A Letter To Matt Mahoney

Mr. Mahoney is a Council Member for the City Of Des Moines, Washington. This letter was written after my public comment on the City’s acceptance of the Port Of Seattle’s Century Agenda Grant to aid in Marina Redevelopment, Thursday May 9, 2019.

Council Member,

Thank you for at least considering changing your vote on accepting the Port’s grant. Given how totally beholden Des Moines has been to the Port over the past decade that was actually a pretty big step. 😀 If you had changed your vote it would have made a big difference–yes, even though it still would have been 6-1. I know you take great pride in the city. But I don’t think you or indeed the Council quite understand how Des Moines is perceived by the rest of King County. And that is the purpose of my letter.

Some housekeeping. First, let me say that I see how hard you’ve been working to become informed on city issues. That needs to be recognised. One can’t have vision if one doesn’t see what’s going on and you show up to more events of consequence than most of the rest of the Council. Thank you for doing that.

Second. A word about the Port: The Port works the way we all wish the US Postal Service did: it’s a public corporation that makes serious money performing very useful services. And the overwhelming percentage of King County loves what they are doing. Hell, put that way, I love what they’re doing. So by strictly democratic and capitalist standards, they will never change their ways.

OK, down to business. What I ask you to think about is this: How do you think the average Port employee/King County resident thinks about Des Moines? I’ll give you their honest answer: they don’t think about us. We don’t matter to them one way or the other. Not even a little. Even the people whose jobs depend on knowing the area (like the employees in Noise Programs) have no interest. The vast majority don’t live anywhere near here and most of them wouldn’t even know how to get here if there wasn’t Google Maps–even though we’re right next to the airport!

The truth is that the only time any of them ever think about us is when they are putting together a marketing brochure. We matter only in so much as we are a graphic or a statistic that they put up to demonstrate how much “good” they are doing for King County. How much they are giving back to “the community.”

On my long list of airporty-things to do? Make a cool graphic showing all their CAFRs (their annual financial statements) where they always have a shot of some area of Des Moines that their money helped to beautify. Until you see about ten of those lined up side by side, you don’t realise just how much they use us as part of their marketing message to King County. And they do this every frickin’ year. As I said, King County doesn’t know us. But in the Port’s story, we’re one of those areas in SKC the Port is always doing nice things for. Because, hey, that’s just how ‘progressive’ they are in Seattle, right?

And that was my point Thursday night. The rest of King County only sees us through the the lens of some document like a Port marketing brochure (or perhaps when your Mayor gets a TV spot telling everyone how great things down at Auntie Irene’s. 😀 ) So when anyone might complain about what Sea-Tac is doing to us? All the Port has to do is pull out their laundry list of marketing materials. All the endorsements and photographs-from your City Council) of all the swell things they’ve bought and paid for in Des Moines over the years. (Just drive around town and imagine how much of the city could now wear the tri-coloured Port Of Seattle wavy logo.)

To the Port, Des Moines is an ad expense. You understand sales and marketing budgets. That’s what this whole town is for the Port Of Seattle. We’re a billboard; a branding opportunity; a line item in an advertising ledger. You can see it in their web site, their CAFRs, their brochures, their public outreach. And all those advertising pieces include very nice shots of our Marina, the Business Park, happy children working on ACE grants. All that fabulous graphic design is done to prove that the Port is doing God’s work in our community.

The $31,000 they just gave you guys is, for the Port’s marketing team, tremendous value for money. That will be useful not just for a single brochure or ad campaign, but in perpetuity. At every stage of the Marina Redevelopment, I’m sure they’ll have a photo crew and Perry Cooper and Fred and Peter out there to glad hand the City Council about “the great future we’re building together with Des Moines.” And when done there will be the commemorating plaque and then web sites and on and on. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

But at the next discussion of funding, you can decide that the City is now strong enough to fund its own small projects. Or maybe you can decide to approach the Port and ask for a grant that is based on a cleaner funding stream–for example the tax levy, which is not tainted by that fuckin’ Century Agenda. That would be the moral thing to do and you’d still get to keep the money! 😀

Maybe doing that would cause some eyes to roll and some heads to shake. Tough shit. At some point, someone has got to say, “No” to the Port. We’ve got to stop being their billboard. We’ve got to stop taking their money. Because when we do that we’re selling ourselves cheap. We need to be done with the Port if for no other reason than because we’ve got to start creating a different story about our community that has more to do with Puget Sound than Sea-Tac Airport.



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