Seattle’s recent mayors: One is ready to make the statewide grade
by Knute Berger
Former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels talks to Crosscut writers and editors. Credit: Berit Anderson/Crosscut
I don’t know what astral alignment was happening, but this week I had a chance to talk with three Seattle mayors, Mike McGinn, Paul Schell, and Greg Nickels. All seemed to be doing quite well: McGinn gave a great, off-the-cuff speech at a Space Needle luncheon, Schell seemed relaxed from the Whidbey Island lifestyle and was insightful talking about some of democracy’s challenges, and Nickels is bearded (Mossback approves) and trying to do what no Seattle mayor has done since Art Langlie in 1940: move on to higher statewide office.
Nickels is running for Secretary of State, an office that has been dominated by the Republicans for decades, not unlike the way Democrats have dominated the governor’s office. The last Democrat elected SOS was Vic Meyers, the former Seattle band leader and “clown prince of politics,” in 1960. It’s been all GOP since the Kennedys, however. The current occupant, Sam Reed, is retiring, and his predecessor, Ralph Munro, set the mold for it as a bipartisan statesman, ambassador for the state, dealmaker, and voice of moderation. By the way, I also saw and chatted with Munro this week. He was at the Century 21 anniversary as a former employee working the fair’s infamous Show Street. Maybe the secret to his success was support from the folks in Morton!
At any rate, Nickels is interested in using the SOS office as a bully pulpit for revitalizing Washington’s small towns, for reforming the state’s political system (such as making it impossible for, say, another Costco to buy an election), and he says he’s concerned about heritage funding. But will a liberal, life-long Democrat from Seattle be seen as a fair-minded overseer of elections, records, libraries, and archives? Nickels, whose wife, Sharon, is from Ellensburg, is out to win them over with a swing into Eastern Washington this week, with Spokane and Yakima on the itinerary. But his real asset is name familiarity here at home: it’s 95 percent in King County. That’s more people than know “Lake Washington.” If Nickels’ big name can get him a big enough percentage of voters in the shadow of the Needle, what he picks up on the other side of the Cascade Curtain will be a bonus.
It’ll be interesting to see if a Seattle mayor can re-brand himself as a statewide public servant. It would be good for the city, and for past and future mayors, if he can.
I rate him a winner this week, for the effort. Maybe he can lead the way in the sensible recycling of our mayors.
More winners and losers of the week:
Loser: Oh, bad week for gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna. He snaps at a young woman and tells her to “get a job,” never a good answer and especially during a recession. He should have said, “Hey, find a safety net with a massive hole in it!”
McKenna’s taking hits for being wobbly on abortion rights. Then, someone’s digging through old files at the King County Council and finding evidence that maybe there had been (we’re shocked, shocked!) some campaigning going on on county time down at the courthouse, which would be the least surprising revelation one can think of, except such common practices when dragged into the daylight often actually shock people. This happened back in the ’90s when some reporter broke from the pack to reveal that politicians were using caucus staff for campaign work. As common as sending an intern for coffee, but in daylight, well, people flipped. Be interesting if reporters dig into everyone’s county behavior and see how much has been happening on whose dime. McKenna will be hit by a “he’s not who you think he is” effort, and we’ll have to decide, “Hmmm. Is he or isn’t he?”
Loser: Reporters who have to cover politics in a one-party town.
Winner: Seattle, which scored high on the “Peace Index” as the third most peaceable metro area in America. What was that about a murder emergency? Maybe there are some benefits to being a one-party town.
Loser: That crazy slut, John Edwards.
Winner: 2016. Pundits, already bored with 2012, have already moved on to the fun speculation about the next presidential race. Clinton or Cuomo? Let’s see a real cat/dog/cock fight.
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