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Dear McGinn Camp, Name That Black, Iconic, Historic Civil Rights Leader…Need a HINT?!

September 17, 2009

“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity” ~ Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Wednesday Seattle Mayoral Candidate Mike McGinn held a morning press conference at the Columbia City light rail station to discuss his transportation plan, which includes- heck, this isn’t about that so let’s skip ahead.

The media was alerted to this event Tuesday when the “all volutneer” McGinn Camp sent out its press release.  It listed the location of the press conference as “Empire Way S and S Edmunds St.”

*Double take*


It’s one thing for an internet mapping service to mis-name this well known Seattle street.   It is another entirely for anyone who has lived in or around Seattle to do it.

It’s dawned on me that many of you, actually, may have never even heard of Empire Way, and for good reason- the name empire way is so old it hasn’t even been used in the 21st century– now c’mon.

Empire Way was renamed (after a long battle and tons of advocacy) in 1982 in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

That’s right, that long street known as MLK Way used to be known as Empire Way (which sounds as trife as Pac Hwy, doesn’t it?).

According to wiki, as of ’08 more than 700 American Cities have streets named for the famed civil rights leader, and it actually lists Seattle’s as one of the more “prominent” examples.

There’s really no reason why one shouldn’t know that Empire Way is actually MLK Way, I mean, unless of course you’re just blissfully unaware (that’s my dad’s code phrase for “White and ignorant” (you can’t yell at me- my dad’s white)) of what the “other side of town” looks like.

I am certain that some people will accuse me of looking for something that isn’t there, of making a big deal out of nothing, nitpicking, bashing, being a hater, ect, but this gaffe says a few things:

~Whether it was McGinn or a member of his camp, this error suggests that attention to detail isn’t their strong suit.  Also, the elected officials I respect the most have that respect, in part, because they hire people who are smarter than them.

~I think it is very ironic that McGinn can, in one breath, rally the troops behind the “controversy” of the AWV and the surface vs tunnel nonsense, but somehow he missed what happened in the hood when Sound Transit announced that it was going to displace businesses and homes to go with a surface light rail option when we (I say we because yes, I lived on MLK pre light rail) wanted a tunnel.  Not only did we want a tunnel we had viable reasons for wanting a tunnel.  Sound Transit (and by relation the City of Seattle) decided the “better fiscal option” was to put light rail straight down the center of MLK Way.

~It’s insensitive.  At a time when the south end was 70% Black, the renaming (and reclaiming) of Empire Way was something accomplished by the community.  It was a statement about so many things, including the movement and the reality of life for thousands of Black families living in Seattle at the time.

~Not only was this significant for Seattle’s Black community, this is an obvious part of Seattle history

I know that Seattle enjoys thinking of itself as progressive and liberal and “tolerant”, but the truth is Seattle has a history as complex as the south when it comes to race and civil rights, so having him visit the city, renaming streets, parks, counties, ect for him, all of those things truly represent our efforts to honor the man who was King.

Dr. King only ever visited Seattle once; November 8-11th, 1961.  Thousands attended his handful of speeches, welcoming this young, bright, hopeful leader with open arms.  But King faced racism here as well:

“Arrangements were made for Dr. King to speak at First Presbyterian Church because Mount Zion would not be large enough to handle the numbers expected. First Presbyterian Church canceled the oral agreement to rent the sanctuary to Mount Zion just weeks before King’s scheduled arrival and shortly after advertisements of his lecture were circulated…” ~History Link

My grandparents have told me countless times of MLK’s visit to Seattle and what it meant, their descriptions vivid enough to paint a clear picture which has stuck with me my entire life.

So, I don’t get it.  I don’t get how the McGinn camp could make a mistake like this, and I stick with it being a telling one- just one of those things you sort of file away and consider along with any other hints when considering who a person is and what they stand for (or his potential team).

I’m not “for” Mallahan and “against” McGinn.  What I am for is the elction of a Mayor who represents the entire city, not just its most influential.

I don’t think McGinn gives a sh*t about Seattle- the only thing he cares about is the AWV- he wants to go down in history as the man who saved us from the tunnel option.  As I have said before, that’s not the issue.

I am disturbed at how much lip service the McGinn camp gives to issues that only impact special interest groups.  McGinn is so detached from human service issues that he cut corners and hired brought on Dorsal Plants (who ran for city council) to head up those issues for the campaign.  He’s so clueless on issues effecting youth in the south end he thinks bullying his way onto the stage during a youth march makes a positive impression (oops, your privilege is showing!).  His views on gun violence are, at best, shallow, and at worst, frightening.  I have heard of no plan to bring real jobs and authentic economic growth to the south end, and how the hell does expanding light rail help residents in south Seattle?  It doesn’t.

It never will.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. September 17, 2009 3:56 am


    First, I think that you have one of the best styles I’ve seen when you disagree with commentmakers on your blog posts.

    Second, I must respectfully disagree with your conclusion that expanding light rail does not help residents in South Seattle. I believe it does so, and I believe that it does so by not being in a tunnel.

    I admit this seems counterintuitive.

    I grew up in Frankfurt, Germany. My father was a career soldier. Frankfurt is roughly the size of Seattle, but it has a killer light rail system. Everything I knew about Frankfurt and how it was laid out stemmed exactly from my understanding of how its light rail worked. I was shocked to discover how close two places were to each other once (within a few blocks), because in my head they were about twenty stops apart.

    If the trains had run exclusively underground, I’d have never found out where anything was in Frankfurt. The interesting stores and eateries I knew about in Frankfurt all were on train lines, and the predominance of them were in places the train was above ground, because how I found out about them was the fact that the train went by them.

    I enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1990, and my first duty station was in San Diego in 1991. At the time, they had just started their light rail system, and they used the exact same trains that I had ridden on in Europe. When I saw that, I couldn’t wait to ride the train. I rode that train a lot, and I wondered why the heck San Diego ran their light rail system through the doggiest, dingiest and scariest parts of town. Everytime I rode the thing, kids would come out and throw bricks and rocks at it. I was not impressed.

    A few years ago, I finally settled down and got married. We honeymooned in San Diego, and I took my new wife on the light-rail system there — which now goes all over the county — and when we rode on that original stretch of track, I was absolutely shocked. Everything had completely changed, and it was all vastly improved.

    Seattle is the most segregated city I’ve ever lived in, in my opinion. I think that it was absolutely the right thing to do to run that train down the middle of MLK. It forces the people that ride the train to confront that part of Seattle which they can otherwise easily and safely ignore. When it comes time to do Aurora, I hope they run the train right down the middle of the road, just like MLK. Leave the tunnels for downtown.

    That all being said, I’ve no interest in voting for McGinn.

  2. Joshua Daniel Franklin permalink
    September 17, 2009 7:52 am

    Light rail helps Rainer Valley residents by providing more places to get to easily from the existing stations. Did you notice that district 37 voted 68% YES on Proposition 1 (the East Link/North Link expansion):

    By the way, McGinn did not hire Dorsal Plants, who works with the homeless besides being a candidate. Plants volunteered. I’m sure McGinn would love to have additional volunteers, especially ones that work with youth in the south end.

    The Empire Way thing does show that McGinn doesn’t live in Columbia City, but I’d think the best thing to do would be to get him to come down more often and learn. As for why… well, just look at google maps, which has the label “Empire Way S” right next to “MLK Way S”. Perhaps you could direct some criticism google’s way (or more likely TeleAtlas).

  3. get real people permalink
    September 17, 2009 9:02 am

    In the scheme of things, this is a small, perhaps inconsequential situation.

    However. If I were looking at a map- even google maps, I’m smart enough to know that if given the choice to recognize (and refer to) the street in question as either Empire Way or MLK Way, obviously I’d choose the latter, then I’d email my friends and we’d have a good laugh that Empire Way is even on there. This does much more than show McGinn doesn’t live in (the gentrified, comfy) Columbia City, it shows that he, and his volunteer staff have an out of sight out of mind mentality when it comes to- as Sable called it- the other side of town.

    Further, it is a JOKE to say that light rail connects south enders to places they wouldn’t easily have access to. IT’s easy to say that when you don’t live there, and you’re looking in on the outside, sorta like Barbara Bush looking at the aftermath of Katrina and believing the situation was working out really well for those left homeless. How arrogant- how elitist- how out of touch.

    We have access to downtown via buses that are cheaper and more conveniently located, than light rail. It’s not as if it’s connecting a huge population with the rest of the city- get real.

    As for McGinn’s idea of light rail in West Seattle…that’s just stupid.

    Finally, when it comes to volunteers, I have to admit that it’s actually concerning to me that McGinn has an all volunteer staff. If he wants to get people, particularly young people in the South end to work on his campaign, he’s going to have to offer much more than a thumbs up and a slap on the back. Everyone knows the differences between hose that have the personal resources to volunteer, and those that do not.

  4. southendmama permalink
    September 17, 2009 9:08 am

    If McGinn really wanted to be in touch with people living in the south end of Seattle, then he would be. All he has to do is go there, stick with it and be genuine. I agree with your tweet, Sable, perhaps an exchange program would help his competency level.

    McGinn doesnt’ care about anything unless it has to do with a tunnel and a street option.

  5. clueless on MLK permalink
    September 17, 2009 9:13 am

    I had to ask my grandmother about Empire Way- I’m 35 and I don’t remember it at all, so when I was reading this post the first thing I thought was “wtf is Empire Way, it’s always been MLK”- but apparently not. My grandma told me that Eddie Rye and other leaders worked their asses off to get the name changed, and for some in local governement it was a point of contention (because Sable is right, racism and prejudice in Seattle has a long history). She talked about it with pride in her voice and then asked me why I was asking her about it. When I explained your post to her, she got all Black nanna on me, cursed under her breath about clueless White folk and walked into the kitchen. Conversation over, LOL!

  6. Equitable Transit permalink
    September 17, 2009 9:17 am

    I am glad to see you pointed out the irony of this entire thing. We’re talking about the self proclaimed transportation king, McGinn, who talks about the viaduct every single day, even though none of US cares about it, and he (or his camp) is so ignorant they don’t even know the PROPER name of the street on which light rail runs down- a street which south end communities tried to protect from being pulverized (which is why we wanted a tunnel), a street which saw homes and businesses lost for “better” transportation options? Better for whom? And his conference was about EXPANDING light rail no less. Perhaps HE is the one speaking in code to White people, not Mallahan.

  7. Joshua Daniel Franklin permalink
    September 17, 2009 4:16 pm

    I am confused by the claims that no one in the south end wants more light rail. Who are the 68% of the population that voted for Proposition 1, then?

  8. Joshua Daniel Franklin permalink
    September 17, 2009 4:36 pm

    Also, here is a link to the Proposition 1 by precinct:
    Nearly every precinct in the Central District and Rainer Valley voted overwhelmingly for light rail expansion. It’s those “diverse” places like Seward Park and Mercer Island that have the low percentages!

    Also, note that due to Metros severe funding shortage bus fare will very soon be the same as light rail. That’s bad news, but reality.

  9. Equitable Transit permalink
    September 17, 2009 5:24 pm

    Where does it say in Sable’s post that no one in the south end wants more transit opportunities? I don’t see that claim. What I do see, is the very real point that transportation is NOT the end all be all “issue” that mcGinn makes it out to be. That’s a fact. The man can’t begin to impact positive change anywhere in the city if he and his cronies don’t even know what street they’re on. Cut the crap already.

  10. Joshua Daniel Franklin permalink
    September 17, 2009 5:35 pm

    It’s not in the post… I should have said I was replying to the claims in comment 3 by get real people. Perhaps you personally are one of the 32% that did not want expanded light rail ten months ago, but there is empirical evidence that 2/3 of your neighbors did want expanded light rail to the East and North, and it’s fairly reasonable to assume they’d like a plan to expand West as well.

    I completely agree that transportation is only one issue, but it features in this post.

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