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Seattle mayoral hunger games: What kind of mayor do we need next?

Don't get your hopes up for real change, since we favor "hedge politics" in these parts, tamping down bold ideas. A look at the early dynamics of the race.

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It also matters with these challengers whose hide they are taking their votes from. Some candidates, such as former city councilmember Steinbrueck, would take votes away from McGinn’s green and anti-downtown base, as would councilmember Bruce Harrell and Asian businessman Albert Shen, drawing off minority votes from McGinn. Others, such as Port Commissioner Bill Bryant (toying with getting in), Staadecker, and former Bellevue mayor Cary Bozeman (pondering a race focused on doing the central waterfront park right), would take votes away from Burgess.

On the other hand, if the race comes down to a small number of good vote-getters, such as Burgess, Murray, and Steinbrueck, you could easily see McGinn duplicating the fate of former mayors Paul Schell and Greg Nickels by being squeezed out in the August primary.

A lot depends on how well Councilmember Burgess does in the next few months. If he is able to get key endorsements and a good war chest, he can probably discourage the long-shot candidates and keep certain last-minute possibilities (notably former King County Executive Ron Sims) from getting in. Equally critical is how well Sen. Ed Murray, who announced a tentative campaign last week, does in getting key backers, especially in the gay community, to keep their powder dry. If Murray can do that, others still deciding will have a better chance. The early fundraising shows McGinn with $95,000 in so far, Burgess with $25,000, and Staadecker with $60,000.

Murray's prospects got more complicated after the Senate coup a few days ago. The chances of a deadlocked legislative session, keeping Murray in Olympia far into prime campaigning (and fundraising) season, could force Murray to decide whether to resign his Senate seat or forgo the mayor's race. Similarly, the toppling of the Senate Democrats, shortly after electing Murray their leader, does not exactly fortify his credentials as a leader.

Here I might dust off my three historic axioms for the Seattle mayor’s race. First, city councilmembers rarely rise, since they have a reputation for nit-picky, process-driven small ball. Second, the more liberal candidate always wins the general election (and probably only Ron Sims could get to the left of McGinn). Third, last-in, best-shot: the candidate who gets in at the last minute has a huge advantage, given the intense media attention to early entrants, and the opportunity for tactical positioning by a late-entrant candidate. (Mayors Norm Rice, Paul Schell, and Mike McGinn all practiced this tactic.) Axiom three could spell a big advantage for Murray who, due to his duties as Senate Democratic leader, will be a last-minute guy.

As for the “course race,” let us ask what kind of mayor does Seattle need in the next four years, as opposed to which candidate needs the job?  Here are a few scenarios, with some indication of which candidates would do best.

  • Bold reform. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel exemplifies this agenda, with his big three targets: lousy schools, terrible murders, and crippling municipal debt. Burgess and Sims or a longshot like Rep. Reuven Carlyle would have the best claims to this agenda.
  • Regional statesman. This is the Brookings Institution formula for regional coordination, greater political clout and thinking comprehensively about transit, urban growth and smart allocation of resources. Denver and Minneapolis are leading examples, with Seattle a woeful laggard. Bozeman, Bryant, Murray, and Sims (as well as long-shot Maud Daudon, head of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce) seem most suited to this course.
  • Liberal/lifestyle magnet. This is the school of thought associated with Richard Florida, by which if you create an Amsterdam-like city that smart young people want to live in (nightlife, liberal tolerance, gay-friendly, affordable, lots of transit and bikeways), they will flock to the place, and tech start-up businesses will follow. Seattle is totally into this strategy, and McGinn, Murray, and Steinbrueck would seem the best ambassadors.
  • Cluster-maker. Pick a rising sector, such as clean energy or advanced manufacturing, and rush to the head of the class. Seattle already has two: software and aerospace. Available for a new mayor to push: green economy, biomedical, tourism. Best candidates for this: McGinn, Bryant, Burgess.
  • The forgotten basics. Cities like Seattle are increasingly globalized and technologized, hence very neglectful of those with modest educations or struggling to find an up-escalator in this economy. A social-justice agenda would help them. Boston is a good example of this approach, where multiple “ladders” of upward mobility for all classes and neighborhoods are a big part of the city’s agenda. Equally neglected in Seattle: potholes, public safety, schools, parks, and the have-less neighborhoods. Part of this agenda is smarter management of the bureaucracy. Best advocates: Burgess, Steinbrueck, Sims, Harrell, Shen.

David Brewster is founder of Crosscut and editor-at-large. You can e-mail him at david.brewster@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Dec 12, 5:10 p.m. Inappropriate

You don't mention it but McGinn has probably made some friends in the police force and among those folks who look favorably on SPD. I don't think the Guild will go out of its way to unseat McGinn. Depends on who he is running against I guess.

kieth

Posted Wed, Dec 12, 9:24 p.m. Inappropriate

"McGinn has... a group of constituencies (greens, bike clubs, night clubs, Sonics fans, and ethnic groups)"

I don't know who you're talking to, but I think his support in the constituencies you name is weak to thin to nonexistent. I predict he will not break 15% in the primary.

louploup

Posted Sat, Dec 15, 12:41 a.m. Inappropriate

I want the old fashioned kind of mayor. The person that seemed like your older neighbor, but who knew how to get everything done, and who didn't waste time and money on nonsense.

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