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A new McGinn: Just call him 'Barack'

The re-packaging of Seattle's mayor takes center stage with his State of the City speech.

Mayor Mike McGinn

Mayor Mike McGinn Seattle Channel

The State of the City speech by Mayor Mike McGinn was really more of a State of the Mayor speech, a chance of all of us to see how McGinn is growing into the job few expected him to hold when he announced his campaign in 2009.

The first indication of change was that there was any speech at all: last year, McGinn delivered off-the-cuff remarks rather than a prepared talk that mimics the president's address to Congress. The City Council was offended, City Hall watchers tut-tutted, and most people conceded (even some McGinn aides, and, rumor has it, the mayor himself) that it was a mistake.

From his first days in City Hall, McGinn was eager to "be himself," a smart, eco-advocate who was happy to be an outsider throwing elbows and cleaning house. He made plenty of errors, but was defiant in his own cause. He quickly alienated the City Council en masse, the downtown business establishment, replaced city veterans with young McGinnies, and wasn't afraid to talk tough, even if he didn't need to. 

He likened his approach to establishing himself in a pick-up basketball game: throw a few elbows so you have some room to play. Others saw a guy unnecessarily burning bridges (and a tunnel), perhaps too arrogant to learn anything from anybody. They worried he suffered from "smartest guy in the room" syndrome.

By the State of the City measure, he has learned a few things. One is, respecting tradition and showing the office some respect. He showed up in a tie with a good speech prepared (and distributed to media) in advance (PDF). Instead of outsider, bomb-thrower McGinn, we got the softer spoken, slimmer (by 40 pounds), and perhaps grayer Mike, a guy who crafted his remarks to emphasize areas of agreement on a vision for the city.

His main inspiration seems to be President Barack Obama, and he cast the McGinn agenda as rising to the challenge put forth in the State of the Union Address. "Mr President, " he said, "you challenged us to win the future. On behalf of the people of Seattle, we are ready and willing, and we are very able to lead the way."

For McGinn this means an urban future for Seattle that is high-tech, green, and more socially just. Obama wants high-speed rail connecting cities, so does McGinn, but he also wants rail connecting more city neighborhoods. Obama wants educational accountability, and McGinn is pushing a levy that, he says, will hold family and education programs accountable and will target troubled schools. Obama wants green jobs, and McGinn is pushing energy efficiency grants and pressing businesses to reduce consumption. Obama wants a Sputnik moment, and McGinn is pushing for broadband and to improve high school graduation rates (and math scores). 

If there is anything that normalizes the McGinn agenda, it is a speech that shows how his initiatives parallel and advance the Obama agenda. What self-respecting liberal Seattleite is going to disagree with Obama's domestic agenda? It's certainly a good psychological defense: what opponent wants to be, by implication, on the side of those creepy congressional Tea Party Republicans?

For all the arguments over the seawall, the tunnel, parking rates, and whether the new 520 should have rail or not, the McGinn agenda is straight- up Seattle, something very few could disagree with. McGinn's an outsider? He began his speech by pointing out what he called his "secret" relationship with the council, meaning how much stuff they agree and work together on: Metro funding, budget cuts, rental housing inspections, the Nightlife Initiative, the Families and Education Levy, Chihuly and KEXP at the Center. Lots of common ground.

The only bombs thrown were Tim Eyman's way. "Mr. Eyman," the mayor intoned, "you may have talked the rest of the state into destroying what we hold dear. But we are drawing a line around Seattle..." Bashing Eyman and touting Seattle exceptionalism will win you friends every time. Instead of infighting, McGinn seemed to say, it's us against retro America, fighting to implement the Obama Way.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Feb 22, 8:55 p.m. Inappropriate

"Secret relationship with the council"? If that is so, it's certainly been a well-kept secret compared with the much more public one. I"m glad he's lost weight and I'm pleased he chose to actually give a speech but he has a very long way to go to convince a lot of us that he's not out of his depth or at least out of his element.

TaylorB1

Posted Tue, Feb 22, 9:41 p.m. Inappropriate

"but his point was that cars are for the elite,"

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2014158861_electriccar08m.html

"Overall, there were 5.5 million private cars and trucks registered in Washington last year."

There were 6.7 million residents in WA state in 2010, and 5.5 million private cars and trucks. How many million "elites" are there in WA state?

Lincoln

Posted Wed, Feb 23, 7:48 a.m. Inappropriate

The stiff tolls and the extra 2 billion dollars for the I-520 bridge termination isn't for elite car owners...it's for extra amenities benefitting one affluent nightborhood.

jmrolls

Posted Wed, Feb 23, 11:43 a.m. Inappropriate

Nobody seems to have the actual audio for this speech.

@JM - The Montlake Cut is a regional bottleneck, attributing all that cost to the denizens of that neighborhood isn't appropriate.

FWIW, it likely would've been possible to have provided what the neighborhood was asking for if you cut the pork out of that 2 Billion, and the 200 Million the State spent studying the program and justifying the run up in costs while also dissing the folks most effected.

The costs of freeway construction and neighborhood mitigation are certainly valid subjects, your post does nothing to advance that discussion.

A personal peeve of mine is the HOV access to Hwy 16 in Tacoma, happening just ten years after the original project and requiring the tear down of an almost brand new overpass over the Nalley Valley. Not only that, but the project management team, out of the Olympic Regional Office, made a 90 million dollar mistake in the misalignment of one of the replacements.

On the subject of Nimby's you might want to dig a bit further into Microsoft and their Counsel's work as it relates to the Citizen United Supreme Court decision regarding corporations in the public sphere.

Posted Wed, Feb 23, 11:44 a.m. Inappropriate

Found it!

http://mayormcginn.seattle.gov/2011sotc/

Posted Wed, Feb 23, 8:54 p.m. Inappropriate

While many of the changes in style are welcome, Mayor McGinn's deficiencies as Mayor won't be solved by changes in form. What's required is a fundamental reform in function.

Same staff. Same ideology. Same failures to represent the whole city. Same tone deaf failure to articulate a problem without lamely bashing significant important interests - like the police on our streets who serve us well even though they don't reside in Seattle.

Knute has been trying his best to spin for the Mayor for over a year. Where's Mossback on this topic - the guy that knows the souls of the people around here?

McGinn bashes people from outside Seattle whose values don't begin or end at city limits. Just another failure to do what's required: at least try to be a Mayor not just for the people who reside in Seattle, but the Mayor for all the people who do their living here (live, work and play) and identify themselves as: from Seattle.

That's what Seattle needs. That's what's expected. This week McGinn took another giant step in the wrong direction and alienated people who would otherwise embrace Seattle.

McGinn continues to do more harm than good for the progressive causes he champions in word, but fails to advance in deed.

Yes. It's time for change.

Jan

Posted Thu, Feb 24, 8:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Sharrows in place, he turns his attention to some of the issues that really need it. Phew! I just wish he'd lose the pugnaciousness. It plays well to the gallery, but it doesn't help him to secure support for his agenda. I fear that by the time he learns how little he has to gain by burning bridges, it will be too late to repair the damage.

luigia

Posted Sat, Feb 26, 5:29 p.m. Inappropriate

@DT - Does this help to advance the discussion? It appeared on this website a couple of years ago. Still playing out but pretty close so far.

http://crosscut.com/blog/crosscut/18899/When-Chopp-speaks%2C-parse-it-closely/

Almost sounds like we didn't need the tunnel on the waterfront either.

jmrolls

Posted Sun, Feb 27, 11:10 a.m. Inappropriate

The real leader right now in Washington is the 2010 Census. The numbers are telling us that the old centralized model of Snow White (Seattle) and the Seven Dwarfs (exurbs and East) is decaying. The color of Washington in South King is changing and disenfranchised groups that don't want to kow tow to The City are rebelling.

jabailo

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