Immediate morning-after thoughts on our local elections, with an estimated 50 percent of ballots counted:
The big news, of course, was that Mayor Greg Nickels pulled no more than a quarter of votes cast for mayor. If he makes the November finals, he faces an almost insurmountable political hill to climb for reelection. Any election involving a two-term incumbent for governor, county executive, mayor, or other executive position is, by definition, a referendum on the incumbency. In the primary, Seattle voters clearly gave thumbs-down to Nickels.
I am hoping that Nickels, in the end, finishes third in the primary, thus clearing the way for a new-blood contest between Joe Mallahan and Mike McGinn. If Nickels finishes in the top two, his basic strategy will remain what it was toward Mallahan and McGinn coming down the stretch in the primary. That is, to run a negative campaign against his November opponent so as to attempt to make it a referendum on the opponent, rather than on himself. The city deserves better. Mallahan and McGinn have their own differences, but a contest between them would not be negative.
Both McGinn and his fellow Sierra Club leader Mike O'Brien, who made it to the finals for City Council position 8, benefited in the primary from the presence on the ballot of Referendum 1, the bag tax. The tax went down but its presence on the ballot was a big draw for environmental voters who, in many cases, also cast McGinn/O'Brien votes. It will not be on the November ballot.
McGinn and O'Brien also were the only two major candidates making their opposition to a tunnel replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct a signal issue. Anti-tunnel sentiment, along with Referendum 1's collateral benefits, helped bring them this far in multi-candidate fields. One-on-one contests will be more difficult for them.
I generally expected the Sally Bagshaw-David Bloom, Nick Licata-Jessie Israel, and Mike O'Brien-Robert Rosencrantz matchups which loom for the fall in the three City Council races. Bagshaw and Licata, as O'Brien, ran strongly in multi-candidate fields. But although rated as favorites now, they, as O'Brien, cannot be counted sure winners in one-on-one contests in November.
The most disappointing November matchup: That which looms in the County Executive race between former TV anchorwoman Susan Hutchison and County Council member Dow Constantine.
Hutchison is capitalizing on voters' desire for a county-government shakeup and change but thus far has coasted along with platitudinous promises of change without showing real understanding of county issues. She is a Republican now wearing independent clothing. Constantine, for his part, stresses his Democratic background in a strongly Democratic county.
Unlike Ross Hunter and Fred Jarrett, Democrats who split the vote of those seeking both experience and change, Constantine will carry into the fall his long track record of catering to the single-interest and special-interest constituencies which have contributed to the county's present economic and financial plight. Hunter or Jarrett could have challenged Hutchison as fellow change agents. I had hoped for a Democratic standard-bearer not so identified with the status quo. Constantine deserves credit, however, for his long and unwavering opposition to the gravel atrocity on Vashon Island.