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Seattle mayoral hunger games: How it got this way

A Mossback take on the 2013 mayoral election, the candidates, and modern urban political history. We could see fierce political ground wars on the isthmus of Seattle.

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McGinn now has three years of experience under his belt, so is slimmer in weight and heftier in accomplishments than he was in '09. Early in McGinn's term, former mayor Norm Rice told Crosscut writers that it takes all mayors time to learn the job. Royer, he joked, finally figured it out--two years into his third term. McGinn's outsider persona--an activist at heart--and competitive attitude--established him early on as someone who was willing to throw elbows. McGinn has toned it down some--his pr machine has him doing press conferences and cutting ribbons. He looks more mayoral, sounds more mayoral, and has moved his issues through tough budget times. He can be stubborn still, but seems less angry.

He also has issues to run on: The seawall project passed muster with the voters and is moving ahead, the Families and Eduction levy passed, and his push for more rail in the city is going forward too. McGinn is poised to make progress getting the city closer to broadband by activating the "dark" fiber optic lines underground. He was key to solving the tangle over the Chihuly project at Seattle Center, setting the stage for finding ways to effect more public-private projects. The SoDo basketball/hockey arena is another win in seizing a public-private opportunity.

On the downside, there is still the impression that McGinn flip-flopped on the downtown tunnel (he was against it; then said he wouldn't oppose it, which helped him pick up votes in 2009; then after the election he threw up tunnel roadblocks). Right or wrong, there was a lot of lawyerly shading there and it cemented the impression of the mayor as an obstructionist right out of the gate. Plus, the public sided with the tunnel. He's been pegged as anti-car, proposing fees and parking rates that were too high for public consumption. He was again seen as having to be dragged into an agreement with the Department of Justice over oversight of the Seattle Police Department, a stance that baffled even allies. Early on, his relationship with the city council was rocky, emblematic of a kind of inherent difficulty in getting along.

It's an example of strength as weakness. As an outside environmental activist, McGinn was well-served by being a stubborn, tough advocate and negotiator who ruffled feathers. It's been tougher governing that way. That will be a challenge in the upcoming campaign. His opponents will be coming after his leadership style. McGinn is a tough campaigner, as opponent Ed Murray allowed in speaking to Publicola: "I, for one, think that Mike McGinn is a far stronger contender than some of the chattering classes think he is. I don’t take him lightly. He did defeat an incumbent mayor. That was more than just luck. He has a significant core group of very strong supporters." McGinn's competitiveness is an asset, but only to a point: Can he be tough yet still display the warmer, fuzzier mayor made over in the almost daily press releases? Incumbents are frequently caught in that dilemma, and outsider-as-insider McGinn even more so.

So, while issues like public safety and schools and transportation will be argued, a constant thread will be leadership. Tim Burgess will be able to emphasize his collaborative style and his intellectual approach as a kind of urban sociologist with a policeman's background on public safety and reform — real reform — of the department. Ed Murray will ride the wave of  the triumph of getting same-sex marriage passed in the Legislature and at the ballot box with R-74, the most important piece of civil rights legislation in decades, plus his reputation as a force in Olympia. If Ron Sims dives in, he'll bring his strong, passionate and inspiring persona and his resume from running King County. Peter Steinbrueck would be able to point to his tenure on the city council, his advocacy of planned growth, and a leadership style that enfranchises the neighborhoods. Charlie Staadecker, the bow-tied Rotarian, seems to be using the playbook of the mayoral candidate Roger Morgan in Jim Lynch's recent novel, Truth Like the Sun, running on a theme of traditional civic values with the whiff of the Rainier Club about him, passing out buttons that say, "I Believe in Seattle."


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Dec 12, 8:13 a.m. Inappropriate

Wouldn't it be an interesting race if we had Instant Runoff Voting? All the candidates could espouse their most clear vision of what they would pursue as mayor and we'd choose between 6 or 7 candidates rather than the tired old Winner Takes All approach elections take.

Splabman

Posted Wed, Dec 12, 8:56 a.m. Inappropriate

Amazing how differently two people can see the same history. I had already voted for McGinn, chiefly because he opposed the tunnel, when he changed his tune. I felt cheated, and I still do. I don't feel he's become better as a mayor; I feel he's gulped down gallons of the Kool-Aid. It took him a shockingly short amount of time to get on board with the developers and the density freaks, and the bike/train/anti-car crowd.

And now this writer says "It's a good bet that everyone running for mayor will want an economically prosperous, sustainable, dense city with great schools, transit and quality of life with social justice for all." Well, maybe some of that--economicaly prosperous, sustaiable, quaLity of life,certainly, and social justice. But I certainly don't want DENSITY. Just a quick glance at the pictures accompanying one of the companion stories to this one--the one with old, human scale buildings dwarfed by huge souless new towers with that stupid Allen train running through what appears to be a bleak alley--makes me sick at heart at how greed and tastelessness is devouring our city.

I might want to spend on transit if it did anything useful for me, but it doesn't, and hasn't since I was in grade school. I am tired of subsidizing others' rides to work. If we must have all this transit, let only those who use it pay for it.

My property taxes are ridiculously high, and only likely to increase as I am forced to pay for schools that I never have and never will use and that turn out people unable to spell or to use correct grammar, and who appear to have done nothing but eat lunch during their whole school day.

I also don't understand the writer's statement that " Besides, Seattle is a sucker for visionaries and idea people: The most idealistic candidates tend to win (Rice over David Stern, Schell over Charlie Chong, Nickels over Mark Sidran). " What visionaries? Those who lost those races appeared to me to be the ones with at least some vision. The winners seemed to me to hold only a vision of pleasing developers and downtown business interests.

Finally, praising McGinn for the Chihuly memorial glass store at Seattle Center and for yet another sports palace--well, I'm just shaking my head. Of all the dumb things he may or may not have done as mayor, those are the most egregiously bad in my opinion. I can't wait to see how bad the next crop of candidates will be.

mspat

Posted Wed, Dec 12, 10:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Density and social justice, quality of life, etc. are not inherently inconsistent. There is conflict when the impacts of density are neither transparently discussed with the impacted, and when there is no democratic process to ensure that real mitigation for those impacts is required.

Seattle governance is exactly in this situation, with an increasingly insular City Council and Executive that do the bidding of the growth coalition (look it up) with little accommodation of the needs of the affected neighborhoods. Or of the low wage workers needed to maintain the infrastructure of a self-professed "world class city."

Your comments regarding public schools and their financing are Randian nonsense. There are many problems with our schools; what is your solution-- privatizing education? That is a terrible idea on many levels. In any case, I have had three children/stepchildren go through Seattle public schools, as well as numerous friends and neighbors, and they have for the most part "turned out" better than your crabbed description.

louploup

Posted Thu, Dec 13, 12:34 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't know how one "mitigates" darkness caused by huge buildings. Perhaps some, maybe many, would be satisfied to trade sunshine for some social goods; I'm not. It's too dark too much of the year already. I think "mitigation" is an excuse dreamed up by those who bank, successfully, it appears, on none of us questioning how one mitigates loss of sunlight and overcrowded everything.

I don't know what "Randian nonsense" means with respect to our schools and their financing. As far as I know I am paying levies that support the schools as part of my property taxes. I'd be glad to learn if that's not the case. As to fixing the problems with our schools, I don't have solutions. All I know is I got a great parochial school education and despite decades and millions and millions of dollars people are still talking about problems with our schools, so clearly money doesn't fix the problems. As far as privatizing them, no, I don't believe in that, nor do I believe in charter schools, which I think will turn out to be something like separate but unequal and will wrongly drain funds leaving us worse off with the public schools even worse than they are. I don't know the answer. I just know that throwing money at the schools isn't helping. In my opinion, it's the families that need the support so the kids can eat and live in peace and safety and thereby be ready to learn when they get to school. But I'd lay long odds against that truth ever being faced, let alone addressed. And I don't think adding thousands, tens of thousands, who knows how many more residents in the big prison block density towers will do anything to mitigate anything.

mspat

Posted Thu, Dec 13, 5:46 p.m. Inappropriate

"Social justice" is just one more "progressive" buzzword that every billionaire developer uses to justify their latest set of payoffs to the best city council money can buy. You really had to love it when they auctioned off a 70-year-old housing project to their favorite rich guys, with nary a peep from the fake "progressives" in this city.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Dec 17, 12:48 a.m. Inappropriate

BS, NotFan. The real progressives fought this thing for at least 6 years. Perhaps if you had joined in that effort, it would have worked. But feel free to not do anything and just complain.

sarah90

Posted Wed, Dec 12, 9:45 a.m. Inappropriate

Schools. The first thing to understand is the Mayor has no direct role over schools. None. That is the power ceded to the Superintendent and the elected School Board.

That said, a Mayor has a big bully pulpit. I think Mayor McGinn has gone out of his way to support Seattle Schools.

The one thing that has NOT happened - either by the City Council or Mayor - is cleaning up the areas around a couple of schools that happen to sit where there is more violence and crime. That IS the Mayor's domain and if he or she wants to help, that's where you can help.

It would have helped if some of these candidates had come out against charter schools which are going to make problems in Seattle Schools even worse.

McGinn would not make a public statement nor would Burgess (and Burgess now has the nerve to say he is against charters but when pressed about the issue during the campaign season, would not comment). Other City Council members DID come out against 1240 - Licata,Gooden,Harrell,and Clark all did.

Candidates need to keep in mind the parameters of what the Mayor can and cannot do and promise to do those things within their power to support our public schools.

My take is that if Burgess is mayor, he would make a move to take over the schools a la LA and Chicago and have mayoral control over them. He has shown himself more than willing to have backroom conversations to guide the school district to his thinking. (I know this via public disclosure e-mails.)

westello

Posted Wed, Dec 12, 10:22 p.m. Inappropriate

See my comment on Jordan Royer's story. Seattle needs to elect its city council by district.

orino

Posted Thu, Dec 13, 8:39 a.m. Inappropriate

I agree that there needs to be district representation on the City Council, as guaranteed by district-based elections. But I also think that there needs to be a mixture of Council Members elected citywide along with Council Members elected by district. The last proposal set before the voters called for electing ALL Council Members on a district basis. I voted against this plan (along with a majority of Seattle voters) because of its lopsided architecture. If you want district elections of Council Members, please be sure your plan includes citywide Council positions as well, or folks like me will reject it. (Why? Because otherwise it gives the Mayor--as the only citywide participant on legislative matters--too much power.)

Posted Thu, Dec 13, 5:49 p.m. Inappropriate

District elections would work only if there were twice as many districts. Having the same number of council members would do nothing about the flow of money. While they're at it, the "progressives" should cut the pay of the council to no more than the median household income of the city.

It's time to make that salary livable, but not so cushy that these people will do absolutely anything to keep the job. Let's face it, most of them couldn't hold a real job to save their lives.

NotFan

Posted Sat, Dec 15, 5:45 p.m. Inappropriate

Just how would elections divided into district and city-wide work? I mean the elections themselves, not the outcome. That's a serious question, because it would seem that anyone would want to run as a district councilmember because the demands of campaign money and time would be much less.

sarah90

Posted Mon, Dec 17, 12:16 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm originally from Tacoma, and that's the way it was done down there (at least through the 1980s when I moved up here)--i.e., there was a mixture of district-only and at-large City Council seats. Also--if my memory serves me correctly--I believe that while only the districts themselves got to vote on their candidates during the primary election, all Council candidates were voted on by the whole city in the general election. That way, even though the Council members representing specfic districts had to reside in those districts and receive their primary nominations from voters in thoses districts, they still had to show that they had some interest in and knowledge of citywide issues before actually getting elected.

But I don't think a mixture of at-large and district-only seats on a city council is rare in this country. In fact, I suspect it's the rule.

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