Relating to my previous post (tangentially), Seattle Times columnist Nicole Brodeur notes that nobody has stepped forward to challenge Seattle mayor Greg Nickels for his office. Brodeur attributes it to the fact that Nickels has a flair for constituent service, and his decision to fix the potholes upon assuming office endeared him to city residents. This is quite possibly true. But I wonder if something else is at work.
Are the mayor's opponents waiting for the Seattle city budget to implode while Nickels is in charge? Despite his pothole repair program, the city has been spending far less on transportation than a recently convened commission has determined is neccessary to maintain the city's infrastructure. ($12 million/year; the commission believes that $25 million is more appropriate.) Along with declining gas taxes (which will only be aggrevated by increased use of mass transit) and the ever-expanding cost of social services and bureaucratic continuance, Seattle is going to have to raise taxes (sales or property), raise user and licensing fees, or make deeper cuts in the budget. To his credit, Nickels has done a good job of lowering the overhead costs, cutting unneccessary positions and eliminating duplication and overlap. Howewver, there's not much left to remove without impacting the underlying programs, and the budget still needs to shrink. Any cuts are going to antagonize one or more interest groups, permitting increases will damage the city's shaky business community, and tax increases will upset a large portion of the city's taxpayers. Right now, the city is content, but in four years, it is likely to be much less so, and that would be the time to make a run against Nickels.