The personality makeover King County Executive Dow Constantine underwent to run for the office in 2009, a veneer of pragmatic rhetoric that successfully hid the aggressive progressive side of his political persona, has begun to wear thin.
Constantine has arguably been an adequate fiscal manager during a difficult time in King County government, chopping budgets in response to slacking revenues, but his most notable achievement has been restraining his own tendencies to incite partisan bickering when pursuing ideological objectives. That all changed last Thursday when a personal animus for Bellevue businessman and light-rail opponent Kemper Freeman, Jr. overcame Constantine’s self-control.
Freeman spent in excess of $1 million to ensure that voters would have an opportunity to cast a ballot on how revenues gas taxes and road tolls can be spent – Initiative 1152 – he also owns the Bellevue Square shopping mall. Constantine implied to KUOW “Weekday” host Steve Scher last Thursday that spending at Bellevue Square was tantamount to financing the effort to kill light-rail.
“If you shop at Bellevue Square, you are contributing to that campaign,” Constantine said.
When Constantine’s inner liberal starts screaming after being suppressed for so long, it appears to deafen him to hypocrisy. The jab at Freeman came after a Constantine and Scher had already riffed on how the “extremist Tea Party/Tim Eyman gang nattering at” the Council in opposition to his proposed $20 car tab fee might necessitate implementing cuts to Metro that Scher characterized as “scary.”
Bellevue Square has long been an engine of the Eastside economy and a virtual fountain of sales tax revenue. Constantine estimates the revenues of his $20 car tab fee would be $25 million per year over the next two years, but appears not to care much about the impact on sales tax revenues from a boycott of Bellevue Square. Then there is the resultant underemployment following a decline in sales and the trickle-down effect of lost wages.
Constantine’s comments caught the attention of Washington State Republican Party Chair Kirby Wilbur. In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Wilbur remarked on the tone-deafness of Constantine’s suggestion that residents should punish any business in a time of economic hardship.
“Dow Constantine’s pettiness is showing. His encouragement of King County residents to not shop at Bellevue Square because of his personal issues with Kemper Freeman is not what King County residents need, especially in this recession.
“Mr. Constantine should be more concerned with ensuring King County’s money is spent properly – not trying to micromanage people’s pocketbooks.”
A politician of Constantine’s caliber must also be aware of the egregious conflation underpinning his basic contention. I-1125 only seeks to reinforce the state’s existing law, underscoring the principle that revenues derived from gas taxes and tolls are to be spent on roads, not transit. Passage of I-1125 may indirectly doom fantasies of a shiny light-rail system crowding the downtown Bellevue corridor, but only if proponents of such a system fail to envision a legally viable funding mechanism.
Détente is in the wind, however. Wilbur invited Constantine to sit down and break bread with he and Freeman at Ruth’s Chris Steak House at Bellevue Square Wednesday night.
“If Dow will meet me for dinner I will buy him a steak,” Wilbur said. “Call me, Dow.”
There is no word yet on whether Constantine will be joining the Wilbur party this evening.