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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