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Mayor McGinn: Is Seattle starting to see him differently?

After two years of fighting and frustration, the biggest winner from the voters' decision in favor of the waterfront tunnel could be the project's biggest opponent. 

Mayor Mike McGinn discusses winter storm planning (October, 2011).

Mayor Mike McGinn discusses winter storm planning (October, 2011). Jen Nance (Office of the Mayor)/Flickr

The story of the Comeback Kid or the underdog pulling out a last minute victory is a staple of political and sports lore. These stories are so prevalent because they are often true. Mayor Mike McGinn was counted out during a crowded election field in 2009, but pulled out a victory using a finely tuned field campaign and a principled stand on environmental issues.

Now McGinn is staging another “comeback” of sorts. After a rocky beginning as mayor, his chances at re-election — maybe even an easy re-election — get better every day. Here’s how I (as someone, to be sure, who supported him in 2009 and expects to do so again next year) see this coming about. 

First and foremost, the tunnel issue is now out of the foreground of civic debate. Putting the tunnel on the ballot may have been ill advised for a number of reasons, but its defeat freed McGinn; the people have spoken on the tunnel. McGinn now has started being the mayor of a middle-sized American city, managing day to day emergencies and doing the things that mayors do, rather than opposing the tunnel.

Press releases tell part of the story: “Mayor announces $1.6 million investment in Seattle arts organizations,” “City Emphasizing Pothole Repairs After Winter Storm," and “McGinn to announce innovative new job-readiness program for immigrant and refugee youth.” These are all mundane, boring, workaday headlines that chronicle the ribbon-cutting and street-fixing that people associate with running a major city.

No blood and guts here. And that’s the point. With the recent addition of Beth Hester to McGinn’s team the steady drip of boring press releases is an indicator of discipline in the Mayor’s office. The story is that the work of the city is getting done. The maxim of any elected official should be, “when news happens I make it happen.” And McGinn has been, mostly, making his own positive news. 

A snowstorm in a city like Seattle is almost an expected programmatic element, like the bridge getting washed out in an episode of Lassie. It happens from time to time, and as problems go for a city it is a rather mild crisis. But as Greg Nickels can attest, Seattle people drive a hard bargain when it comes to snow storms: Don’t screw it up.

McGinn, building on the politically fatal lessons learned by Nickels, the Mayor showed up to slap the backs of snowplow drivers. Appropriate foot wear is critical, as both Nickels and Richard Nixon can attest, the latter showing up with wingtips on the beach and the former with tasseled loafers. I don’t know what McGinn was wearing during the snowstorm: mission accomplished.

Lastly, McGinn is doing a dance with professional sports. If he can somehow get Seattle a professional basketball team his odds of winning re-election shift dramatically. I personally think that any sports team needs to sign an ironclad commitment to generate wins on the field before we, as a community, give them anything. Reliably get into the playoffs and get into championships, then we’ll talk. But none of that matters in politics or sports, and even though Seattle is a truly lack luster sports town in many ways, bagging a franchise that can play as the Sonics would be huge win for the Mayor, even if he’s just a small player.

McGinn benefits from the political principle that if a mayor acts like a mayor, avoids big gaffes or mistakes, and produces some actual wins — even if they are trivial in the vast scheme of things — he will be tough to beat. If McGinn keeps going on his current trajectory, what is the rationale to run against him? Will an opponent haul out three-year-old headlines about the tunnel? I’m no political genius, but that doesn’t sound like a winning strategy.

As more time passes, the early goof ups of a new mayor fade, and the steadiness of an incumbent mayor running the city day to day becomes the dominant image. Any opponent will have to go negative in a city that doesn’t reward negativity.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Feb 9, 6:16 a.m. Inappropriate

Roger will tell the public that blue is green if it suits his political agenda and those of the John that has hired him; but now we are to believe that entering The Ayala Zone is, actually, a good thing? Roger must have been sitting in a different section than I during those years. No doubt in seats paid for by someone else.

BlueLight

Posted Thu, Feb 9, 8:02 a.m. Inappropriate

Mike McGinn is less pathetic a mayor than he was six months ago, that's for sure. But the effect is to basically make the 2013 mayor's race an open seat race. Other candidates will be able to get major institutional, Democratic, and union endorsements over McGinn. And Mike can't raise money effectively. Roger makes no bones about being McGinn's biggest fan, so I'd take this column a little more seriously if anyone else had written it.

Mannix

Posted Thu, Feb 9, 8:47 a.m. Inappropriate

Roger and Mossback see things about McGinn that remain elusive to most of the rest of the city.

Jan

Posted Thu, Feb 9, 10:50 a.m. Inappropriate

Who is Beth Hester? Is she as good as Karl Rove or David Axelrod? The pothole hotline 386-1218 has been a responsive pleasant surprise but the potholes are still everywhere. And, the new arena possibility will alienate many of the '99%/occupier sympathizer, liberal' McGinn base. Best for Seattle in 2013 would be 2 new finalist candidates for mayor.

animalal

Posted Thu, Feb 9, 3:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Just curious, animalal & BlueLight- Seattle voters or not? The Ayala Zone though, very good concept. But Hizzoner might well be in the Moyer Zone, good guy, slow starter with a surprisingly strong finish using what others call junkballs. Too early to tell really. Sure, mock all you like. He's won one more race than anyone you're likely to offer up so far.

NickBob

Posted Thu, Feb 9, 8:12 p.m. Inappropriate

The gist of this article seem to be that since McGinn has not inserted himself in the news much of late - not surprising since his one issue is no longer newsworthy - and thus has not had much opportunity to make a fool of himself, he is suddenly a success. If one sets the bar that low, we are all doing great. If McGinn faces a strong challenger in 2013 he will loose but that is a very big if, so he is probably in with a good chance of reelection. Meanwhile the city's infrastructure will continue to crumble.

Posted Fri, Feb 10, 12:17 a.m. Inappropriate

Well put. McGinn is the best mayor that white and white-ish folk north of I-90 have seen for several years.

ed90

Posted Fri, Feb 17, 4:06 p.m. Inappropriate

Many thanks to Mr. Valdez for my political "Chuckle of the Day." McGinn still has a long, long way to go before he can be considered anything more than an underdog for re-election...ditto for his mini-me, Councilman O'Brien. Dave Smith's take on this is right on the mark...is our current definition of "success" merely the absense for a few weeks of actual disaster and failure?

TaylorB1

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