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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

June 23, 2009 at 9:52 AM

The missing part of the Seattle mayor’s race: Urgency on the economy

Top of the News: Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels kicked off his campaign for a third term this week, facing seven challengers but none who seem formidable. The mayor faces many issues, much carping and low popularity. Yet a glaring omission from the campaign seems to much emphasis on the economy.

I’ve only been here for two years, but it seems as if Seattle voters ask little from their elected representatives on this issue. It may be a symptom of a city with a robust private sector. For example, in Charlotte the big banks and Duke Energy essentially told the mayor what to do. In Phoenix, on the other hand, the nation’s fifth largest city but with a Lilliputian economy, the issue is among the top priorities of the mayor.

Yet now Seattle is caught in the financial phase of the Great Disruption, and already pillars of downtown have fallen, taking down thousands of well-paid jobs. It faces ever more powerful global competition, and regional rivals such as Bellevue. The competitive geography everywhere is changing.

Perhaps economic reinvention has happened here repeatedly precisely because the mayor has been a bit player. Still, there are concerns about manufacturing and other diversifying elements being pushed out of the city, and not just from the anti-everything screamers. Nor can Seattle assume it can coast on the stewards and accomplishments of the past generation. It’s ominous that the region is not creating new companies that are staying and growing, rather than being sold off.

Nickels’ campaign page includes the line, “I did not hesitate to invest in creating and preserving thousands of family-wage jobs then, and I’m just as focused keeping Seattle working through the tough times we are facing today.” But the specifics for dealing with the great recession’s reset are few.

Is there a vigorous debate to be had in this mayoral election? Sure. Will it happen — or will Seattle Nice turn into Seattle Silence?

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Another delay

Maybe Boeing would let us

Just sit in the plane

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