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Appelman, Grausz contrast in City Council approach, goals
Dan Grausz and Ira Appelman are the two City Council members running a contested race this fall for Position 2. Grausz is a 10-year City Council incumbent, while Appelman is running his first campaign, although he has been involved with City Council politics as an active citizen for 12 years. The Reporter met with both men on Oct. 3 to discuss their leadership principles and individual goals for the City Council.
Q: What are the “must-do” projects that need to be completed in the next three to five years? Are these the same issues Island citizens are concerned with?
Ira Appelman: My priority would be having outstanding transportation: HOV access; preventing I-90 tolls; dedicated spaces for our parking and not narrowing Island Crest Way. The other thing that I’m interested in is neighborhood protection. I think our neighborhoods are under attack. There are many examples of that, and I would like to prevent a lot of those things from happening by bringing Islanders more into the game.
Island citizens are extremely concerned about transportation. The reason the city did not narrow Island Crest Way is because they got a huge blow-back in e-mails, which I received with a record request [to the city.] Also, not tolling on I-90 is incredibly important. As far as the neighborhood issue, the problem arises when it hits your neighborhood. When it hits somebody else’s neighborhood, then it’s not your problem. When Tent City came in without [being discussed] with the neighbors, then everybody was up in arms. When density housing was going to go on the water department property [on First Hill], everybody was up in arms. So I think we need to get the public in faster.
Dan Grausz: There are a few critical issues that involve the Town Center and [Island parks]. Town Center has multiple components to it, one of which currently is transportation.
The Council has gone on record of being opposed to I-90 tolling. The only caveat that some of us have identified on the Council is if they do toll 520 and there is a much greater diversion of traffic onto I-90 than the consultants are now projecting and I-90 comes to a grinding halt, then we have to reassess the situation. The one thing Islanders want even less than tolling is a parking lot on I-90.
I think it’s all well and good to say, ‘I’m against tolling.’ It’s a great sound bite and you can try to pander to voters in that way, but my responsibility as an elected official is not to just pander to voters. It’s to come up with [solutions] and ensure that Islanders have mobility. Right now, based on what the consultants are saying, we can all agree that there shouldn’t be tolling.
In terms of Town Center, we have an opportunity in conjunction with light rail, which was supported by a majority of Islanders, to ensure that we have a Town Center which provides parking and a community meeting area ... I think that in the next four years, our ability to make that happen will be an important gauge of the success of this Council.
The second thing I mentioned is parks. The majority of voters approved both the parks levy and parks bond issue. [But] it wasn’t enough. We didn’t have 60 percent on the bonds issue. We need to go back to the voters and put together a package which will be approved. It’s clear that a majority of Islanders want to make sure that we protect our shorelines, restore our wetlands, rebuild our trails and take care of our playgrounds. It’s unfortunate [the bonds] went down. The timing was off — in the middle of the worst recession in 80 years — but we have unfinished business, and I intend to do what I can to get it approved.
Q: With potential changes ahead for I-90, how can the Council preserve access for Islanders yet be a positive partner in the regional need for reduced congestion?
IA: I’m happy to be a contributor, but I’m running for Mercer Island, I’m not running for the region ... Bellevue and Seattle are very strong advocates of Bellevue and Seattle. They don’t care about the region. Seattle has a very strong push to put tolls on I-90. I think we need to push back. We never would have had access to the center lanes if we had not had a strong Council at the time.
I’m happy to do regional cooperation, but it doesn’t seem reasonable that you’ve got a bridge that’s already paid for and you have to now pay for 520 by tolling us on our bridge ... It’s very important for us to unite regionally with Issaquah and North Bend, who don’t want tolls on I-90.
I’m happy to be a regional player, but our Park-and-Ride is overcrowded by regional people. The bikes are coming here from all over the place. You can’t drive on the weekends along East and West Mercer Way. We need to be regionally cooperative, but we need to have somebody speaking out for us. We need to park our cars at the Park-and-Ride. We need to be able to use our roads.
DG: The majority of Islanders who voted for light rail understand the same thing that the Council understands: Things are only going to get worse on I-90. More and more housing is being developed as you go east on I-90. SR-520 is getting jammed up, forcing more traffic onto I-90. We have got to find a solution to enable Islanders to have mobility off and on the Island...
Islanders have voted for light rail. That decision’s already made. We need to make sure that when light rail is eventually put in, Islanders will use it. We need to get designated parking. We have an agreement in the  Memorandum of Understanding that will ultimately ensure that we get that parking. Ira doesn’t believe that, but I am convinced that [we] will. That amendment, which we fought for, ensures that we will maintain mobility. At the same time, we’ve also protected Islanders in terms of the new HOV lanes that are going into the outside road lanes [when light rail is constructed in 2012.]
There’s this notion that, somehow, this Council doesn’t adequately protect Islanders. I think this Council, going back long before I was on it, has time and again stepped up and made sure that Islanders are protected. There’s absolutely no question in my mind that the current Council is equally dedicated to making sure that we provide parking, mobility and access. We will accomplish that.
Q: Working with the school district has been declared a city priority. As two separate bodies that conduct business in very different ways yet serve the same community, conflict has arisen in the past. Even now, there are issues, such as the PEAK project, that create problems. What specific ways can the city assist the school district with land use and other overlapping interests?
DG: We have worked for the past eight years now on the notion of shared facilities with the school district. We’ve worked together on the [Islander] Stadium project, on the PEAK project, which has allowed us to have shared facilities not only between the city and school district but also the Boys & Girls Club. We’re just finishing up an agreement on the South Mercer Playfields, which again is a shared facility ... We’re talking with the school district about possibly doing some sort of shared office space because the school district administration building is very old and has to be replaced in the next 10 years ... That kind of dialogue — I completely support and have been an integral part of. I’ve been on the [city/school district] ad-hoc committee. I enjoy the endorsement of every member of the School Board and almost every former member of the School Board. I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to do with schools...
We work for all age groups on this Island. It is particularly essential that we make sure the school system is supported. When people are asked, ‘Why did you move to Mercer Island?’ You’ve got public safety and you’ve got schools. That’s their answer. There’s no question that the key to maintaining public safety and property values is ensuring that our school system remains strong.
IA: I think there should be cooperation. My issue is more what happens in the neighborhoods with this cooperation. My focus is not on the big-shots who are making the deals ... My problem is when [city and school district projects] roll over into the neighborhoods and when the [city doesn’t] tell neighborhoods ahead of time what is going on.
PEAK is a good example. Actually, the neighborhoods spent a huge amount of money opposing PEAK and there was no agreement where the neighbors were happy, as was written up in the newspaper and as the Council said. The neighbors just ran out of money, so they had no options left. What they got was laughable. What they didn’t want was three basketball courts right next door, which is going to be a huge traffic issue for them, and that’s what they got. It had nothing to do with the Boys & Girls Club, it had to do with rolling over neighborhoods, which happens not only with agreements between the school district and the city, it happened with Tent City and density housing.
So, my problem is not cooperation, but that the city and school district involve citizens — the neighborhoods that are going to be affected — at the earliest possible point. And they don’t do that at all.
Q: Ira, you often criticize the Council and point out its failings. If elected, you will become a part of the Council. If you continue to disagree with their decision-making, how do you plan to avoid conflict and find common ground?
IA: I don’t have any problem cooperating with anyone. The idea that a legislative body should be unanimous all the time is just something that they’re making up at the City Council. It never happens throughout the world.
I’m worried about getting the public to agree on some proposals. The public is never unanimous, but I spend all my time working with the public. We conducted two senior debates [on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1]. Dan said we had to have a moderator. Well, we didn’t have to have a moderator. I didn’t have a problem cooperating with Dan in doing those debates. The timer said that she was so impressed that, even though we disagreed very much, we could do this sort of debate without a moderator. My point is that, in the past, I have cooperated with other people.
I’ve been working with people without political power for positive things. I haven’t just been saying ‘no.’
Q: Dan, you’ve been on the City Council for several years now and have expressed pride at how the seven members have learned to work together. In what ways can the Council be improved?
DG: I think that there’s no question that we learn from every experience we undertake. We’ve acknowledged that the way the Tent City situation was handled was not our finest hour. It needed to be done differently, and I think we’ve learned from that. We won’t make that mistake again.
I was very much involved with the PEAK project in terms of trying to come up with a settlement with neighbors. And while Ira will want to characterize that as a bad settlement, it was something the neighbors supported. The neighbors got more out of that settlement than they ever would have gotten out of the conditional use process they were going through. I worked many hours on that with the Boys & Girls Club and school district. That’s the type of way I operate.
We have an amazing Council in many ways. People now look at [U.S.] Congress and they look at the state Legislature and see people getting on TV and chastising fellow Congressmen and legislators, and they see the [King] County Council butting heads with each other. You don’t see that on Mercer Island because we understand that to get something done, you have to act like responsible men and women. You have to be able to communicate. You always have to talk with each other, not at each other. That’s been a hallmark of this Council and something that I’ve been very proud of because I’ve pushed for it ever since I’ve been on the Council in the last 10 years.
Q: What is the most important thing that each of you, as individuals, can contribute to the City Council?
IA: I’m drawn to people who don’t have political power. As a result, I’ve spent my time working in neighborhoods, getting different solutions for people who feel left out of the Council. Dan says, ‘Come down to the Council and tell us what you want.’ Regular people who go to the Council are completely ignored...
I’ve worked with people to get positive solutions. They might not be positive from Dan’s point of view, because he didn’t like what I did. But it’s been positive from neighbors’ points of view.
DG: People have learned over the years that when I come to them, I’ll be honest with them, I’ll be open with them. I will admit my shortcomings and my mistakes and that I’ll work with them to find a way to solve problems. it...
I’ve been unanimously endorsed by my former Council members. Ira will characterize that as an ‘old boys club,’ but the fact is that the Mike Ceros and Mike Gradys of the world — opposite sides of the political spectrum — they understand what I bring to the mix, and that is the ability to talk and work with people.
When I stand up, people don’t sit there and know that I’m going to harangue them or yell at them. That’s not the way I conduct myself. That’s what I have brought for the last 10 years and would hope to do for the next four.
A full text of the Oct. 3 interview with Grausz and Appelman will be posted on the Reporter’s Web site, www.mi-reporter.com.