WTO: A Turning Point -- Seattle Left Less Naive As It Counts Costs, Both Physical And Psycho Logical
Seattle Times Staff Reporter
It was billed as a chance for Seattle to shine around the world and rake in more than $11 million in tourist dollars.
Instead, here is what is left as participants and protesters to the World Trade Organization leave behind one of America's "most livable" cities:
Broken glass and boarded-up buildings. Burning eyes and scratchy throats. More than $12 million in lost holiday sales. Threats of lawsuits to recover the money.
A feeling that the city and its residents were violated by rioting vandals. Visceral anger toward police who used heavy-handed tactics. Equal anger toward police brass who put their troops in a bad spot. A sense of betrayal toward city leaders who brought the conference here. Vows to resist ever hosting another major event.
And shame: for how the city looked to the rest of the world; for the naivete of lusting after a fiery international summit without predicting the consequences; for watching a city that prides itself on its open style turn, at least for a few days, into a police state.
From afar, history may judge last week as a turning point in the politics of international trade. The WTO, a closed government society focused on balancing corporate and national interests, was paralyzed. And the abstract concepts of world trade may never again be so removed from public consciousness.
WTO has become a household phrase, and the messy events in Seattle made that happen.
But here at home, where 40,000 free-trade demonstrators,
hundreds of police and National Guard troops battled for five days for control of the streets, the question that reigns is: What legacy was left for Seattle?
"We are responsible for the images people see on the news," Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz said. "It at least puts into question what was once a jewel."
Schultz and others talk of overcoming the doubts, of healing and returning to normalcy after the plywood is removed and windows repaired. But his coffeehouses were looted and vandalized while the world watched.
"I take it very personally," he said. "I felt like my family was attacked."
Gerry Johnson, a prominent Seattle lawyer, civic leader and onetime Vietnam protester, said: "I've been thinking about this a lot, just fretting about it. And I'm not yet of clear mind."
In the middle of it, Johnson's 10-year-old son asked about the riots and the recent shipyard shootings on Lake Union near his school. It seems Seattle has changed, he told his dad. Johnson struggled to explain "the difference between hooligans and legitimate demonstrators."
"We all love Seattle. We know it's a great place," he said later. "It's going to be a great place two weeks from now. We ought to resist recrimination and see what we can learn from this."
"When we step onto the world stage again, maybe we'll understand the implications of that," he said.
But maybe Johnson's son was right. Maybe Seattle has changed.
Dollars and sense
Of all the impacts of the past week, the financial ones are the simplest to measure. And even that won't be easy.
The Downtown Seattle Association estimates businesses lost more than $12 million. Property damage adds $2.5 million more to the loss ledger, based on the association's surveys of businesses.
Retailers with suburban stores said they may have made up some losses there, though most reported slow sales everywhere last week. They speculated people stayed home to watch the melee on television.
Angry merchants have targeted Mayor Paul Schell and the Seattle Host Organization, the ad hoc group of trade officials and corporate executives who led Seattle's bid to host the WTO. The downtown association has asked whether the city's emergency fund could cover some losses.
And its members are talking about whom to sue.
"Since Sunday, we have had a grand total of nine sales," said Alberta Weinberg, owner of Found Objects, a specialty shop that carries handmade ceramics, lamps, vintage furniture and other gifts. One day last week, she said, "I sold one $2 greeting card . . . I went home and cried."
Mario's, an upscale men's shop on Sixth Avenue, lost $75,000 a day in sales, plus about $200,000 from canceling an invitation-only open house Thursday, said salesman Hal Wilson.
Michele Manasse, owner of four Fireworks Gallery stores, including at Westlake Center and Pioneer Square, said her sales most of the year just cover rent and other expenses. The holiday season is her profit. She lost $20,000 Tuesday and Wednesday.
The public lost money, too.
City officials are still tallying costs for police overtime, riot equipment, cleanup, lost parking revenue and lost sales tax. A budget team will meet tomorrow to begin the count. The number will be much higher than the $6 million budgeted for WTO, officials said.
Other government losses being tallied include sales-tax hits for the state and for Metro and Sound Transit; the state's expense for National Guard troops; and Metro's losses, which include $15,000 in damage to buses, an undetermined amount for lost-rider fares and overtime for drivers who worked late shuttling WTO delegates, arrested protesters and downtown workers.
Before the conference, city officials had sent letters to merchants touting the $11 million that would flow into their cash registers. But skeptical merchants argued that WTO delegates weren't typical conventioneers with free time and free-spending spouses.
That debate soon became moot. True, the Washington State Convention and Trade Center profited from rent. Hotels were not only full, but thanks to lock-down conditions, had a captive crowd for room service and bar tabs.
Some of that money would have been spent anyway. Christmas shoppers from around the region fill hotels the week after Thanksgiving. And a national convention of 4,500 optometrists was bumped by WTO.
"We try to attract these major conventions because they will be good for the city," said Ed Bridge, president of Ben Bridge Jewelers, a fixture at Fourth Avenue and Pike Street. "Well, this city certainly didn't benefit from this."
Bridge, whose store suffered $15,000 worth of broken windows, said Seattle shouldn't play host to another political convention.
"Maybe that's the coward's way out, but that reflects my opinion today," he said.
A new ugliness
The kick to the groin. The TV replay of a riot-clad police officer pursuing a young protester up a sidewalk on Capitol Hill and the painful-looking kick has become a symbol for an ugliness many thought they'd never see in Seattle.
By then, Schell had called a civil emergency and ordered a curfew through much of downtown. But police, anxious about letting crowds collect anywhere, asserted their authority on Capitol Hill, outside the restricted zone.
Other images will linger. An officer kicking a protester who had fallen. Another ripping a gas mask off a TV reporter with tear gas still heavy in the air. City Councilman Richard McIver, an African American, being yanked from his car by police while en route to a WTO reception.
Was this Los Angeles? New York? Detroit? Chicago?
Certainly not Seattle, a city where protesters voluntarily check with police before marching. Even before the WTO delegates arrived, protest leaders and police discussed at length rules of peaceful engagement.
Before the opening of WTO Tuesday, renegade protesters outflanked police and blocked delegates from the trade talks. By mid-day, anarchists had shattered downtown and drawn public ire.
But as the violence spread and police responded with force, public opinion in some quarters shifted to fears that the police had lost control.
Anti-WTO chants became anti-police chants, particularly from residents on Capitol Hill who felt they had been invaded.
"Police started Macing people and were completely out of control," said Glenda Bradshaw, who runs Kinko's on Broadway and Denny Way and is a former president of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce. Her anger spread to the downtown business establishment, which, to her, symbolizes the city's pro-convention boosterism.
"Downtown is so favored above other neighborhoods," she said. "And they did this to themselves."
The finger-pointing is not over.
Older people blame younger people for thoughtless vandalism. Young people say they felt brutalized. Protesters of all stripes claim they were treated unconstitutionally by jailers.
Seattleites blame out-of-towners for the damage. Merchants blame police for leaving them unprotected. Rank-and-file police blame management for leaving them understaffed, overworked and ill-equipped to handle crowds. The county sheriff criticizes the city. The city blasts the feds for not covering some expenses, and the feds counter that the city should have prepared better.
People throughout Seattle are blaming city leaders and the WTO host committee, led largely by Pat Davis, president of the Washington Council on International Trade, and Ray Waldmann, a Boeing executive.
All this despite a repeated line - almost a Seattle mantra - that we should not place blame.
"It's so easy to criticize. That's not worth doing," said one prominent businessman and philanthropist, who asked to remain anonymous, then lambasted those who brought the WTO here.
It would be easy to write off the anonymous grumblings of powerful business people, except that they finance political campaigns, contribute to things like the WTO host fund and help shape the direction of the city.
But others say last week's messy show of democracy shouldn't reflect poorly upon the city.
"This is not a Seattle issue so much as it's an issue of how much this society is going to allow peaceful dissent but control violence," said Don Neilsen, a Seattle School Board member, businessman and philanthropist. "That's a national question."
What now for Schell, Stamper?
The more immediate and local question involves the political future of two key figures: Schell and Police Chief Norm Stamper.
Both were facing troubles even before WTO hit town.
They had been hammered in the press over alleged corruption within the Police Department, the criminal indictment of a police officer for allegedly removing $10,000 from the scene of a crime, and a mysterious case of some missing files related to a complaint against the department.
Almost from the beginning of his tenure, Stamper has alienated the rank-and-file, who view him as touchy-feely and overly invested in community policing.
Schell, a former Port commissioner and developer, has faced more general criticism about the quality of his administration and the perception that he is out of touch with the public.
Just two weeks ago, hosting the WTO was viewed as an important test for the first-term mayor.
"If he keeps the peace, then the missing (police) files, the intrigue - all that goes away," Democratic political consultant Cathy Allen said before the WTO meeting.
Now the Capitol Hill Community Council has called for Stamper's resignation. Downtown business leaders, Schell's strongest base of support, are demanding accountability.
Some of Schell's biggest backers will stand with him.
"I think he's done a darn good job in an extraordinarily difficult situation," said Jon Runstad, a prominent Seattle developer whose company, Wright Runstad, operates seven buildings downtown.
Runstad and his wife, attorney Judith Runstad, sent Schell an e-mail Wednesday night to boost his spirits. He said he believes Schell can withstand this, given his 12-point margin of victory two years ago and his support from neighborhoods, especially in North Seattle.
"Did he get good advice? I think there were some lapses," Rumstad said. "But I admire him for standing up and saying the buck stops here."
Seattle in the world's eyes
Depending whom you ask, here's how Seattle looked to the rest of the world:
It had a black eye.
It was red-faced.
It got kicked in the shins.
It was a plywood jungle.
Those aren't the images trade officials or politicians envisioned when they announced Seattle had "hit the jackpot" in winning the WTO conference over San Diego, Honolulu and Denver.
Now Seattle seems to have stumbled badly, portrayed in dramatic TV footage as a bastion of civil unrest and overzealous police.
The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia published this headline: "Grunge City v. World Greed: Restless in Seattle."
The Times of India wrote that "dubious history" was made as opening day WTO events were canceled.
The Times of London ran a photo of a demonstrator in a gas mask and flames shooting from garbage bins.
Comedian Jay Leno joked: "Seattle, being such a yuppie town, did you notice the police were using only fresh-ground pepper spray?"
Washington Post columnist Joel Achenbach wrote: "Seattle had hoped, in what may be a case of extreme civic hubris, to corral the protests into a kind of feel-good, cappuccino-sipping encounter session."
Even the general manager of baseball's New York Mets, Steve Phillips, took a shot, suggesting that free-agent first baseman John Olerud, who grew up in Bellevue, might not want to re-sign with the Seattle Mariners: "I can't understand why any player would want to play there in that chaos."
Locally, opinion seems mixed about any long-term bruises.
Susie Plummer, general manager of Westlake Center, said she doesn't expect national retailers to pull back.
"Seattle has such incredible momentum in the retail core," she said. "We are perceived around the country as a must-be destination."
Will Seattle ever want to host another contentious international summit?
Schell said not while he's mayor.
Others said amen.
But in all the hand-wringing over what Seattle may have lost last week, those concerned about the downside of global trade are claiming a win:
If the WTO is forced to improve its secret dealings - if global trade issues are open to debate and scrutiny - history could smile on this beat-up old fishing town.
And, despite the missteps and ugly moments, Seattle could be left with a legacy of successful civil disobedience.
The WTO talks broke down, which gave comfort to those who hold grave concerns about human rights and environmental abuses around the world;
Demonstrators grabbed the attention of a nation that, a week ago, didn't know what the WTO was;
Protesters helped gain some concessions for their own prisoners at the King County Jail, primarily gaining them access to lawyers;
And just yesterday, activists were negotiating for a new building to house the homeless here - in of all places, the vacant apartment building where the violent anarchists camped out illegally all week.
Information from Seattle Times reporters Jay Greene, Susan Gilmore, Helen Jung, Lisa Pemberton-Butler and James V. Grimaldi was used in this report.
Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.