Finally, it feels like the 2013 mayoral race is off and running, now that the eight candidates in the race have met for for their first televised debate. Well, less a debate than a panel discussion that was part game show in front of a live audience at the Georgetown campus of South Seattle Community College on Monday. Interest in it was great. More than 200 people tried to fill 120 chairs.
The forum was sponsored by the Democrats of three legislative districts (the 11th, 34th and 37th), which cover a swath of South Seattle that hits every demographic group there is.
The format consisted of the candidates answering questions by writing on pads of paper and holding up brief responses for the audience to see — a kind of low-tech lightning-round gimmick that reminded me of the campaigning I did in 8th grade when I ran for Boy's Club Vice President at Asa Mercer Junior High. Maybe it was the home-made signs that brought back memories.
Sitting in the front row, I'd hoped for a ringside seat to mayhem. I sat in front of Mayor Mike McGinn and challenger state Sen. Ed Murray, fresh from a bruising session in Olympia. But instead of the sight of sweat and blood, I was almost overcome by the smell of Magic Markers, which also seemed to make even the candidates a little giddy. Except for Mary Martin, the Social Worker's Party candidate, who was a relentlessly grim Debbie Downer. She reminded the audience that capitalism is bad, the Workers and Farmers are getting screwed, global struggle is the answer, and don't forget to pick up a copy of The Militant. She was also the only candidate to quote Hegel.
Moderator C.R. Douglas of Q13Fox also put questions to the candidates, who were given pieces of paper with Donald Trump's image on them. They could play these Trump cards if they wanted to answer a question that went to other candidates. Like a party game, it helped loosen things up.
With eight people — alphabetically Tim Burgess, Bruce Harrell, Kate Martin, Mary Martin, Mike McGinn, Ed Murray, Charlie Staadecker, and Peter Steinbrueck — there wasn't a lot of time for depth or substance, mostly positioning, spinning and taking preliminary jabs that will undoubtedly get tougher and sharper as the campaign picks up steam. The important thing in this first televised gathering (Seattle Channel is expected to broadcast the entire session later in the week) was for candidates to get a feel for their own campaign messages, their opponents' talking points, and to try and differentiate themselves from the crowd.
The news Monday afternoon that an NBA committee had recommended against moving the Sacramento Kings to Seattle was taken as bad news by most of the panel, save Greenwood activist Kate Martin and Steinbrueck, who was delighted that what he described as McGinn's year-long secret negotiations with Chris Hansen for a SoDo Arena had come to naught, at least for now. For arena opponents — and there were plenty of Longshoremen in the room — the SoDo location is a threat to the Port and the industrial job base of the very neighborhood where the forum was held.
McGinn was smoother with his message than some of the others in part because he's had lots of practice — a mayor gets to campaign all four years after an election. McGinn, in a rare moment of public reflection, confessed that he wished he "could have climbed the City Hall learning curve faster than I did." But as he stood to speak at one point, he gestured to the candidates on the panel who had considered running for mayor four years ago but declined. It was McGinn's way of reminding people that when things were tough, he had stood up. Where, he might ask, was everyone in 2009 when the economy was tanking, city budgets were being slashed and Greg Nickels looked unbeatable? Now that the economic recovery is taking hold, everyone's had an epiphany and thinks being mayor might be fun.
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