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Assemble the Big Five. These would be: greens, unions (especially city workers and the SEIU), minorities (especially blacks and hispanics), downtown developers, and cops-and-firefighters. These groups give money, provide volunteers, and have big stakes in the outcome since they do a lot of business with the city. They tie your hands once mayor, however, and can be a liability in an age of austerity-driven reform politics. Mayor Nickels excelled in putting this coalition together. Tim Burgess might have the best shot next time.
Independent, Self-Funded Type. Before Seattle politics got so cynical, the town admired people of this stripe, who promised to produce good public policy, not political paybacks. Joe Mallahan was cut from this cloth, though his inexperience was fatal, and it got him through the primary in 2009. Doug Jewett, the last Republican to run, in 1989, was an example, though not able to self-fund. Burgess, who did contribute about $60,000 to his first city council race, might be a self-funder this time (he won’t say if he would or could), and is also a best-practices policy guy.
North End, Up-Market, Research Economy. North Seattle is where the votes are, and where appeals for education reform resonate. Paul Schell got elected on a Northern strategy in 1997, but it’s easy for such a strategy to get tagged as elitist and too-white. A modern variation of this might be to run as a new-ideas technocrat, like some of the Microsoft alumni (Ross Hunter, Tina Podlodowski, Suzan DelBene) or other tech-venture types like State Rep. Reuven Carlyle.
Neighborhood Pitchforks. It used to be that there would normally be an establishment candidate friendly to “downtown,” and an unhappy insurrectionist talking about neighborhoods, high taxes and the dangers of apartment zones. The Schell-Charlie Chong race in 1997 was the last pure example of this, with the neighborhood guy — as usual — getting shellacked. Mayor Charles Royer, elected to the first of three terms in 1977, actually rode the neighborhood horse into power. Of the current contenders, Steinbrueck would be the most credible neighborhood tribune. The old issue for this politics, fending off apartments, has been overwhelmed by the Religion of Density.
Celebrity. Royer, a television personality, is the one example of this working, though it is a popular route to the city council, including such ex-journalists as Jim Compton and Jean Godden. Dave Stern, inventor of the happy face, is another minor celebrity who gained little traction. Likewise, former KIRO anchor Susan Hutchison bombed in her race for King County Executive. In other cities, the current flavor is a former basketball star, and if Lenny Wilkens suddenly moves to Seattle you’d have a real threat. Please, God, not Dale Chihuly.
Populist Backlash. During years of greater racial tension, we had a series of these candidates, normally framing the issue as one of law and order: Liem Tuai against Uhlman in 1973, Doug Jewett against busing in 1989, and Mark Sidran pushing for street civility in losing to Nickels in 2001. If the Seattle economy were worse, you might expect some populist anger, but this time most of the backlash will just be against McGinn and maybe bike lanes. Moreover, McGinn positions himself as a populist and anti-establishment guy whose heart is in Rainier Valley.
Symbolism. Seattleites, having things pretty good, feel free to vote for candidates that make the voter feel good about him or herself. Mayor Rice was a popular, effective, black mayor. McGinn is a green mayor. So what about a gay mayor, or a woman mayor? Or, like symphony conductors, how about a very young mayor? Another opportunity for voter-pride would be to stress density issues and those that seem linked to climate change. McGinn tapped this vein three years ago, but now it’s pretty much a cliché, claimed by all.
New Coalition. The Big Five is pretty tired, and hard to lasso, but there are other interesting rising interest groups that have money and troops. Mayor McGinn smartly spotted two of them: bicyclists and the nightlife lobby. Another variant of this is to take the younger and more radical part of bigger groups, such as peeling off the anti-tunnel, anti-car brigades from the environmental groups, whose leadership backed Nickels but whose foot soldiers were restive.
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