Dull and Duller: McGinn v. Murray

This mayoral campaign is less about issues than style. Too bad for us.
Mike McGinn and Ed Murray face off (yawn) at Cornish Playhouse.

Mike McGinn and Ed Murray face off (yawn) at Cornish Playhouse. Allyce Andrew

One thing about Mike McGinn: You know where he stands. He hates coal trains and global warming, wants a SoDo basketball arena, will fight for hotel maids, likes bikes and trains. McGinn is Mayor Wedge, willing to raise all kinds of moral outrage over sex trafficking, gay rights in Russia or the alleged impurities of thought in his opponents.
 
One thing about challenger Ed Murray: His leadership style is more about process. He'll study, he'll discuss, he'll hesitate and think before taking stands. A $15-hour wage for Seattle workers? Implement it incrementally. He's running as a uniter, not a divider, someone who blunts the edges of the wedge and will listen and deal — even compromise — with people he disagrees with. He turns the revolutionary (same-sex marriage) into the evolutionary.
 
This mayoral campaign is less about actual issues than the style of leadership, and it reflects Seattle's split personality.
 
On the one hand we process, we dither, we second-guess. We vote for a freeway, then defund it (R. H. Thomson). We vote for a Monorail, then shut it down. The Mercer Mess? It took 50 years to fix. Out of that sometimes glacially slow political theater, we do get results, but at "alki" speed — alki being Chinook jargon for "by and by."
 
The other side Seattle is fast-paced, in a hurry (SoDo Arena), impatient (build streetcar lines), morally righteous and indignant (WTO, bike anarchists). As a boom town still, we're always looking for the new idea, the next big score, fearful that if we stop moving forward we'll fail. Amazon's Jeff Bezos captured that spirit when he spoke to the staff of his new toy, the Washington Post. "All businesses need to be young forever," he said. "If your customer base ages with you, you’re Woolworth’s." The same could be said of cities. The Emerald City does not want to be Woolworth's. The Seattle Star once described the proper civic attitude of the young and restless of 1905 as "get there-ism." We are going places, therefore we are.
 
Murray's campaign seems designed to offend no one. He is orthodox on all Seattle issues, has a solid resume and the style of old Seattle; that is, little flash and no showiness. In Thursday's much-anticipated "vision" speech, he used the words "together" or "togetherness" 26 times. He is running less as Sen. Ed Murray than as Mr. Not McGinn. He trusts, and the polls seem to support him on this, that that is enough of a message. Many in the town are weary of wedges and elbows.
 
But there is a downside in daring to be dull.
 
If we embrace process — like we might embrace a good marriage — we still want to feel some frisson of passion. There's a mid-20th century adage explaining the difference between Cascadia's premier American cities: San Francisco is the mistress, Seattle is the wife. In terms of civic culture, that is still true. San Francisco has spectator-sport politics with colorful, legendary characters who can grab your heart (Harvey Milk). Seattle's best pols aren't people you fall in love with, but who serve earnestly and loyally (Norm Rice).
 
McGinn generates enthusiasm for what he is, Murray for what he is not. McGinn doesn't seek to make us comfortable. Murray wants to tone things down. McGinn is well established as a man who is congenitally predisposed to be an outsider even when he's inside City Hall. Murray is a politician who, as a gay man in the legislature, has been an outsider, yet is comfortable having worked his way to insider status. McGinn speaks the language of progressive vision, Murray raises more money and rolls out waves of endorsements. Each wears his fundamental, personal approach as a credential. They are who they are.
 
They point to the weaknesses in one another. McGinn's strategy is to poke at Murray and his record in hopes of making him blow his cool, revealing Murray as less than advertised as a healer, a leader, a calm head. Murray hopes in turn that McGinn's provocations will offer-up new examples of the mayor's slashing, un-Seattle style, the divisive mayor who put himself into an electoral hole.
 
What you see in the campaign are avatars of the two Seattles locked in the struggle over which aspect of our civic nature will prevail.

Knute Berger is Mossback, Crosscut's chief Northwest native. He also writes the monthly Grey Matters column for Seattle magazine and is a weekly Friday guest on Weekday on KUOW-FM (94.9). His newest book is Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes On Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps, and the Myth of Seattle Nice, published by Sasquatch Books. In 2011, he was named Writer-in-Residence at the Space Needle and is author of Space Needle, The Spirit of Seattle (2012), the official 50th anniversary history of the tower. You can e-mail him at mossback@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Oct 4, 6:19 a.m. Inappropriate

It's not Dull and Duller, It's Dumb and Dumber. None of our candidates for Mayor are going to make a bit of difference for the average Seattle resident, except to raise taxes and lower the quality of life.

Cameron

Posted Fri, Oct 4, 8:18 a.m. Inappropriate

Although the Mayor's office is non-partisan and the role of the Mayor should be to make the city work better in both the short and long term, we have allowed it to become an office which is highly partisan and in which only the liberal side of the Democratic party need show up. The level of dialog regarding the future of the city could barely be more superficial if we were at the opposite extreme with two members of the Tea Party competing for the office.

WSDW

Posted Fri, Oct 4, 12:02 p.m. Inappropriate

It reminds me of the race between Greg Nickels and Mark Sidran in 2001, where Sidran ran as the would-be "strong mayor" candidate who'd shake things up and Nickels countered that as more of a process-oriented compromiser and consensus builder, championing what he called the "Seattle Way." But when Nickels got elected, guess what happened? He morphed into exactly the same type of top-down, 'my way or the highway' administrator that his opponent had favored. I realize Murray is not Greg Nickels, but I can't help feeling (along with Yogi Berra) that this could just be "déjà vu all over again."

Posted Fri, Oct 4, 1:40 p.m. Inappropriate

I'd be willing to vote for a decent GOP candidate given the lineup we've seen lately. Just to give 'em a chance. But I guess it's hard to get traction in this town outside the usual dem circles.

Treker

Posted Fri, Oct 4, 2:44 p.m. Inappropriate

Dull and Duller: Amen.

I don't know if anyone else has noticed, but one consequence of the gay marriage campaign (and a likely key to its remarkable success) is that gay public figures have been falling all over themselves to appear as boring and conventional as possible. Gays may be nominally out of the closet, but the old time in-your-face bath house radicalism has been systematically suppressed.

Nobody does boring and conventional better than Ed Murray. And guess what, it's working.

woofer

Posted Sat, Oct 5, 2:55 p.m. Inappropriate

What is "old time in-your-face bath house radicalism," and what "system" has "suppressed" it, and how?

NotFan

Posted Mon, Oct 7, 2:36 p.m. Inappropriate

Two examples that should put some context and contrast on Murray:
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/stonewall/player/
and
http://www.hicom.net/~oedipus/milk.html
http://reason.com/archives/2013/03/02/harvey-milks-mixed-legacy

louploup

Posted Wed, Oct 9, 2:34 a.m. Inappropriate

You really expect me to watch an hour and 22 minute video on my computer? Come on, louploup, as a "progressive," you are much more intelligent than mere mortals, so how about boiling it down for the idiots like me who are getting ready to toss your favorite spandex-clad mayor out with the trash?

Thanks.

NotFan

Posted Thu, Oct 10, 9:50 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't expect you to do a damn thing except to be a bating troll. I'm not going to do your thinking for you. You asked a question, I gave you some places to look for answers. You shouldn't have to tax your brain too long to figure it out. If you're really that weak at internet research, here's an alternative for the first link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonewall_riots I assume you were capable of reading the other articles, or do you need the wiki URL for that subject as well?

And BTW, McGinn is not "my favorite spandex-clad mayor." I'd ask you to stop acting like a horse's ass, but after years of watching you defecate on various blogs, I know it's pointless. I also know you like to bate me, and I shouldn't "feed the troll." I have (rarely) seen your ability to post coherently without being a jerk, so maybe hope springs eternal. Bottom line, you make me angry with your constant superficial stupidity and intentional offensiveness. It's like you want everyone to look at you and look away at the same time. Like a carnival sideshow.

Get some therapy or better drugs.

louploup

Posted Fri, Oct 11, 11:07 a.m. Inappropriate

I asked an 18-word question. I can live with a 200-word answer. Come on, "progressive," you are so much smarter than I am, and you can't boil it down to a couple hundred words? What's the matter? Did the crows steal 50 points of your I.Q.?

You know, even if they did, that still makes you smarter than me, so how about giving it a try? Here I am, humbly confessing that I will never be as intelligent as the master "progressive" race, and asking you to lay out your wisdom, yet you deny me?

NotFan

Posted Fri, Oct 11, 4:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Reread my second sentence.

Yup, the corvids must have stolen my IQ. What's your excuse? Reread my last sentence.

When you can put up two comments in a row without using "progressive" and with a modicum of grace and courtesy I'll reconsider.

louploup

Posted Sat, Oct 5, 12:31 p.m. Inappropriate

It's impossible for me to be anything but cynical about Murray. Even if he wanted to change things, the reality is that the part of the city's economy that local government deals with every day is dominated by well-connected developers who are wired into the corrupt city council, and that the other issues are dominated by completely phony, hypocritical, symbolic "progressives" who are fundamentally no different than the christian zealots on the other side of the mountains when it comes to fact-denying, faith-based righteous certainty combined with dismissive enemies-list style intolerance of any opposition.

There is no real constituency, and therefore no rewards for, a city administration that will do what city administrations ought to do: Pay maximum attention to the nuts and bolts of policing and infrastructure, and seek to keep taxes as moderate as possible. And Murray himself, well, he owes his career to these "progressives," and his financing in the long term to the developers. He really doesn't have any incentives, nor any inclination that I can see, to be the sort of administrator this city so badly needs.

All that said, McGinn is so awful that we really have to toss him and his spandex outta there. But I'm not expecting the next guy to be one bit better.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Oct 7, 12:57 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes I wish Murray were more 'interesting', however there is a reason five out of nine city council members are campaigning for Murray. In private they will tell you McGinn has been divisive in the extreme and made their jobs of running the city harder instead of easier. McGinn lied about his tunnel support to get elected and then spent 18 months fighting it, he has been in the way of the police reform process, and most officers on the street do not support him. He has turned the SDOT in to a department of transportation more for bikers than any other transportation. I agree that my friends who are conservative voters feel disenfranchised by the mayors race. It seems to me that Murray sees himself as ahead and is being more careful than normal in his statements. I think he will make a better mayor certainly better than what we have.

katzjamr

Posted Mon, Oct 7, 2:14 p.m. Inappropriate

I think you have captured the gist of it. The council does appear tired of some of McGinn's, shall we say lack of diplomacy, on a few dealings with them.

Lily32

Posted Fri, Oct 11, 11:09 a.m. Inappropriate

Yes, and two-thirds of the voters think he and his "progressive" bicycle buddies are douchebags.

NotFan

Posted Mon, Oct 7, 9:08 p.m. Inappropriate

All I know is that I can go anywhere outside of Seattle and the roads are better. Obviously Bellevue and the rest of the eastside, but also Kitsap, whose major employer pays no property nor B&O; taxes. But driving in Seattle? The econo-boxes that most people drive must shake apart in 2-3 years.

Seasoned

Posted Tue, Oct 8, 2:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Katzjamr, will you please tell me where in the job description for Seattle Mayor it says one of the expectations is "make the city Councilmembers jobs easier". In my mind it is quite the opposite. The job of the mayor is to provoke and push for change, especially when the council is as obstinate and stuck in glacial-paced process as our current one. We have lots of big, urgent challenges confronting us in this town that are taking a heavy toll especially on those residents' with limited means. when his fellow politicians fell no urgency about solving these problems, how is making their jobs easier a good thing?

Posted Wed, Oct 9, 2:36 a.m. Inappropriate

Where in the mayor's job description does it say that the holder of that job has to be a classic Brooklyn jerk who never met a subject he couldn't tell a whopping lie about?

NotFan

Posted Wed, Oct 9, 9 a.m. Inappropriate

I always thought Seattle needs a benevolent dictator type of major to just cut through the "Seattle Process" and actually move things along quicker. The continual concensus building gets quite old. Most of the time it's on very minor issues that don't change anything after several rounds of meetings and feedback. Get on with it already.

Treker

Posted Fri, Oct 11, 11:03 a.m. Inappropriate

Yep, when you come right down to it, the "progressives" actually hate the people and despise democracy.

NotFan

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