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 In general, McGinn favors the city head tax and doesn't want to see it repealed; Mallahan wants to decapitate the head tax but doesn't like to see the city inciting regional rivalry by stealing business from Tacoma and promising to cut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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