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The great rookie debate

The first face-off of Seattle's mayoral candidates offered contrasts, but no aha! moments.
Mayoral candidate Mike McGinn

Mayoral candidate Mike McGinn Mike McGinn for Mayor

In some races, there's an aha! moment when a candidate's rhetoric or personal story finally sweeps you away, or turns you off definitively. For most Seattle voters, that moment hasn't come yet as two virtual unknowns, both political rookies, vie to run the city. One of them will be the next mayor, but we don't know who, and many people know too little yet to make an informed choice. Now with Labor Day out of the way, the process of watching, listening and winnowing begins as we all seriously contemplate the post-Nickels political landscape.

The first head-to-head post primary debate between the two finalists occurred at Paul Allen's Cinerama theater Thursday, Sept. 10, and the downtown business crowd turned out as if it were a Star Wars premiere. The Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce hosted the sold-out event and some 350 people showed to get a look at candidates Mike McGinn and Joe Mallahan face-to-face, while KUOW's Steve Scher refereed and asked questions.

First, some of the similarities.

Both are pitching themselves as City Hall reformers, determined to find ways to cut the budget and deliver city services more cost effectively. McGinn says he'll cut a couple hundred political appointees right off the top, a legacy of Nickels' consolidation of power. Mallahan says he'll be tough on consulting contracts, cutting back some of the $125 million (!) the City spends on outside help.

Both are delighted the Russell Investment firm chose to re-locate in Seattle, though both expressed concerns about cutting taxes to land them or anyone else. In general, McGinn favors the city head tax and doesn't want to see it repealed; Mallahan wants to decapitate the head tax but doesn't like to see the city inciting regional rivalry by stealing business from Tacoma and promising to cut Russell's B&O tax. Of course, all this is happening on someone else's watch.

Both scoff at the idea that their election would create a power vacuum at City Hall into which the city council elders will step to act as a kind of regency until the rookies are up to speed. McGinn exudes the confidence of a strongman with a lawyer's skill at making arguments and holding his ground. Mallahan touts his management experience at T-Mobile. "I plan on being a strong leader," he says, while respecting the city council's role as a legislative partner.

Both agree that the biggest problem with Seattle schools is funding and promise to work with Seattle's Olympia delegation to get more money. Neither offered any particular educational vision, however, other than to say the city needs better schools.

Both want to improve the business climate by making Seattle even more livable and more efficient. McGinn touts affordable housing, mass transit, great schools, public safety and fiber optics for linking Seattle's creative minds with the world as the route to being a great place for business. Mallahan promises to "move forward" by not disrupting well laid plans (read: not sabotaging the bored tunnel project), getting more cops, streamlining city government and the licensing and permitting processes for business and developers. Both are progressive, both like sustainability, undoubtedly they are both kind to kids, Orcas and kittens...you get the picture.

But there are differences, and they are key to getting a handle on the candidates. First, of course, is the deep-bored tunnel to replace the Viaduct, a plan that McGinn sees as a huge boondoggle. He attacks it not only as a $900 million "tax increase" but also because it is certain to price out at even more (par for the course for such big projects which tend to prove tricky, as Brightwater reminds us). Mallahan used the word "pragmatic" numerous times, and says we've got an agreement to go ahead, so let's do it. But interestingly, the agreement's partners are fading from the picture: Nickels has been ousted, Sims is in DC. An unwilling partner, the Speaker of the House still dreams of his Choppaduct.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Sep 10, 11:02 p.m. Inappropriate

It does seem that Mallahan didn't perform that well given he had a "home court advantage" at a GSCC-hosted event, which is a little disappointing and makes me wonder if he has it in him to be mayor. McGinn I agree did demonstrate broader knowledge generally than Mallahan--and I also agree he is by far the better communicator. You get the creeping suspicion that Mallahan is a bit too oblivious on social issues that Seattleites consider important, as well. My guess is that Seattleites don't want more pragmatism after Nickels--we're looking for inspiration and charisma now, so I suspect McGinn's style will resonate with voters more than Mallahan's.

SE Seattle will indeed likely end up deciding the election: while both candidates need to do some catch-up work there to remain competitive, my guess is that McGinn has the advantage in that part of town right now.

smacgry

Posted Fri, Sep 11, 8:14 a.m. Inappropriate

The think that struck me from listening was their styles: McGinn is a good speaker: articulate, calm, gracious, and listens. Mallahan interrupted several times and had to be controlled by the moderator and was snarky and sarcastic. I'd hate to see our mayor act like that, but he did a do a good job delivering his talking poitns.

tikunolum

Posted Fri, Sep 11, 6:25 p.m. Inappropriate

Pleeeeze; the mantra, agenda, template, montage, cliche talking points are tiresome. Both are better than Nickels and Schell; both are not as good as Charlie Chong who in his prime would have been a fine mayor. The key is getting rid of the 100's of awful patronage slots. McGinn is too autophobic and his bogus schools issue is grandstanding (32 years of Royer, Rice, Schell, Nickels have done zip, zero, nada, for government schools while private schools have excelled). Hold your nose and vote for Mallahan. Or, write in Sue Bird.

animalal

Posted Fri, Sep 11, 7:14 p.m. Inappropriate

I am done.

http://manywordsforrain.blogspot.com/2009/09/is-publicolanet-having-endorsers.html

Mr Baker

Posted Mon, Sep 14, 10:46 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm sure glad that I didn't sit on the committee that reviewed reams and reams of information, heard eons and eons of testimony, had the state tell them what their 2 options were, and then another option - which many of them favored - be chosen, then now, have a mayoral candidate and his council candidates say that want to overturn this decision and impose their will in the form of the surface option that will mean that there will be 3-4 years of no viaduct and its 110,000 vehicles/day dispersed elsewhere. On the way, they've apparently played loose with the facts, saying that the general voter - who haven't studied the issue for months and months and haven't heard a shred of testimony - have rejected a "cut and cover" tunnel, not the same as a bored tunnel. The only valid point that McGinn and company may have raised is how the bored tunnel option was decided, but it's equally noteworthy how the WSDOT allegedly selected the first 2 options for the committee. On the other hand, McGinn's group has conveniently avoided the reasons why the bored tunnel option is viable: only several months of "no Viaduct" due to it being constructed while the Viaduct is operational for most of the time; more efficient traffic flow through downtown as well as through downtown, the latter with the reworking of the (included) Alaskan Way surface street; a 100-year life (vs. a 50-year for a Viaduct); successful bored tunnels throughout the world, and there is at least one that's larger, another misstatement by the opponents. The mayoral and city council candidates at this point shouldn't turn back the clock but should be ensuring that the decision is executed as directed instead of endless debate until the desired answer is obtained. To do otherwise is a further waste of time and money.

bricsa

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