Looking to 2013, Seattle’s animal spirits are pretty high. Amazon is booming, basketball may be headed back (to lift the civic soul), and the Seattle-area economy and lifestyle remain a magnet for talent.
Maybe. I see however a jittery year: defense cuts, a fiscal cliff that remains in play for most of the year, political impasses on big issues in both D.C. and Olympia. My forecast for the year is mostly cloudy. In the categories below I offer multiple predictions, in declining order of plausibility.
Olympia and Gov. Jay Inslee. Most likely 2013 will be a year like the early part of Inslee’s campaign: confusion, staffing weaknesses, a Congressman-like penchant for catchy issues of the day that don’t cost real dollars, such as green economy, grandstanding for transit as opposed to roads, innovation schools to fend off real K-12 reform. A steep-learning-curve governor would leave the major strategy to Speaker Frank Chopp. That translates into spending on the social safety net, health care, and K-12, and putting off funding for transportation and higher ed.
A second scenario is a centrist comeback. The politics of centrist solutions may have done poorly in the 2012 election, but the Rodney Tom-led coalition in the Senate, if it holds together, could change the dynamics. Should the economy flatten, that would empower a business agenda (transportation, lower costs of doing business in the state, education reform), and centrist Democratic challengers to Inslee in 2016 could start to emerge.
The third (and least likely) scenario is one where Inslee decides to become a reformer, not the conventional, constituency-serving Democrat of his past history. This would involve Inslee forming a strange-bedfellows alliance with Sen. Tom, in a pro-growth, low-taxes, improved-business-climate strategy that lines up against Speaker Frank Chopp and the Ed-Murray-led Senate Democrats. Unlikely, but Inslee likes to defy expectations.
Seattle mayor’s race. The most likely outcome is a repeat of 2009, when the battered incumbent mayor is squeezed out by two non-city-hall candidates with a base of supporters and good campaign presence — Peter Steinbrueck (social services and neighborhoods) and Ed Murray (gays and unions). I'd expect Steinbrueck, with his broader, citywide base, to win the general.
Second most likely is that Councilmember Tim Burgess consolidates his support among City Hall insiders, business, and moderates, brooming up dollars and name supporters early enough to emerge as the front runner. His harder challenge, as a moderate, is to win the general election against a Great Liberal Hope. His main pitch: time to have somebody who can run City Hall professionally and prudently.
Third possibility is that McGinn does well in a crowded primary, picks up momentum, and positions himself as an incumbent who has learned the job, rewarded his constituencies, and has a now-pleasing mixture of maverick courage (as with the Sonics arena) and genial openness. He could be the "just-right" candidate, defining Murray as too volatile, Burgess as too conservative, and Steinbrueck as too old Seattle. However, McGinn's key constituencies of young people and minorities may have lost their ardor, since his 2009 race drew on the energies of the great Obama movement of 2008.
City and County. The City Council races won’t be very exciting, overshadowed by the mayor’s contest and with stronger challengers biding their time in hopes of by-district election in 2015. All incumbents (Sally Bagshaw, Mike O’Brien, Nick Licata, and Richard Conlin) are re-elected, as is City Attorney Pete Holmes. Two hot issues, police reform and the Sonics proposal, are put on hold during a year of Department of Justice oversight and the environmental impact statement on the SoDo Arena. Same with the Waterfront Park, holding its breath that the Big Bore works for the tunnel, and waiting for a mayor who really wants to design a great park (McGinn is tepid about the proposal, suspecting it's an elitist project). The city budget, riding the real estate excise tax bubble and the Amazon economy, maintains its lots-for-everybody philosophy.
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