The Seattle mayor’s race grew from four yawns to five recently when a KING-5/Survey USA poll put challenger Ed Murray ahead of Mayor Mike McGinn by 52-30. Can we all go back to watching football now?
Another numbing agent is the calculation made by the too-professional team managing Murray’s campaign. Knowing that McGinn thrives on wedge issues, where he beats the liberal drums against even the smallest apostasy, the Murray campaign chose to agree with McGinn on virtually all his issues, to concede the McGinn agenda and vision. That drained the campaign of any substance.
What remains is an unconvincing effort by McGinn to pin the tail of “establishment tool” on the unlikely backside of the liberal state senator from Capitol Hill. As for Murray, he throws slightly poisoned darts (labeled “ineffective,” friendless” and “impotent”) at a mayor who is seemingly doing better at the job.
The Murray team recognizes that trying to get to the left of McGinn in this town of changing demographics and angry lefties is not possible. As I argued a few months ago, all the candidates are “like Mike,” agreeing with McGinn about the main issues of the day: transit, density, bikes, more nightlife, “Ballardizing” apartments, climate-change issues. Too, any moves by Murray toward the center would only serve to stir up McGinn’s base. The Murray handlers want to make McGinn the issue, reminding voters of their various gripes over his performance. They dread having Murray’s ideological “impurities” (a natural feature of a log-rolling legislator) turn into the issue.
In fact, it’s a pivotal election, with two very different visions of what Seattle should be doing in the next four years. McGinn says he aspires to be the most progressive mayor of the most progressive city in America. He’s still a Sierra Club greenie —with coal trains now substituting for the big bad waterfront tunnel of four years ago— but he has now added labor activism, minorities and Occupy Seattle carryovers to his coalition.
“Leading from the left,” as it is called, is plausible in Seattle, especially with national labor targeting the city. Conveniently for McGinn, just such a coalition and its message of “indignant liberalism” propelled Bill de Blasio from back in the pack to a pull-away winner of the New York mayoral primary.
To understand this notable new trend away from the centrist concessions of the Clinton/Obama years, read carefully the much-circulated essay by Peter Beinert, “The Rise of the New New Left.” It examines how the Millennials are getting fed up with tiny measures to deal with the bleak economic future they face and are far more willing “to challenge cherished American myths about capitalism and class.” Millennials even favor socialism over capitalism by a slight margin, Beinert notes, stirring the embers of the Occupy movement. They are impatient with what Beinert calls Obama’s “pro-capitalist, anti-bureaucratic, Reaganized liberalism.”
Mike McGinn is a good pied piper for such a parade. He’s a movement politician, almost a cult figure. He’s a master of confrontive, mediagenic politics such as his attempt to block a West Seattle development because Whole Foods doesn’t pay its workers enough to please the mayor. He set the tone early in his term, refusing to talk to establishment figures, insulting the council with an off-hand speech, showing up late and sweaty for fancy parties. It didn’t hurt with Joe Six-Pack when he flung a basketball arena into the civic mix, not bothering to inform many key actors.
But it’s hard to think McGinn’s shaky political skills would yield much real change, much less prevail against a far more centrist and cautious city council. Also unlikely: that Seattle would interrupt its mad economic growth beyond enjoying a few tingly-left phrases. Remember how miserably a proposal for a state income tax on the rich did in the fall of 2010, failing by 65-35, and how aggressively the new local economy leaders fought it?
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