I’m A Loser

Posted on Categories Campaigning

Well, like the song says, and as expected, I’m a loser. I’d like to be gracious, congratulate my opponent on running a great campaign and wish him a successful term. I’d like to but I can’t. 😀

Look, I ran because I was not and am not happy with the state of affairs. And if you voted for me, I assume you felt the same. So I simply cannot be sanguine. My assumption is that the Deputy Mayor will only continue with the current agenda that caused me to run in the first place.

I do want to thank everyone who supported me. I can’t tell you what it meant to me. I also want to acknowledge the things I could’ve done better.

When I started, I was under the impression that I would get support from various people in town who would help me figure out what to do and how to raise money. For reasons I won’t go into here that did not happen, so I just started ‘doorbelling’; determined to win by dint of shoe leather alone. And though it was -great- in terms of actually learning about people’s needs, it clearly was not enough to win. I somewhat arrogantly avoided traditional ‘networking’ because I felt then (and still feel) that there is something a bit oily about the whole business of fundraising. I am still not thrilled at how much money the candidates had to raise in order to be competitive. That doesn’t feel ‘right’ to me; not in a small town like Des Moines. But let’s face it: my opponent basically just put out a zillion yard signs and then ran an absentee campaign. So clearly, to a certain, extent money does matter.

The other thing is that, from Day one, I was told over and over how I was going to lose. I mean, even people who voted for me told me they already knew I was in a ‘noble’ lost cause. And I suppose I bought into that a bit. I confess that it did give me a certain ‘freedom’; I literally didn’t lose any sleep over the campaign. I never worried about saying or doing the wrong thing–like a normal candidate would. Unlike all other (sensible) candidates I told people exactly what I would do if I won, at least in part because I was never worried about losing votes.

Which means that today, I am not feeling particularly downhearted for myself. In fact, I’m actually a bit energised by the whole experience. My only regret is that I didn’t fund raise like a ‘real’ candidate, which is what you deserved. By the time I figured out that I actually could win, and how to win, it was simply too late in the game.

So I want you to know that I know how I let you down. We need change here now. And to the extent that I could’ve campaigned better to make that happen? I am truly sorry. But I also want you to know that I will continue to fight for the issues I ran on: our health, the airport, the over-industrialisation, the lack of concern for neighbourhoods and the lack of open government in Des Moines. And when the next election comes round, I will likely be back in the race, but hopefully with a much better campaign. I still believe that we deserve a different future for Des Moines and I promise to do whatever I can to help get us there.

Sincerely,

—JC

Balance

Posted on Categories Campaigning, Economic Development, Neighborhoods

This will be my last post before the election. And to sum up, I want to talk about ‘balance’. I know this post is a bit long, so if you want to save some time, I wouldn’t blame ya bit if you simply skipped down to THE CHALLENGE.

For those of you still here, I want to first mention my Public Comment at the City Council meeting on October 12, 2017 which has stirred a bit of controversy. You can watch it here. My comment starts at prox. 3:00.

Video

If you skip ahead a bit to where the Council Members are allowed to give their ‘report’ back to the Mayor for the record, every CM took an opportunity to get their licks on me for making what they strongly implied to be either racist or discriminating against the poor. I find this laughable given the fact that I know our current council’s policies pretty well and I think I know ‘me’ very well. But viewers who watched on the cable TV may not so perhaps some explanation is in order.

EXCUSES, EXCUSES

Now as disingenuous as this may sound, it never crosses my mind that people now watch council meetings on their TVs. I suppose I should feel good about that given the emptiness of the council chambers. But it also makes me forget that there is an audience. Despite what some may think, I am not making a speech. My Public Comments really are directed to the Council Members; I am not being rhetorical. I don’t go there to argue or lecture. I simply want them to think about what I’m saying! So my comments are often ‘inside baseball’, reflecting things that we already know about each other, but that you do not. And the comments I’m about to talk about refer to things they know I’ve been upset about for a while.

My comments that night, which I admit I made in a very poor way, had to do with balance. All cities need to keep a LOT of things in balance in order to thrive. We need a healthy mix of different housing stocks: single family homes vs. apartments, owners and renters. The city government also needs to keep a balance between sources of revenues: sales taxes, business taxes, property taxes. And there are also environmental balances. For example, it’s important to have a certain number of parks and trees. Right now, we’ve lost a significant amount of forest with the development of the new Business Park. So the city and people like me are negotiating back and forth as to how we regain as much of that tree canopy as possible.

THE CHALLENGE

What I was trying to get across is this basic challenge: Des Moines residents’ incomes and homeowner property values have been shrinking relative to the rest of King County. While the rest of King County has been seeing a huge increase in property values and their residents a rise in income, Des Moines residents are not sharing in that prosperity.

At the same time, we are also in the midst of a very large resident turnover. In fact most of the people living here now did not live here ten years ago. In short, we have a city of new residents, who, taken as a whole are less well-off than a generation ago. And this has real consequences for the city’s future.

THEN VS. NOW: NOSTALGIA

When I first moved to Des Moines, my neighbours were engineers at Boeing, accountants, a store manager at Albertson’s; solid middle class people who lived around the region and found Des Moines to be a great place to raise a family. Des Moines had, in my view, the best value proposition in the region. They (and I) moved here at a time when the city garnered most of its revenue from property taxes. You see, Des Moines was designed to be a ‘bedroom community’; primarily for homeowners and small businesses. That was/is its charm. A place for families on the water. Des Moines was never meant to be a place that supported large industry as we’re seeing now with the Des Moines Creek Business Park. And forty years ago, the balance of homeowners paying property taxes worked well.

But now? We simply cannot generate enough sales tax from property taxes. Earlier city leaders did not have the foresight to see that change coming and transition the city smoothly. So now we’re having to re-invent ourselves in very short order.

THE CURRENT STRATEGY: INDUSTRIALIZATION

To do that, the current leadership is aggressively increasing the industrialization of Des Moines. This strategy has profound implications for that ‘balance’ I referred to.

Now the very appealing part of this strategy is that it pays the city’s bills without asking you to pay more. Great, right? And on top of that, since we do have such low property values relative to the rest of the region, we’re now one of the last places in the area that is considered ‘affordable’. Hooray!

DES MOINES IS A WATERFRONT COMMUNITY

But we’re a waterfront community. And waterfront communities should not have some of the lowest rents in a given region. In fact, a waterfront community should be highly valued (think Edmonds, Shilshole, Mukilteo, Poulsbo, etc.) It should be a powerful asset that attracts residents with higher incomes and visitors with higher incomes and small businesses to serve those clientele. That’s the way you build a great Downtown and Marina organically, by making it more valuable; by attracting people who can afford to support it.

ANOTHER STRATEGY: MARKETING

So my desire has been to market the city to the rest of the region; a region which has very poor awareness of Des Moines but has higher incomes. I believe that we need that waterfront to be highly valued in order to make the Downtown, and in fact the whole city, thrive again. To do this, we need to be reaching people who work at Amazon or on the East Side who can’t find affordable homes elsewhere. We need to encourage that same middle class to locate here for the best value proposition as was the case thirty years ago. In short, we need to actively market to recruit higher income, long term residents.

THE ‘G’ WORD

If what I’m suggesting sounds a bit like gentrification, you’re not wrong. Des Moines has always been proud of its working class roots and more than a little bit suspicious of pretense. But as I’ve been saying, we’re actually less affluent than in past generations and our property values are now lower than they should be. So a little gentrification would not be a bad thing at all. I believe the reason the Downtown and Marina are not thriving is because they do not attract the kinds of traffic that can support small business. Our current mix of residents and visitors simply can’t afford to support a great Downtown and Marina. But if we turn that around by recruiting for (somewhat) higher income residents and small businesses this also improves the lives of lower income residents because they also benefit from the improved businesses and infrastructure. Sorry for the bad pun, but a rising tide lifts all boats.

THE LONG VIEW

However, if the city continues on the current course of industrialization, we will have an ever-increasing mix of lower income residents. If that’s the case, then we should have an infrastructure of services that are designed to meet those needs. And we should have the revenue to handle the increased needs of those residents. But we don’t. We have always depended on private institutions and grants to handle the needs of lower income people. Has that worked well? Just ask any of these groups. In public they may say that all is great because they need to work with the city, but in private, they will tell you just how overwhelming the situation is.

THE TIPPING POINT

So the question is: what kind of city do we want? Because every increase in industrialization means a change to the city. More traffic. Fewer trees. Less of that ‘bedroom community’ so many of us moved here for. And I believe that such changes make us less attractive to potential long-term, more affluent residents that we need to organically support our businesses.

I think we are at a tipping point. It’s up to us to decide what kind of city we’re going to be in the next forty years: a city with a valuable waterfront and a balanced mix of residents and visitors with the disposable income to support it? Or a city which depends primarily on income from industrial parks (and the airport) to service an increasingly lower income base of residents?

IF YOU BUILD IT THEY WILL COME?

To me, the current strategy is a passive one. It basically does nothing to compete for potential residents who might be unaware of Des Moines. The game seems to be that we build a new Marina or other ‘attractions’ and hope that they attract the residents and visitors we want–just like in that movie, “If you build it, he will come.” I believe this is a real mistake. I used to live in Detroit. They wasted billions building shiny new structures, only to see them waste away because the residents and local businesses could not afford the flashy shops and business offices. And people outside of Detroit? They continued to shop and work where they were.

I believe that many of the revenue problems we have would be lessened if we simply restored the income balance of residents to the same place we were at thirty years ago. This would then drive organic improvements to the small business health of the entire town. In short: we improve our city by actively encouraging a healthy mix of residents’ income levels. And we do that simply by marketing the city to the rest of the region.

RESTORING THE BALANCE

My campaign has been about restoring the balance I loved so much when I moved to Des Moines. And that means making the city more desirable to the rest of the region; not just people in the immediate area who are seeking the lowest possible rent. It means making Des Moines once again the best value; not simply the cheapest. And to do that I’ve been fighting the over-industrialization; the increasing influence of the airport on city planning; the ever-increasing noise and pollution. Because no one with a healthy income will want to live here if they don’t feel it is safe and healthy.

I always say: I want to make Des Moines a great place to raise a family or retire or have a small business. To accomplish those goals we need to work pro-actively to encourage a proper balance of residents at all income levels. I did not word that properly in my Public Comment, but it’s the truth. It may be a hard truth, but it is the truth. If we either cannot or will not work towards this re-balancing, we cannot expect to regain the quality of life which a great waterfront community should expect.

The main thing I want to leave you with is that I do not advocate trying to manufacture some artificially ‘exclusive’ community. Des Moines has been and always will be a city with down to earth residents. All I’m suggesting is that we get back to the value proposition people had come to expect. We can get there. But such a change will not happen on its own. And it will not happen by simply building some shiny new structures. It will happen; because we work to tell the rest of the region about what used to be our secret and let the market go to work.

Video: Why Vote For JC Harris?

Posted on Categories Campaigning

I make my case for your vote in four and one half minutes. This video has some policy, but it’s main goal is to tell voters that I care enough about the city to be walking the streets and getting to know every neighborhood. We desperately need new voices on the council to fight the noise and pollution, to refocus the city away from grand developments, to improve the quality of our neighborhoods and to encourage small businesses to make Des Moines a destination full of unique opportunities to visit and shop.

This is the first video I’ve done which I’ve tried to market on Facebook. Previously, I’ve worked on many Facebook Ads with my ‘web developer’ hat on. But this is my first foray into targeting an advert to likely voters in Des Moines and I have a couple of observations.
1) It’s amazing how much Facebook thinks it knows about you. You can target people on Facebook by so many details such as ‘Homeowner’, ‘Retiree’, ‘Family with kids under the age of 8’, ‘Likely to engage in political discussions (Liberal)’ etc.

2) But for all that, Facebook currently doesn’t have a clue as to what I want to know which is ‘Likely To Vote’. A lot of metrics you think might help, really don’t. For example, targeting ‘Likely to engage in political discussions (Any)’ only gets me 1,100 people within a 10 mile radius of Des Moines (total Facebook members are 300,000 in that area). Only 1,100 people like to talk politics within a 10 mile radius of Des Moines? I think not. 😀

So one has to do some more digging and make some educated guesses when targeting a political advert. And one should have plenty of budget to test several ads each day to find out what works and what doesn’t. I sure don’t have a budget! So I guessed that people who are likely to vote in DM are
1. People over the age of 18.
2. People who own a home or rent an apartment.
3. People who have a full time job.
4. People who are full time students.
5. Retirees.

That gets it down to 190,000 Facebook members within a 10 mile radius of Des Moines. Oh, and you can’t target just Des Moines because that gets it down to 7,837 members and Facebook won’t let you do an advert with that small a sample size. Here’s the intri. Out of a total population of 32,000 or so, there are supposedly 16,800 registered voters. And based on previous elections, I expect half of that number will vote in the upcoming election. So 7,837 is pretty darned close to the number of people who will vote. Marketing genius on my part or just a coincidence? You make the call! 😀

Anyhoo, this pretty much wraps up my fabulous political strategery. I’ll be spending the last few days walking various neighbourhoods carrying my sign. If you see me? I hope you’ll say ‘Hi’ and tell me what’s on your mind.

But like the video says, whoever you vote for? PLEASE VOTE!

Are You Registered To Vote?

Posted on Categories Campaigning

The deadline is nearing to register to vote in the November 7th election (you are aware there’s an election, right? Right? :D).

So… you (unregistered person) have until next Monday, October 9th to register which you can do from the comfort of your LazyBoy right here:

https://weiapplets.sos.wa.gov/MyVoteOLVR/MyVoteOLVR

People in Des Moines are constantly grousing about any number of problems with our fair city that never seem to get fixed. Wanna know why? If you’re under 50? Frankly, it’s probably your fault.

Des Moines has some of the lowest voter turnout in the county. The AVERAGE voter clocks in at close to 52 years old. We’ll likely get as few as 5k votes out of 16k eligible human beings. And one other detail: It’s basically the same people voting every time around. People who vote, tend to vote every time and people who do not vote, almost never vote. Which means that it’s the same the same 5,000 dried up old people like me who call the shots. 😀

The irony is that this system depends on you (the person who doesn’t vote) to change things up. Because new guys like me rarely win unless new people like you vote.

So please register. And then vote. For somebody.

https://weiapplets.sos.wa.gov/MyVoteOLVR/MyVoteOLVR

Best Yard Sign Ever

Posted on Categories Campaigning

As I was doorbelling yesterday I ran across this yard sign. I wish the owners had been home as I really want to get one of these!

Win or lose, this is one of the side benefits of running for office. A lot of time doorbelling is not big fun, but I have to admit that I’ve learned more about Des Moines than I could’ve imagined when I got started. And every once in a while I come across something very cool like this that makes me glad I live here.

Candidates Night At Seattle South Side Chamber Of Commerce

Posted on Categories Airport, Campaigning, Policy1 Comment on Candidates Night At Seattle South Side Chamber Of Commerce

The Seattle Southside Chamber Of Commerce is hosting a Candidate’s Night event on September 27 at the Red Lion hotel in Seatac. I hope to see many of you there as it will give you a rare chance to see and hear and meet all the candidates.

To further educate you on all our positions, last month, all the candidates for City Council (save Anthony Martinelli) and Port Commissioner submitted their answers to a list of questions from the chamber. The above link gives you all our answers. At first, a lot of their answers might seem fairly pat. But if you squint, you can definitely see the very real differences between us.

One item I want to point out: I am the only candidate for office in any capacity who mentioned the problems of the airport as being of major concern. I find this absolutely stunning. One might make the case that candidates were responding to a set of questions from a pro-business organization and that might have caused them to downplay environmental problems. But most candidates did not mention the airport at all, or only in the most positive terms. And this actually frightens me a little.

I’m running because I feel the city is headed in the wrong direction on several levels. The other candidates will tell you that fixing the city’s finances is the number of obligation of a council member. I fundamentally disagree. The number one obligation of a council member is to protect its residents and the city. Full stop.

The seems so obvious to me I almost can’t believe it needs saying. If I were forced to choose between balancing the city’s books and keeping you safe? The answer is a big ‘Duuuh’. The pollution and noise generated by the airport is so egregious that it is already giving Des Moines some of the highest rates of cancer and respiratory disease in the nation–not to mention the fact that our property values and per capita income are the lowest of any waterfront community in the region. The airport may be an ‘economic engine’ for some, but it is the residents of Des Moines who suffer to make it happen. And I want to change that.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t also value the fiscal health of our city. I certainly do. But to hear the other candidates speak, one would get the impression that the only way for Des Moines to prosper is by creating ever greater partnerships with the airport. Other candidates also prioritize the environmental impacts of the airport far below that of economic development. I simply disagree. Your health; your childrens’ health and the health of our land, water and sky will always matter most to me.

I believe it is a false choice to assume that we must depend on the airport for our economic prosperity. Des Moines has some of the most beautiful natural resources in the entire region. Our location with respect to the various transportation arteries is almost ideal. We can and must leverage these assets to build a diversified and sustainable economy that is independent of any single industry and certainly not one that is so damaging to our health and property.

August Primary

Posted on Categories Campaigning

I Voted!
I voted! Could it get any cheesier? I don’t see how 😀
Well, the results for the August Primary are (mostly) in. In Des Moines, congratulations are in order for Matt Pina, Anthony Martinelli, Harry Steinmetz and Traci Buxton.

What concerns me is that the voter turnout in Des Moines was soooooooooo LOW–less than twenty percent. Now there are over 17,000 registered voters in Des Moines and yet only 3,000 actually bothered to mail in a ballot. That is a truly pitiful achievement. Some people will look at the results and think, “He who bought the most yard signs wins!” And that is partly true–the candidate who spends the most money usually does win. But that’s something of a red herring.

The unpleasant little secret of local politics is that, even if candidates did not spend any money on signs and ads and whatnot, you’d probably see the similar results because there tend to be two kinds of people in the world: The Voting People and The People Who Don’t Vote. The people who vote, always vote. And the people who don’t vote, rarely vote.

And why this state of affairs is a problem is because it almost always skews the results towards one particular type of candidate. In other words, those people who vote tend to have similar opinions in any given town and so you tend to get the same bias over and over.

The usual solution to this problem for candidates is to BUY MORE SIGNS! That is, spend more money than the other guy. That makes sense: more name recognition might equal more votes. Of course that also means that the candidate with the deepest pockets wins. But I’m not sure that’s entirely right because, as I said, the People Who Vote, tend to vote whether one has lots of signs or not. They already know who they’re going to vote for; they do their research.

Now, if you like the direction the city is going in, you may not worry about this too much. Because hey, if The People Who Don’t Vote don’t vote? Forget ’em, right? If they can’t be bothered, then that’s their problem. But I would suggest that regardless of your personal views, you should be concerned. It is simply un-democratic and un-American to have such small turnouts over and over because you get results that don’t reflect the will of all the people. And that matters to me. If I win in November, I’d like to think it was because it was because the majority of voters wanted me in–not just twenty percent of the voters.

In the past, one would say that it’s up to each candidate to promote voter turnout. But ironically, that’s getting harder to do with mail-in voting. Also, let’s face it: there is a growing apathy among the electorate; the sense that your vote doesn’t matter. But think about it: voting couldn’t be much easier now, right? You don’t have to take time off of work. There’s no schlepping to the polls. If you know who you want to vote for all you have to do is take or or two minutes to fill out the form and drop it in the mail. So if people can’t do something that easy, there is a real problem.

In fact, I think the problem of low voter turnout is now so severe that we should consider taking active steps at the city, county and state levels to turn it around. There needs to be a bit more active encouragement (or ‘nagging’ if you will) to get people to learn about the candidates and then take those two minutes to get it done.

One idea I think we should borrow from other countries: Public service announcements on TV and radio and even text messaging–small periodic nags to get it done. This makes perfect sense to me in an age when so many of us now rely on reminders from our smartphones or computers to keep us on schedule. I am constantly seeing reminders on social media to attend various events and they actually do help me to stay on track. I wouldn’t mind an occasional nag on Facebook or Twitter to take a look at the ballot I left on the shelf.

I’m sure there are a number of other things we can do to improve voter turnout. But most of all, I’m sure that we need to do something, and soon, to increase voter participation. Because no elected official can honestly say they have a real mandate if it’s from less than twenty percent of eligible voters.