Things finally break McGinn's way

Facing down rival Tim Burgess on the panhandling ordinance sends a big signal to the council-that-would-be-mayor. But stay tuned.
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Mayor-elect Mike McGinn on Election Night

Facing down rival Tim Burgess on the panhandling ordinance sends a big signal to the council-that-would-be-mayor. But stay tuned.

Has he tide turned a bit? Did Mayor Mike McGinn finally have a good week? Maybe.

The big news was the weekend switcheroo of McGinn's city council ally, Mike O'Brien, who developed second thoughts about the anti-aggressive panhandling ordinance pushed by Councilmember Tim Burgess and a fairly broad political coalition. By the end of last week, even as the outcries grew predictably strident against the Burgess reforms, O'Brien became the sixth supporter of the measure, creating a veto-proof majority. (The city council has nine members.) Bruce Harrell, who leans toward the mayor; Nick Licata, who has long sided with the social-service, ACLU, Real Change side of this issue; and Tom Rasmussen, also susceptible, were the three nay votes. Mayor McGinn started out in favor of the Burgess plan, shifted to Doubting Mike, and then declared he'd veto it, maybe even if it passed 6-3. (That early support, predictably, the mayor now blames on a "miscommunication.")

O'Brien is in a tough spot. A close ally of McGinn, particularly in opposition to the waterfront tunnel, he could easily become persona non grata in the council deliberations, suspect of being a mole or at least of not joining the rest of the council in its power struggles with the mayor. But he had impressed Burgess as being straightforward, easy to negotiate with, and open-minded.

Lining up with the Burgess-Richard Conlin-Sally Bagshaw centrist power bloc on this key showdown with McGinn would have been a very big signal. Changing his mind in a critical vote, on the other hand, is a classic political blunder, long remembered. O'Brien's temporary endorsement of the street-civility bill meant that the majority didn't have to pressure Rasmussen to make it veto-proof. O'Brien could have marginalized himself permanently on the council, joining Licata in the wilderness.

There were two other important signals in this surprise. One is that McGinn, rather like U.S. Senate Republicans, is likely to govern through the local equivalent of a filibuster or super-majority. If Mayor No also becomes Mayor Veto, that means he only needs four of nine votes on the council. Suddenly his out-there politics is not quite so weak.

The second signal is that the council's bid to be the effective mayor of the city, at least during McGinn's training-wheels years, is not going to be as easy as it first appeared. Opponents of the Burgess bill were easily able to depict it as a naked ploy toward Burgess's getting elected mayor in 2013 (on the backs of the poor). One can imagine that other anti-McGinn moves will fall under this Karl Rove-like framing device, gradually rattling the nerves of the council. The normally atomistic council has been trying to learn how to play together and hold together, even as the special-interest groups pick off votes. (They did hold together on 520, confounding McGinn.)

The matter is still not settled. McGinn will presumably veto Burgess's bill and the matter then comes back to the council for an attempted over-ride. One of the nay votes might find his bargaining position for other matters rather wonderfully strong, and switch. The pressure from downtown commercial interests, who have pushed in vain for years to stiffen police resolve against downtown lawlessness, will get mighty loud. It's showdown time for the new moderate council leadership, and if they lose, their stature with the main political players in town will be seriously affected.

The other aspect of the mayor's good week was news that Deputy Mayor Phil Fujii is departing, ostensibly because of shoulder surgery, not normally a disabling condition. Both McGinn's deputy mayors are badly o'erparted, and chief of staff Julie McCoy, politically experienced but a novice at City Hall, would appear to be the actual deputy. Fujii, a fine fellow with middling experience at City Hall, may have realized he couldn't be expected to run the bureaucracy while being thus marginalized. Or McGinn may be realizing that he desperately needs an experienced, tough deputy mayor.


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