General Manager Doug Dixon of Pacific Fishermen Shipyard oversaw men who shoved Councilmember Mike O’Brien during an afterparty celebrating the opening of the Nordic Heritage Museum Friday evening.
Dixon admitted to overseeing the alleged assault on O’Brien, telling the Seattle Times that they shoved the District 6 Councilmember because he supports completing the Missing Link of the Burke-Gilman Trail:
“We have a conflict with Mike O’Brien because of his efforts to put a bicycle path here and do some other issues that hurt the maritime-industrial area,” he said.
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“We told him if he didn’t leave he would be criminally trespassing and he didn’t leave, so we had to forcibly remove him,” Dixon added. “We told him finding his wife had nothing to do with him being there or not.”
O’Brien’s take is pretty much the same as Dixon’s. He told the Times he agreed to leave as soon as he found his wife, which is by no stretch of the imagination justifiable cause for violence. This is classic juvenile bully behavior. Except this isn’t middle school gym class, it’s our city leadership. From the Times:
When the gala ended, the museum’s director “told the crowd we were welcome to attend an event two blocks away,” said O’Brien, who represents Ballard and supports the trail plan. The council member was having a conversation at the after-party when shipyard General Manager Doug Dixon told him to leave.
“He had two to four other men with him,” O’Brien said. “I told him I would leave but I was going to find my wife first. I started to look for my wife, and at some point a minute or so later, someone from behind grabbed me by the shoulders and proceeded to shove me towards the gate and out the gate as I continued to look for my wife, who I was unable to find.”
O’Brien added, “I want to be clear — I was physically thrown out of this event because of the policies I advocate for.”
There should be a loud and resounding condemnation of Dixon’s actions from our city’s political, labor and industrial leaders. An elected official cannot be physically assaulted for any reason, but especially not due to a policy disagreement. That is a dangerous precedent to set in our city, especially at a time when many city policy debates feel near a boiling point.
The apparent assault comes just days after a group organized to disrupt a nearby town hall about the employee head tax by yelling down any city leaders or neighbors who tried to carry out public comment. Councilmember O’Brien is a primary target of the group, which opposes proposed solutions to homelessness that O’Brien has championed.
Councilmember O’Brien is a special public servant who champions bold action on many issues from safe streets to affordable housing even in the face of angry constituents. It takes bravery to face and listen to yelling and anger pointed his way last week. But that is part of an elected official’s job, and he doesn’t shy away from it. I find that admirable.
But physical assault is totally different.
When Central District activist Omari Tahir-Garrett assaulted then-Mayor Paul Schell during a 2001 event, he was sentenced to 21 months in prison. Schell’s injuries were certainly much worse than O’Brien’s, but assault on an elected official of any kind must be taken seriously.
Worse, Dixon is not some regular Joe worker, he is in a serious leadership position at a major business. When he oversees people shoving a city official, what message does that send to everyone who works there? His actions here require consequences, and his peers need to step up and make sure everyone knows that getting physical is not the appropriate way to voice a policy disagreement.
It’s also worth noting that Pacific Fishermen Shipyard already won a big compromise when trail advocates and some major nearby businesses agreed to a compromise route that would go via Market Street rather than the more direct route passing directly in front of the shipyard and other waterfront businesses along NW 54th Street. This was a significant concession on behalf of trail supporters, but it was supposedly the key to finding a deal industry leaders could agree to. The city and trail advocates are still pursuing the compromise route even though some businesses, including Pacific Fishermen Shipyard, went ahead and sued anyway.
Trail advocates and O’Brien are being more than fair to appellant businesses, considering they could have dropped the compromise when the lawsuits were filed. But that olive branch was met with a shove.
There is a lot of irony that this shoving happened during an after party for the opening of the Nordic Museum. Guests of honor for the opening included Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, who famously bikes her children to school via Copenhagen’s world-leading network of safe bike lanes. The Burke-Gilman Missing Link project is about connecting a trail that is safe and comfortable for people of all ages and abilities to bike to and through Ballard. The trail would pass directly in front of the Nordic Museum, and plans would integrate it into the entrance plaza, a truly fitting homage to Nordic bike culture.
Sweden, another nation the museum celebrates, is the home of the Vision Zero philosophy for safe streets. Vision Zero states that traffic injuries and deaths are preventable, and streets that see injuries should be redesigned to be safer. On average, two people per month are injured to severely while navigating the Missing Link that they require an ambulance response. The Missing Link trail is the solution to these injuries, which is why supporters have been working for decades to get it completed. Councilmember O’Brien has been a true champion for the cause.
Opponents of the trail have nearly exhausted their legal avenues for fighting the trail. A group, including Dixon’s Pacific Fishermen Shipyard, have filed an appeal challenging the city’s Environmental Impact Statement, a massive document studying every inch of the 1.4-mile trail connection. They already lost one such appeal, so King County Superior Court should be their final chance to stop it. As of now, the city’s project website still lists a fall 2018 date to begin construction.