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Luck of the Irish: McGinn makes his campaign move

McGinn volunteer Mohamed Sultan seeking undecided voters on Wednesday. Credit: Photo: Bill Lucia

Location, location, location, and the location where Mayor Mike McGinn chose to announce his bid for reelection spoke volumes: far from the madding club crowds of Capitol Hill and Belltown that helped drive his first election, at the Filipino Community Center on MLK Way in the heart of the Rainier Valley. It was a perfect stage for a perfectly casual event, in a suitably undersized, overstuffed room that reinforced the impression of clamoring urgency for, as supporters chanted twice, four more years.

A representative selection of minority community leaders sang his praises. El Centro director (and campaign co-chair) Estela Ortega, who, “in the spirit of Roberto Maestas,” capped her passionate panegyric with a few fist-pumping rounds of “Viva Mike McGinn!” Rep. Kip Tokuda, fellow co-chair Tony Lee,  and Mohammed Yussuf variously echoed the themes she sounded: The mayor listens. He didn’t cut social programs during the bust, and now that the money’s rolling back in he’ll expand them (including ours). He gets “tangible results”: rebuilding the seawall, a new basketball stadium, clearing the snow from the streets (a dig at McGinn’s predecessor, Greg Nickels).  He got the libraries open on Sundays and a jumbo Families and Education levy passed.

“Ordinary people see Mike McGinn as one of them,” Ortega declared. But after three years the mayor looks less ordinary and more mayoral than when civic style mavens dismissed him as the shambolic “unmayor.” He’s slimmer, better suited and coiffed, and more relaxed and confident with press and public.

Three years is time to learn a lot on the job. When he enumerated his transportation accomplishments and goals, Mayor post-McSchwinn knew not to mention bikeways to this crowd. Many here still smart at seeing steep Othello Street/Myrtle Place squeezed down to one crowded lane each way for bike lanes that no pedalers use — while no one thought to include bike lanes when Sound Transit ran rail down wide, level MLK Way.

McGinn also knew better than to mention the massive upzone for South Lake Union, where Vulcan has drastically accelerated Seattle’s long march north of investment, development and employment (even drawing Amazon from Beacon Hill). And to make his announcement as far as possible away from Allentown/Amazonia.

Certainly the event was much warmer and livelier for being here. And it was a far cry from McGinn’s most celebrated, or notorious, previous Southeast appearance, an “Embrace Seattle” town hall last June at the Northwest African American Museum (where Greg Nickels announced his last re-election bid). That meeting quickly turned into a shouting match over police behavior. “This isn’t productive,” the mayor declared, and walked out. That may have been an appropriate response to a small squad of dedicated meeting busters (“My staff tells me they’re anarchists”). But he also cancelled his next Southeast town hall, leaving some in the neighborhood feeling snubbed.

Still, today’s session reinforced outsiders’ impression of Southeast Seattle as bedrock McGinn country, following on his rare gesture of opening an Othello campaign office in 2009. But precinct maps show he got nowhere near the same overwhelming vote there that he did in the Central District, Ballard, Fremont and south Capitol Hill. McGinn scored big on Beacon Hill and in gentrifying Columbia City, with its concentration of young city employees. Mallahan cleaned up in already-genteel Seward Park, and in water-view neighborhoods throughout the city. But much of the district, including poorer, minority-heavy precincts in Rainier Beach and elsewhere, showed patchwork support for both.

McGinn’s Southeast ties and credibility have also been strained by a year-long rash of shootings and violent robberies, and perceived weak headquarters support for SPD’s Southeast Precinct. One faction of Southeast activists — long-time residents, many but not all of them white — sees overconcentrated subsidized housing discouraging private investment and creating an economic ghetto. They hoped for fresh thinking from McGinn, but now see him as Nickels II. Peter Steinbrueck has attended their meetings and begun winning their support.

Steinbrueck brings longtime neighborhood cred to a race that may, in perennial Seattle fashion, turn on neighborhood resentment of downtown (in particular, SLU and waterfront) extravagance. That makes McGinn seem all the savvier in courting the ethnic associations and community nonprofits. At the same time, their support helps cast another rival, Tim Burgess, as the candidate of the remote near north.

As McGinn showed today, he’s well braced for that fight, and has plenty of allies. Despite a crowded field, he also enjoys advantages of timing. Like Reagan and Clinton, he arrived in the trough of a bust and gets to bask in the glow of recovery — plus a basketball stadium offered by private investors. He boasted of Seattle’s surging employment and strengthening budget and noted, “As my mother says, it’s better to be lucky than smart.”

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