Many Seattleites just now tuning to the mayoral race are drawn to the candidacy of Mark Sidran. Some wonder whether the no-nonsense city attorney is too tough and insensitive for laid-back Seattle.
Sidran is tough but not insensitive. The civility laws he championed have made life noticeably better for thousands of people who live, work, shop and do business in the city.
Laws curbing aggressive panhandling, urinating in public and sitting and lying by storefronts during business hours are not mean-spirited. They are common-sense efforts designed to revive downtown and neighborhood business districts — and they worked.
Eight years ago, the sidewalks downtown and in nearby neighborhoods were nearly impassable from encampments of homeless people. Shoppers had to tiptoe among the panhandlers and their pets to get to stores. Downtown's impressive renaissance is due to a variety of factors, including civility laws advocated by Sidran.
Throughout the mayoral campaign, detractors have called Sidran every name imaginable. With his thick skin and healthy sense of humor, he calmly urged people to assess the results. And Sidran, city attorney the past 12 years, has the winning argument.
Who wants to stand up today and argue people should be allowed to urinate in public? The City Council decided this week to pay for five high-tech public toilets that make the law even more defensible.
Who wants to bring back encampments that blocked and sometimes ruined businesses? Many panhandlers simply changed venues — to freeway off-ramps.
Sidran was not cruel; he was tough enough to help revive a city he loves.
In a 1993 speech before Seattle Rotary, Sidran talked about the need to balance more-aggressive laws with more services for the homeless and the poor.
In defending the law aimed at limiting sitting and reclining, Sidran cited the impacts of the encampments on other citizens: "The elderly, the infirm and vision-impaired should not have to navigate around people lying prone on frequently congested sidewalks," he said. "Beyond this, many people see those sitting or lying on the sidewalks — and either because they expect to be solicited or otherwise feel apprehensive — avoid the area. This deters them from shopping at adjacent businesses, contributing to the failure of some and damage of others, costing Seattle jobs and essential tax revenue."
That's not unduly harsh. It's common-sense management of public spaces.
Homelessness is a complicated problem. Compassion, public assistance — and tough laws — are essential to balancing individual rights and social responsibilities.
Instead of blaming Sidran for having the guts to fix the problem, voters should embrace the man who works to make the city more approachable for the largest number of its citizens.