If Karl Rove had wanted to damage the GOP in Seattle, he could not have found a better target than fired U.S. Attorney John McKay.
Last December, when John McKay announced that he was resigning as U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, he offered no explanation for his departure but hinted at disharmony with the Bush administration. "I had hoped to become a federal judge, but that's not going to happen," he told The Seattle Times.
By February, a fuller story began to emerge: McKay had been fired along with seven other U.S. attorneys in what is now a scandal ending other careers. The Bush administration mishandled this in so many ways that it may signal a sputtering end to Karl Rove's political machine. There's evidence right here. If Rove had wanted to damage the GOP in Seattle, he could not have found a better target than John McKay.
John McKay's family is legendary in Seattle. If you grew up in Seattle, especially their neighborhood on Capitol Hill, attended Seattle Prep, went to church at St. Joe's, practiced law, or became active in politics, charities, Catholic events, or community service – you traveled with the McKays.
When I was a kid, the Catholic Northwest Progress used to run a photo of the bishop posing at the baptism of a baby. Though the criteria for such honors were not exact, you had to be churchgoers with lots of kids. As one of only five boys, my family didn't make the cut. The McKays qualified with 12.
But the legacy of Dr. John McKay and his wife, Kathleen Tierney McKay, is not the quantity of their offspring but the quality – not only John made U.S. attorney, a plum assignment for any lawyer, so did his big brother, Mike, who was appointed by the first President Bush. A sister, Tricia, runs the Medina Foundation, one of the Northwest's leading charitable organizations. Another sister, Kathleen, helps run Francis House for homeless people. Other McKays have similar roles in the community. They are the sort of go-get-'em people who volunteer at schools, coach teams, and make the rest of us feel lazy by comparison.
When a scandal touched the Seattle police several years ago, Mayor Paul Schell appointed Mike McKay to a committee to evaluate accountability. Nearly all of the recommendations were adopted. When I graduated from college, I briefly served on Doug Jewett's first campaign for city attorney. The press secretary? A high school kid toting a brief case named John McKay.
Picking on one McKay – need I add? – is picking on all of them. They are close. When Mike developed an eye problem and had surgery, John drove him to California and stayed with him during recuperation. Several went together to Ireland. The sisters have a monthly night out.
I don't know if all the McKays are Republicans, but the ones who are visible are widely considered among the most talented in the party. The McKays worked for Dan Evans and Joel Pritchard. Mike has been close to Slade Gorton and Norm Maleng. Mike co-chaired campaigns here for the present President Bush. But the family is close to Democrats as well: A leading Democrat, Jenny Durkan, is a lifelong friend. When Kathleen Tierney McKay died a few years ago, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels attended the funeral; Nickels grew up on Capitol Hill and knew the clan. Everybody hung around Mission Pharmacy near St. Joe's.
So whoever forced out John McKay not only mishandled one highly regarded attorney, he or she also insulted a big family with many friends and co-workers in dozens of past campaigns, all of whom are puzzled if not angry for what happened. Bush and his advisors have bigger issues, like Iraq. But you have to ask yourself one more time: How could they be so dumb?