I know, I know. Give me a break from election news. But fast upon us are critical decisions about the Seattle mayor’s race in 2013, an important pivot point in the city. First the most recent news on the possible candidates, and then a primer on the paths to the hot seat.
All assume Mayor Mike McGinn (still unpopular but doing better at mastering the job) will run for reelection, and he’s been busy holding fundraisers. The leading challenger is thought to be City Councilmember Tim Burgess, who tells me he will decide no later than Jan. 21 on making the race and is leaning that way. Cheerful commercial real estate broker Charlie Staadacker is a long shot but is first out there lining up backers. Former City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck is “more interested” than before and has a prominent issue: questioning the SoDo Arena.
The big news is that City Council President Sally Clark is pretty much taking herself out of the race, telling me that while the mayor's job is "supremely attractive," she prefers to stay at her important post at the council “for the cycle” which would be through 2015. That decision “could alter,” Clark says, if good candidates “with a spring in their step” fail to enter the race for mayor. City Attorney Pete Holmes has firmly taken himself out of contention. City Councilmember Bruce Harrell is thought likely to get in, despite no clear base of voters, but won’t make any decision until December.
State Sen. Ed Murray may be the next majority leader of the Senate, but he is at least looking at a mayor’s race (as he did before). “I do believe there is the time to both reach out to people and raise funds [for mayor] despite the legislative session,” he tells me. During the session, Murray would not be allowed to do any fundraising, but he would have lots of funds from groups wanting the good favor of the Senate kingpin, as well as strong support in the gay community, where he is a hero for gay marriage.
I would add Chamber of Commerce president Maud Daudon and former King County Executive Ron Sims to the list of remote possibles. And of course, X.
Ordinarily, Seattle mayors get a fairly automatic second term. Not this time, after all the early stumbles by McGinn, who has had to regroup entirely after his big issue, opposing the waterfront tunnel, blew up in his face. For the past year, McGinn has been undergoing a major makeover. He’s mended some fences, pushed for the basketball arena as a legacy project, become the cops’ BFF on reform issues and rushed around cutting ribbons and taking credit for numerous small-ball accomplishments. Still got that beard, but he’s wearing suits and minding his manners. Still, he’s hugely vulnerable in many quarters, so a spirited challenge will await him.
Let me handicap the race and provide a kind of overview of mayoral politics in Seattle by suggesting 14 assorted paths to victory, slotting in some of the candidates where appropriate.
Crowded Field. A vulnerable mayor will draw lots of challengers, thus paradoxically making him less vulnerable. Imagine there are five or six pretty good opponents, and you can see a scorecard after the low-turnout August primary with McGinn (as the best known and with some firm supporters) getting 40 percent of the vote and the others grabbing 10-20 percent each. That gives McGinn a strong lead for the general election, discouraging donors to his opponent. Plus, he might draw a weak rival from such a field. By contrast, a small field can squeeze out the incumbent in the primary, as happened to Mayor Greg Nickels in 2009 and Mayor Paul Schell in 2001.
Sole Ownership of a Hot Single Issue. This strategy also relies on a crowded primary, with all the contestants on the same side of this big issue, except for you. McGinn played this game expertly in 2009, being the sole opponent of the deep-bore tunnel, rallying that youthful constituency, and surviving the primary. The candidate who might repeat the trick is Peter Steinbrueck, the only one with the political courage (so far) to question sharply the wisdom of a basketball arena in SoDo. If he survived the primary this way, however, there would be no end of grief from sports fans for him in the general.
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