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I hereby declare I am not running for mayor

How to mount a serious challenge to Mayor Greg Nickels, by one who almost talked himself into it
Mayor Nickels bolted together a powerful political and financial coalition.

Mayor Nickels bolted together a powerful political and financial coalition. Josh Trujillo, seattlepi.com

It's time to come out of the closet. I, too, was tempted to run for Mayor of Seattle. Tempted to the point of building a campaign plan, a website, lists of donors and staffers, and an overall strategy. What drove me — an unknown local native with a pun of a last name and a career in business and nonprofits — to indulge such egotistic reverie was pure frustration. Seattle deserves a far more visionary, far more competent campaign challenge to Mayor Nickels than we've seen so far. And if you want something done right, I whispered to myself,...

Planning to run for Mayor is a thought experiment I highly recommend. Gathering friends and experts to plot, map, and strategize a what-if campaign reveals the ways in which the current candidates don't yet have a grip on how to beat, much less campaign against, Mayor Nickels.

Seattle yearns for a vibrant, bracing, rollicking onslaught of a campaign by someone who breaks from conventional wisdom and who doesn't let up. A daily thrust and parry by a challenger who will unmask Nickels' supposed savvy for what it really is: a bland middling knack for backroom maneuvering and an obsession with self promotion, backed by management skills that are decidedly modest.

Since it now may be revealed that I'm not running* I'd like to offer advice to Mike, Joe, Jan, and the rest in the hope that they actually start campaigning soon.

Vision Trumps Money. The media will obsess about the fundraising horserace as long as there remains a vacuum in the ideas race. If a candidate forms compelling ideas and fields them constantly, Nickels will begin to sound smaller every time he gives another long-winded speech and sends Sandeep Kaushik and Robert Mak out for another round of defensive spin.

Why not launch "100 Great Ideas for Seattle," one a day on the campaign website? Folks will loathe some and like others, but it will demonstrate the ability to think, inspire, get people talking. If you aren't able to come up with 100 good things (big and small) for Seattle to do, try, fix, stop, think about, or change, well, you probably shouldn't be running for Mayor.

About money. Memo to what's left of the local media: when tempted to re-hash the who-has-the-biggest-money-pile angle, reflect instead on the concrete wisdom of my proto-campaign manager, a field organizer for Paul Wellstone's 1991 campaign. A little-known candidate can be outspent 7 to 1 and still win if his ideas resonate. Cheesy attack ads only work against a candidate who suffers from a weak message.

Moreover, as anyone in business will tell you, how much money you have is only part of the equation. What you do with it is actually more important. Squander it on ineffective consultants, bad ads, and laughable direct mail and you'll be wasting it. Notwithstanding all of the above, keep dialing for dollars every day. Just do it from the road instead of being camped out in your headquarters.

Management Talent Matters, more than you think. How you manage a campaign transmits a powerful signal about how you will manage almost everything else. This is an "Obama effect" in action. Show it, don't say it. "I'm trusted!" "I'm tested!" If you rely on those hackneyed bits you'll be toast in this era of change.

A strong campaign should emanate effectiveness, efficiency, friendliness, and clarity. Websites must be kickass, not clueless-looking (gregnickels.com). YouTube footage should appear to be shot in Seattle, not amid cinderblocks. Send individual high-res soundbite files directly to reporters in advance of their deadlines. Have your rapid responses on the web within the hour. Focus on Seattle-owned media first and throw some meaty bones to the blogs to keep your messages moving micro-locally. Your advance crew should make every event razor sharp instead of ad hoc. And speaking of razors: shave.

It's the Neighborhoods. Start at the edges and work you way towards the center: It's the neighborhoods, stupid. To administer some blows to Nickels' achilles, get to the neighborhoods every single day. Meet, greet, walk and talk, work out, scooter, cycle, and meetup in all 38 neighborhoods. Without declaring so yourself, the contrast in style and engagement will be plainly obvious.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Jun 3, 8:17 a.m. Inappropriate

Nice idea for a mayoral campaign: "100 Great Ideas for Seattle." What are yours? I'll settle for 10.

Posted Wed, Jun 3, 11:20 a.m. Inappropriate

Even 5 great ideas would be a welcome change to the current mayor's lack of vision.

The Seattle Democrats' candidate forum featured seven mayoral candidates last night. The surprise winner .... Joe Mallahan. It seems he's beginning to "mount a creative, agressive, no holds-barred campaign challenge to Mayor Nickels" that Matt Fiske longs for in this article.

Posted Wed, Jun 3, 1:17 p.m. Inappropriate

@2 Joe seems great, but he has yet to present even 5 ideas for Seattle.

On the other hand, Michael McGinn has a positive vision, a talented campaign staff with a growing number of dedicated volunteers, is a proven neighborhood leader from Greenwood who founded a non-profit (Great City) that strives to make Seattle a model of environmental and economic sustainability (and is developing the next great crop of neighborhood leaders), has no problem speaking his mind and challenging the status quo (think NO tunnel), is the only candidate engaging Seattleites at the grassroots level to help create the City that they really want to see, and has a great hook, "Mike Bikes."

Oh yeah, I thought about running for Mayor too, but gave up that ridiculous dream when Michael stepped into the fray.

Posted Wed, Jun 3, 1:34 p.m. Inappropriate

Great piece; when I looked up "elisionary," I realized that I knew its root (elide) but not the derivative.

As for another -ary word that you mentioned (visionary), I think you need to flesh out that part of the strategy.

You're right about neighborhood schmoozing as an essential. That's the micro piece; the macro piece is "the vision thing" embodied in sharp, fresh, long-range thinking about Seattle's role in regional governing.

In the neighborhoods, seattle.gov has to pour the missing sidewalks, kick out the gangs, improve bus/traffic systems, and so on...and most of your 100 ideas should be so focused.

But our new mayor should envision, and talk effectively about, the Big Neighborhood of Puget Sound, too--acknowledging that the city is inevitably bound to its increasingly urban neighbors. Seattle-King County governance, Seattle-Bellevue-Tacoma-Everett-Bremerton connectedness, the vital need to clean up Puget Sound, transport citizens, minimize sprawl and maintain open spaces--all these should be on the candidate's radar screen, and s/he should make the case for effective city involvement and leadership.

Seneca

Posted Thu, Jun 4, 1:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Matt, I love your idea of compiling a list of 100 Great Ideas for Seattle. I'm not running for mayor, but I am running for Seattle City Council. I have heard from neighborhood and community leaders all over Seattle, and will compile my list of 100 Great Ideas for Seattle and send it to you soon.

Seneca's comment above is a very good place to start.

Posted Thu, Jun 11, 11:35 p.m. Inappropriate

Nickels has vision. Check out South Lake Union. It's Bellevue west. Soul-less, yuppified concrete. Just the sort of neighborhood world class cities are made of.

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