Constantine, 61; Harrell, 64; Inslee, 71; Murray, 72; Sen. Cantwell, 64. (Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, 57, is the exception, as is Seattle Schools Superintendent Brent Jones, 54.) Like the Snake River, the flow of young ideas is held up by dams at the top. Nor do local reformers such as mayors and school superintendents get to serve enough years to make real change.

Angst in the Arts. During the pandemic, the high-overhead arts organizations were bailed out by Biden Bucks, endowments, and the one-time generosity of donors. Now those reserves are gone, yet expenses keep rising (in part to fund diversity programs) and audiences are slow in returning to downtown seats and covid-ish halls. Meanwhile, governmental bailouts tend to be all about expanding audiences and building smaller or far-flung venues. Austerity could produce more scaled-back performances (as Seattle Opera is doing) and experimentation, but mostly it will be about survival.

Gestural Centrism. The City Council is trying to regain its footing after years of showy performative liberalism and pushing around hapless mayors. The 2021 election was a sign, echoed nationally, of a modest retreat to the center. The question is whether we will have gestural centrism or more imaginative and durable solutions to homelessness, crime, transit, schools. Given the effective veto that the Left has in our city and in our media, I see still more stalemates and less funding for new social-justice initiatives. The big debates in the coming year will be about cuts in programs and upzoning for apartments and backyard bungalows in urban neighborhoods. Gestures will prevail.

Council Drift. With maybe three open seats (of seven) on the City Council (Herbold, Juarez, likely Sawant), the 2023 election will be a reiteration of the basic stalemates in Seattle (density versus neighborhoods, social justice versus basics) Mayor Harrell, bent on re-election in 2025, will continue appeasing both sides of an inexperienced, leaderless council.

Shots in the Arm. Tourism will be the hope for downtown and city tax revenues, and we have the new Waterfront Park, an expanded Aquarium, Climate Pledge Arena at Seattle Center, the expanded Convention Center, the downtown trolley, and perhaps a new cruise ship terminal. Seattle Center and the Waterfront Park may move to combined management and productions. Tourism, alas, is not a lasting fix and requires costly national marketing and new baubles such as hockey and NBA basketball. Desolate Third Avenue might be restored by a dramatic remake of the government center, but the governmentocracy will nix that. Meanwhile, Seattle is building new “downtowns” at University Village, South Lake Union, West Seattle, Bellevue, and Northgate, so the retail and property-tax dollars may continue to flow.

Drama = Dollars. Republicans in Congress will be a clown show. Many in the GOP have figured out that crises and telegenic meltdowns can easily be turned into fundraising appeals. The formula: Foment outrage so as to fend off the far right in the primary, then lose in the general election, feed the FOX by owning the Libs, and charge that the election was stolen (operators are standing by…). Meanwhile, Democrats do not have a serious opposition party and so coast and add to existing programs. A serious recession or a new virus would prompt the business community to woo the Democrats, particularly as the GOP shifts from the party of business to the party of aggrieved workers. Biden will run again but not have an easy primary.

David Brewster
David Brewster
David Brewster, a founding member of Post Alley, has a long career in publishing, having founded Seattle Weekly, Sasquatch Books, and Crosscut.com. His civic ventures have been Town Hall Seattle and FolioSeattle.


    • “Agist nonsense”

      That likely has meaning for some, that is among the Seattle elitists who believe in their fabricated sense of “injustice.”

      But it gets us to the impotent state we are in, here in the “progressive” political church by the Bay.

      Brewster’s assessments, are rooted in 50+ years of active experience in Seattle, and merit consideration.

      Those who see “ageism,” racism,” and “sexism” in anything they don’t like indeed are the problem, not to be a part of the solution. Speaking of nonsense . . .

      Sam Sperry

    • Suggesting age is “nonsense” is ridiculous, knowing and following David’s writing for years would better be termed as experience, insight and understanding!!

      • Indeed, Sam Sperry and Jim Norman, I have known and admired his writings for years. I said this is ageist nonsense embedded in this article, and this is it. “….now in the cautious, caretaker, get-elected-again, soon-to-retire mode.” Just because someone is older doesn’t mean they should be labeled in that insulting fashion. Nobody is above being called out for ageism, Jim Norman and Sam Sperry. To infer that anyone is above criticism–THAT is elitist. Sam, I didn’t say anything about, “racism” or “sexism” — kindly show me where I did, before you start tsk-taking me.

  1. Right now, two photos display above this comment section. On the left is House Republican Matt Gaetz. Senator Patty Murray is on the right. At 40, Gaetz may be a “disruptor” but I’d sure prefer Senator Murray’s cool head and hands in a crisis. Even if her hands might shake a little at 72.

  2. Surely there is something other to do than display angst and, to some degree, ageism. Not everyone over retirement age, or who’s retired prior to ‘official’ retirement age, has stopped thinking.

  3. I’m bemused about these supposed new but good ideas being held up by seniors.

    DB, where? What? Some examples please.

    If anything, we have too many new but callow ideas.

  4. Great article, having been involved in City activities for years, I just hope we can survive these “trying” times and that new initiatives evolve that can get us through it.

  5. But David Brewster, if I was hurtful, I apologize. I thought I was being careful to say, “with respect” and that the article was (very) “well written.”That is beyond dispute.

  6. Regarding the ageist tempest in a teapot. The main complaint I wanted to register was how long people like Constantine and Inslee and Harrell have been around, with the usual caution that goes with that. It’s not about their age, though that too (as with Congress) is a problem. The best blend is experience and young turks, and a disconnect with the younger and younger population in Seattle. Speaking for myself, a senior citizen who has been around too long, I know the problems: repeating oneself and growing cynical.

  7. Nope, David Brewster, you are still saying interesting things, as you have been for the last 55 years (to my direct knowledge).

    Sometimes you are dead wrong but always worth reading!

    Keep at it!


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