One of the 21 people seeking to become Seattle’s mayor is a basketball fan. Michael Harris comes from a hoops family, and doesn’t like what he sees between Mayor Murray and KeyArena’s developer.
His godfather was Don Meineke of the Fort Wayne Pistons, the NBA’s first rookie of the year in 1953. His dad, Chris Harris, played one year in the NBA in 1955-56, and still gets a minuscule check every month from the retired players association.
He was a University of Washington student who went to watch his Huskies in their 1984 NCAA tournament round of 16 regional match at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion. Coached by Marv Harshman and starring Detlef Schrempf and Christian Welp, UW lost 64-58 to the University of Dayton Flyers, who had a reserve guard by the name of Ted Harris, his brother.
Michael Harris also claims, in a long-ago Seattle media basketball league, that he blocked my shot from behind. That story . . . well, it could never have happened. Spud Webb doesn’t block Hakeem Olajuwon’s Dream Shake.
Aside from that, everything else checks out about Harris, including the fact that he’s running for mayor of Seattle.
Then again, who isn’t? Twenty-one is the latest number of candidates. However, a shepherd in Mongolia with a Seattle post-office box is petitioning for a waiver of the filing deadline. (Primary is Aug. 1; candidates and ballot measures found here.)
One thing that is incongruous about the candidacy of Harris is that he dares to offer up no agreement with city officials regarding the location for a potential privately funded, top-shelf Seattle arena. In fact, he advocates for Chris Hansen’s Sodo site ahead of the KeyArena remodel.
Heresy. Or maybe, Harris-y.
When it comes to tricking out KeyArena with private money, current, former and potential future city officials seem to have an irresistible reflex to salute, much in the way Peter Sellers’ title character in Dr. Strangelove can’t keep his prosthetic hand from offering a Nazi salute.
The electeds’ urgency to solve financially for the Seattle Center, a department of the city, offers tremendous leverage for Tim Leiweke, leader of the Los Angeles-based Oak View Group, whose $564 million bid won the right to negotiate the fix-up.
The city’s eagerness could be a vulnerability when the difficult task begins of negotiating with OVG for the best deal for a music-first venue that is based on the presumption that the potential return of the NBA is a mere dot on the horizon.
Because hoops is a lifetime passion for Harris, while returning the Sonics means nothing to Ed Murray beyond a distant means to an end, Harris thinks the lame-duck mayor is refusing to give Hansen’s project fair consideration.
“Murray has turned his back on Hansen, but Hansen’s proposal keeps getting better and better, in the place (Sodo) that is the only direction downtown can grow,” Harris said recently in a phone interview. “But stalling negotiations with him is a disservice to the city. Murray wants the Key outcome because he wants a legacy building and to dispel stereotypes about gay people.
“When I hear Murray bring up his sexual orientation as a reason, that’s where I draw the line.”
Harris has a point. Murray’s attempt to prove something about gay political leadership should be a sideshow, not a driver. Exploiting people because of sexual orientation is illegal, but why is sexual orientation OK to exploit when it suits an agenda that is irrelevant to the solution?
Harris is a longtime TV photojournalist, spending the past 15 years as a Seattle-based producer for ABC News. He describes himself as a pro-business progressive Democrat and a longtime environmental activist regarding protection for whales. He’s also an advocate for gay rights; he just doesn’t think sexual orientation is relevant to the arena decision.
On his official site that discusses his platform views, he has a plank on all the significant Seattle issues — homelessness, taxes, sanctuary city, police reform, transportation, etc. — but saves his longest essay for the arena. A choice of the remodeled Key, he writes:
. . . constricts an important neighborhood in Seattle, offers no real economic development to the city or an opportunity to address other pressing issues like housing availability, and most importantly, offers no real chance of bringing the NBA back to Seattle.
In the interview, Harris said the Sodo location can be an opportunity to bring Hansen into a civic discussion about issues beyond sports.
“We could get things out of the Hansen group like what we saw with Amazon,” Harris said, referring to the May announcement that Amazon would donate funds and land to build a Mary’s Place Family Shelter in its Seattle headquarters campus, housing more than 200 a night. “It can be more than the Lander Street Bridge. Our leadership compartmentalizes each problem. They don’t know about cross-pollination.
“Imagine getting private funding for the infrastructure to help the homeless problem in Sodo, where there’s room to do it for the benefit of many. This idea of simply taxing the rich (to solve the problem) is a belligerent attitude. We can get a lot more out of business development, but our current leadership can’t get out of its group-think.”
Harris also talked about the assumption, promoted by Leiweke, that the NBA has no interest in expanding, based on public comments by commissioner Adam Silver.
“The whole dialogue sounds so insular and clique-ish” between Leiweke and the NBA, Harris said. “It seems all these things are settled in secret. The process is so corrupted and secretive in a lot of ways.”
Misunderstood by Murray and downplayed by Leiweke is that any sports-league commissioner serves only his bosses, the team owners, not fans or municipalities. If it suits the owners to have the commissioner slam the expansion door in order to ratchet up the expansion price, he will do so.
Any commissioner will prevaricate, dissemble and obfuscate in order to advance the cartel’s business interests. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has made public statements on both sides of Seattle’s place in expansion, the latest June 21 at the Stanley Cup finals when he said no.
“I think there’s still a little bit of ways to go before they put a shovel in the ground (in Seattle),” he said, “so we’re not prepared to right now embark on another wave of expansion.”
Perhaps until he wakes up tomorrow. Same with Silver. If Hansen tomorrow announced a partnership with Jeff Bezos, do you think expansion to Seattle still would be put off until the sun goes supernova?
Murray knows nothing of these intrigues; he knows about the cutthroat business of pro sports what Leiweke tells him. Harris is particularly galled that Sonics fans are again being disconnected from civic decisions, as they were in 2008 when then-mayor Greg Nickels and the city council folded a likely winning hand in a landlord-tenant dispute and let the Sonics go for a $45 million settlement.
“We’re leaving sports fans out of the decision-making,” Harris said. “Sports fans are good people and not one-trick ponies. To quit on them is wrong. Murray is worried about his legacy. I think about the legacy of Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp.
“I love this city and know we had our hearts ripped out when the Sonics left. Getting them back is a smart move on multiple levels, but our political leadership doesn’t get it.”
A political newbie, Harris knows he’s a long shot in a field with many more experienced politicians. But everything about the return of the NBA has been a long shot, and numerous things about Murray’s tenure, including his sudden championing of sports as well as his career end, via grim charges in a sex scandal yet unproven, are the acme of preposterousness.
Yes, one Seattle guy taking up the cause for another Seattle guy over an issue that can have an impact well beyond the field of sports is, in the mayor’s race, a long shot. But it is not absurd. Absurd is taking at face value anything a sports commissioner says.