Snores of a summer political season

Our summertime primary has crisped Mossback's brain, making him strangely reliant on media endorsements
Crosscut archive image.

Greg Nickels and Jan Drago, lookalike political allies

Our summertime primary has crisped Mossback's brain, making him strangely reliant on media endorsements

The group Friends of Seattle has released its endorsements for the upcoming primary.

FOS is a fairly new, quite green group. I wonder why greens always rally around "friendship." Wouldn't a group that really cared about Seattle want to be more than friends? Friends with benefits at least? And is friendship really what our relationship with the planet is all about (Friends of the Earth, 1,000 Friends of Washington, eco-friendly)? It seems to me Seattle needs some tough love, a roll in the hay, maybe a long-term relationship with significant others, but it seems to have an overabundance of "friends." Besides, in the Facebook era, the definition of friend is "someone you barely knew in high school."

But I digress. Forgive me, it's the heat. Mossback has been crisping in the record temps and dry spell. A swallow of politically incorrect bottled water, and I'll continue.

Kudos to FOS for taking politics seriously during a Seattle summer. This time, we've got our second August primary (the 18th), an idea that rates right up there with the notion of getting teenagers to class by 8 am. What teenager's brain is working at 8 am? What true Seattleite gives a rat's ass about politics before Labor Day? Our annual share of sunshine is so meagre that you cannot blame people for tuning out.

My sympathies go out to the editorial boards and committees given the responsibility of making endorsements for an August primary. Imagine the stamina of get-a-lifers at the Municipal League trying to decide between "good" and "very good" while everyone else gets a tan.

I remember from my days at Seattle Weekly how miserable summers were were: a virtual Bataan Death March of "special" issues: "Summer Guide," "Best of Seattle," "Bumbershoot," "Fall Arts," maybe even "Fashion." Meanwhile, we had to interview all the candidates for fall endorsements, and we covered political stories even as many readers hit the snooze button on local politics until summer was over. The last big summer political story in Seattle was Strippergate in 2003. It was about zoning but it had the virtue of being about naked people!

Now, the dwindling corps of editors must do all the candidates interviews earlier. Dominic Holden at The Stranger has been scrambling to get it all together. That paper's primary endorsement "cheat sheet" is already on Slog, with Mike McGinn getting the mayoral nod and Dow Constantine the choice for County Executive. Holden was filling in for the recently departed news editor Erica Barnett. Barnett is now at Publicola with fellow Stranger alums Josh Feit and Sandeep Kaushik, and their endorsements are being rolled out as we speak. Publicola has been criticized for having contributors who are also working for various candidates. I don't have a problem with that. But many former Stranger writers and editors have complained of having their copy and agendas hijacked by the heavy editorial hand of Dan Savage. Now that the Publicolans are free of such editorial tyranny (and what is any editor but a tyrant?), it will be interesting to see if their endorsements reflect new-found independence. Contrast and compare: not much difference except the Savage crew go for Dow Constantine and the Feit team go for Ross Hunter for County Executive.

The Seattle Times has been busy with umpteen candidate interviews, and my sometime seat mate on KUOW, Joni Balter, has the appearance of someone who's interviewed one too many city council hopefuls. The Timeshas already issued its mayoral endorsements, wanly favoring Greg Nickels and Joe Mallahan (they pick two in a primary since two people will advance). and Seattle Weekly are no longer in the endorsement business, lucky them. Such things are time-consuming and looked down upon by the Weekly's current overlords, and the P-I-as-website doesn't seem to have the staff power to endorse. The new edition of Best Of Seattle features lingerie football models and is more in keeping with the summer spirit. Perhaps you can enjoy the pictures while listening to a podcast of Weekday's July 31 hard-hitting segment during which Steve Scher got to taste many flavors of locally crafted ice cream.

Crosscut is not making endorsements, which our non-profit status forbids, but we have however been meeting for on-the-record lunches with some candidates (e.g. Jordan Royer, Nick Licata, Mike McGinn, Mike O'Brien, Jan Drago, Ross Hunter, Fred Jarett, Sally Bagshaw, Dow Constantine, Joe Mallahan...). There's no attempt, thank goodness, at being completely thorough; some folks have refused to come by (Greg Nickels) or they have yet to appear, but it's been informative. I am leaning toward voting for City Council candidate Jordan Royer because on the hottest day of the century, I thirstily noticed that the "R" on his campaign signs is the Rainier beer "R." In summer, you can tend to make decision like that. One is more sober (literally and figuratively) in September.

Oddly, I am as yet undecided in the mayor's race, beyond knowing that I am not voting for Nickels in the primary. I have an abundance of opinions, but am not sure who is the best candidate to challenge Nickels in the fall (assuming the unpopular Nickels is not "schelled" in August). So I'll be paying attention to endorsements this year not because I'm a political junkie, but because I am an undecided voter.

James Donaldson seems nice and presents himself well, has lots of experience in the community, and he's received the backing of many Sonics heros, from Lenny Wilkens to Gary Payton to Michael Cage. But he seems shallow on the issues and I keep thinking about his days with the Sonics as the "gentle giant" of the Winnebago Wall. Can he really run a city? He's getting specific on that score. He's issued a "135-point plan" for doing just that, to which I want to cry, "prioritize, man." I don't sense a real political there there with Donaldson.

Mike McGinn has put his Irish feistiness to work for the Sierra Club but I worry about his being a one-note anti-tunnel guy. He says Seattle already rejected the tunnel (yes, but it was a different tunnel) and rightly worries about cost over-runs. If you ask voters, do they want a big tunnel boondoggle, the sane will say no, of course not. But if you asked them, hey, do you want the whole Viaduct question to be reopened, I'll bet even more would say, "Hell no." How many people want to unmake a decision in a city that can hardly ever makes a big decision?

And McGinn is very vague on the option to the tunnel. The surface plans were pretty bad. And imagine the spectacle of a Seattle mayor in an already regionally unpopular city stopping a state highway mid-stream with the promise that somehow, all that Tacoma to Everett industrial traffic will simply fade onto the surface streets, like a river in the desert. It's a state highway. McGinn seems attracted to challenging things over which he has no actual authority (state roads, schools, Metro).

I like the way he's taken on Nickels on his City worker donors and expanded appointees — he clearly gets what is "Chicago" about the mayor's style and has a toughness that's appealing for a Nickels challenger. On the other hand, my impression is if you had to call Mayor McGinn to fix a pothole, the response would be: "Why are you driving? You should be riding a bike!" It should be noted that wearing a bike helmet in Seattle is to local politics what wearing an American flag lapel pin is in Omaha, Nebraska. The question: Can McGinn manage a city where everyone doesn't drink the Sierra Club Kool-Aid?

In terms of fixing potholes, Jan Drago is your pol. She clearly has the most hands-on experience and knows how to get things done in the city, both her strength and her weakness. For a mossback, Drago's appeal is she's focussed on the basics and could maybe beat Nickels. But the downside is huge: She's Nickels in a skirt (as one friend observed "Nickels in drago"), except she's even more developer-friendly. Lovely.

And speaking of friends, she is said to have many in the city, and she told us how some of them wept that they couldn't donate to her campaign because they were afraid of being punished by Nickels (no city contracts for you!). That's what I'd say too if I was having trouble raising money: It's a symptom of the problem! My lack of support proves my point! Nickels makes the same kinds of arguments ("We didn't get the federal money for cops because we've got crime under control!") Yes, they both can make lemonade from bitter lemons.

But Drago has never struck me as being Miss Congeniality. When she attended Weekly endorsement sessions in the past, her expression was that of someone who'd entered an over-used Honey Bucket. At the Crosscut lunch, she seemed more comfortable with the odor and was a bit mellower, but if she's the one in charge of restoring the "Seattle Way" after its hijacking (and mugging) by Nickels and Tim "the Shark" Ceis, you have to wonder. I have not been impressed by her campaign thus far either. Still, I have no doubt that she knows what a mayor needs to know, and if she survives the primary, she's capable (temperamentally) of going pit-bull on Nickels.

Joe Mallahan, the T-Mobile exec, seems to be gaining momentum as the last best hope of people looking for someone with minimal baggage, a sizable war-chest, and a the fresh promise of an unknown to tackle Nickels. At least the Times seems to think so. His business background gives him cred on finding efficiencies in city government, his community organizing and the positive response of Democratic groups in the city suggest he's got a broader vision than the downtown business crowd, his flirtation with Slade Gorton hints at an appeal to conservatives and independents (Mark Sidran voters). The anti-Nickels sentiment in Seattle is large, but it has no center because it includes people of frequently opposing interests (greens and business, neighborhood activists and some developers). Mallahan seems like he could appeal to all these, but it's a tricky coalition.

On the downside, the Crosscut lunch group (I wasn't there) was generally underwhelmed by Mallahan's knowledge of city issues, and I'm skeptical of business guys who say they want to manage government more like business, especially the cell phone business. I mean, if that's the criteria, why not elect Craig McCaw? Business guys often struggle within political environments and wonder why public employees don't always jump when the CEO says so.

The Muni League thinks Mallahan is "Outstanding," a higher ranking even than the incumbent Nickels' "Very Good" — which if you noticed is equivalent to the "B" Nickels gave himself for managing the snowpocalypse. I know the Muni League decides somewhat based on personality and gravitas — they're looking for mainstream types which is why mavericks and activists tend to fare poorly — but the "Outstanding" is the opening Mallhan needs to get people to take a look before tossing him into the dust-bin of hopefuls. Or it's a sign that the Muni Leaguers themselves are suffering from the heat.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

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