Nickels nostalgia sets in early

Commentators turn kind in the wake of the mayor's gracious concession: Maybe being a bully isn't so bad.
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Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. (City of Seattle)

Commentators turn kind in the wake of the mayor's gracious concession: Maybe being a bully isn't so bad.

By all accounts, Greg Nickels' concession speech was a hit, showing the mayor in the best light, as someone with humor, feelings, and a track record he's proud of. (Also a writer's flair, since Hizzoner reportedly wrote the speech himself.) Barely was it over than commentators began to stir the buyer's remorse pot by questioning the wisdom of the electorate. Sure, three-quarters of primary voters rejected a third Nickels term, but was he really so bad? The attractive Nickels of the concession speech — where was that guy the last eight years?

First out of the box expressing Nickels nostalgia was Christopher Frizzelle at The Stranger, whose paper had endorsed Mike McGinn and who isn't at all impressed with Joe Mallahan. Frizzelle seems to miss Big Daddy Nickels already:

Yes, Nickels has fucked some things up, and been a bully to the nightlife community, and backed business interests over (for example) parks, but he's also got some major accomplishments under his belt (like, for example, light rail). He's proven he can lead. He's not an idiot....

How was the Nickels' [Stranger endorsement] interview compared to the Mallahan interview? Oh, no contest. Whereas Nickels was articulate, informed, self-effacing, charismatic, blunt, and interested in the questions, Mallahan had the charisma of an inkjet printer....

Plus, being a bully isn't really so bad:

[A]t least Nickels knows the city, knows the job, has accomplishments in public policy, and can talk about what the city's been doing in detail and at length. Plus, just to push a little further: What's wrong with being sort of a bully? The mayor's job is to wield authority.

Actually, no, the mayor's job is not to wield authority, and was purposely designed to be a fairly weak position. But Nickels ignored all that and actually defied Seattle's "niceness" tradition to break the rules and take on the strongman role. He's kind of like the first guy to pick up a stick of wood and say, "Ugh, make good club." No one really saw it coming, especially since Nickels the mayoral candidate had run on being a Seattle nice kind of guy, the political equivalent to the Amish. Remember, it was his opponent Mark Sidran who was the feared strongman. But it turned out that Nickels was a strongman too, one who knew how to sucker punch.

Seattle leavens its "niceness" by dreaming of having leaders who are not so nice. Those who like strongmen tend to regard Seattleites as unruly teens who need a slap upside the head. Remember the scene in the Helen Keller movie where Ann Bancroft smacks Patty Duke? We're deaf, dumb, and blind and can't parent ourselves. Of course how such idiots created one of America's most livable cities before Nickels was mayor remains a mystery.

Danny Westneat at the Seattle Times also thinks we'll be soon be nostalgic for Nickels' tough love. In this Sunday's column, he praises the mayor's accomplishments:

He's the father of light rail. The city boomed during his time — maybe was too boomy for some. In terms of parks, crime, roads, and most other urban issues, the city's better off now than it was eight years ago....He also took a stubborn stand against rebuilding an elevated Alaskan Way Viaduct — a crusade I bet people will thank him for one day.

One day, in the far far distant future when we're still arguing about the tunnel, surface, and retrofit options, or reconsidering the virtues of the Choppaduct....

Westneat forecasts that we'll all experience remorse for cutting our strongman down in his prime:

Face it, Seattle. We're fractured. Flailing. We don't know what the hell we want....I wouldn't be surprised if in a year or so, we suddenly realize that guy who couldn't plow the snow wasn't so bad after all.

One of the nicest things about Seattle is the political obits we write.


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Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.