The curious case of Chris Bushnell continues to dog the early months of the Mike McGinn administration. The departed staffer and campaign whiz is back in the news today with Publicola's scoop that he was much more active a month earlier in the mayor's staff operations than previously disclosed by McGinn. And Bushnell may have been a key person in the now-inoperative plans to dismiss 200 or so managers.
So far, McGinn's office has not replied to the Erica C. Barnett story. (One wonders if, despite the budget crunch, the mayor's office isn't going to hire someone soon just to deal with all her inquiries.) Mark Matassa, the mayor's spokesperson, told me earlier that Bushnell was always very reluctant to join the mayor's staff and enter the public spotlight, which may partially explain his omission from earlier staff announcements: Bushnell was still making up his mind, and McGinn was still twisting his arm. Once the disclosures came out of Bushnell's earlier run-in with the law (at age 17) and his falsely claiming to have an economics Ph.D, he quickly decided to resign. According to Matassa, Mayor McGinn, who cherishes Bushnell's advice and friendship, tried to talk him out of quitting, but did not succeed. Bushnell has not returned a phone call asking for his side of the story.
Bushnell is an interesting figure in local politics. He's said to be brilliant at politics and polling, and to step on a lot of toes. Bob Gogerty, a veteran political consultant for whom Bushnell has done some work, recalls Bushnell's "brilliant" role in formulating a way for the state to move to an income tax, as part of Ron Sims' run for the governorship. He comes out of the highly political King County courthouse wars, and it may be that some of the long knives being drawn against him come from those days, as well as from within the McGinn circles, still jockeying for influence. I also suspect that some City Hall employees, fearful of McGinn's targeting of mid-level managers, have been busy leaking information to take down a trusted adviser, sending a warning message.
One of the intriguing aspects of Mayor McGinn is that he came into office — rare for a Seattle mayor — without the backing of the municipal workers' unions. Usually, Seattle mayors owe their election to these groups and naturally treat them with deference; certainly that was the case with Mayor Nickels. Now we have a recession, a mayor who likes to play the fiscal-responsibility card, and municipal unions with no real hold on the rookie mayor.
That said, McGinn has not been playing his reform hand very well, at least so far. Hiring Bushnell with all his liabilities was one risky move that didn't work. McGinn's (and maybe Bushnell's) poorly conceived plan, stemming from a campaign pledge, to target 200 of 1,000 so-called political appointees for pink slips produced waves of anxiety and would have been even worse when those 200 "bumped" other managers. And McGinn has been putting political allies and like-minded (but inexperienced) appointees in several key roles, casting further doubts on his motives for fiscal dieting at City Hall.
The forces of status quo didn't elect McGinn, but they may well be winning the war to control him.