Nation/World

Splintered Opposition Heightens Mismatch Heavily Outspent, Groups Fail To Unite Against Goliath

Next door to a razed building lot where a snorting, roaring bulldozer punishes the dirt, a small but determined band of stadium opponents is taking a similar pounding from billionaire Paul Allen.

In the final week before the Seahawks stadium vote, Allen’s multimillion dollar campaign machine is carpet-bombing voters with mailings, radio and TV advertising and telephone calls.

Allen has spent nearly $5 million in less than two months to convince voters to approve a new football and soccer stadium and exhibition center in Seattle.

That was after spending more than $2 million to get the proposal out of the Legislature, state records show.

Now, with the statewide election on Tuesday, Allen is about out of time, but nowhere near out of money. Opponents have but a few thousand bucks in the bank.

For them, a statewide campaign has been largely out of the question. Just getting the word out in King County, home to one-third of the state’s voters, has been daunting.

Though facing a Goliath, these Davids could not manage to fight together. Two opposition campaigns work down the hall from each other, duplicating efforts and expenses.

Each makes light of the inability to work together, but it’s obvious pool ing the rocks and slingshots might have been helpful.

“It has caused us no small amount of grief in terms of confusion,” said Chris Van Dyk of Stop Stadium Madness, one of the two anti-stadium groups. The other is No on 48.

Both groups are attacking the stadium proposal as a waste of taxpayers’ money.

They are a determined duo, hunkered down in a two-story office building on a gritty side street a few blocks from the Space Needle.

Van Dyk, a Bainbridge Island stockbroker, is no stranger to stadium warfare. He cut his teeth on the Mariners stadium referendum in 1995, successfully convincing King County voters to narrowly defeat the proposal.

Within weeks, the Legislature went into special session to approve a new stadium for the team anyway.

When Van Dyk saw the Seahawks assembling a stadium proposal for consideration by the 1997 Legislature, he struck again.

His is a careening crusade, ricocheting from news conference to talk radio harangue to harried hours flogging both stadium issues in a tiny, airless campaign office plastered with “Stop Stadium Madness” fliers.

Nearly everyone in the campaign is a volunteer and a newcomer to politics.

Van Dyk has no elaborate explanation for why the anti-stadium groups couldn’t team up. He simply says each wanted to do its own campaign.

He seems fatigued to the point of nervous tics as he grinds away at his brow with both hands and kneads his palms.

A balding man with big brown eyes, Van Dyk also sports one silver front tooth, a souvenir from a childhood sledding accident in his native Spokane.

Van Dyk has been involved in campaigns before as a consultant for Democrats. Asked if he’s ever been on the winning side, he gives a goodnatured laugh.

Working against such lopsided odds isn’t easy. “First I think how great it is to be alive,” Van Dyk said. “Then I puke. No, really. It’s only overwhelming when I think about it.”

For Brian Livingston of Seattle, the No on 48 campaign is a natural extension of his detail-oriented citizen activism. A numbers cruncher for a Seattle citizens advisory group, Livingston learned long ago how to dissect government spending proposals.

As he watched the Mariners deal go through the Legislature and the Seahawks proposal take shape, Livingston decided he had to get involved.

“Simply expressing moral outrage about the heist of taxpayers’ dollars was not enough.

“It seemed so ludicrous. Insane. I thought, they can’t be talking about tearing down the Kingdome and building an open-air stadium. We are talking about Seattle, in January, where it is 35 degrees and the rain comes down sideways.”

A bespectacled Seattle computer whiz, Livingston has the time and money as a successful author of software books to attack the stadium with a paid staff of two.

He’s enticed Ralph Nader to come to town today and brought other national experts to Seattle to denounce the stadium deal as corporate welfare.

The No on 48 campaign has about $3,000 in the bank, after raising about $70,000 in all.

The campaign’s one television ad and 54 volunteers to date is a rather small cannon to fire at Allen’s juggernaut.

Livingston resents the uneven odds.

A man of neat gestures and collected demeanor, he is indignant at being rushed into a seven-week campaign by Allen’s deadline.

Allen insisted on a public vote, but also required it before July 1, when his option to buy the Seahawks expires.

“People should be very upset about this stacked deck,” Livingston said. “They should never have allowed a quickie election to be bought by a billionaire. There should have been a reasonable amount of time to let citizen groups organize and raise funds. That is a pillar of our democracy.”

Bob Gogerty, chief strategist for the stadium campaign, said an even quicker election would have helped the opponents.

“Two weeks ago they would have won,” said Gogerty, noting the opponents were 18 points ahead in the polls at that time. The race has tightened since then, with backers holding about 48 percent of the vote, according to the campaign’s internal tracking polls, Gogerty said.

He predicted a close race capped by victory.

After all, consider the power behind Allen’s campaign.

Consultants on both coasts have been hired to craft commercials and campaign literature and make 600,000 phone calls to voters around the state to identify supporters.

Targeted mailings woo voters identified through earlier phone calls as undecided. Finally, campaign staff members research absentee voting reports to see if backers have voted. If not, more calls can be made, and literature can be sent to answer lingering questions.

As for the No on 48 campaign, one volunteer was stuffing envelopes in the office on a recent weekday. Typically, volunteers copy fliers with their own money, and are asked to go home and call their friends and ask them to vote no, consultant Sharon Gilpin said.

Next door, Stop Stadium Madness was staging a news conference that attracted a few reporters, but garnered no coverage.

Gilpin said it’s painful to know what the other side is doing that opponents can’t afford.

“It’s driving me nuts. It’s the dream campaign. All the money they are spending. They are dragging people in on their death beds to the polls.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo



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