The Mayor Games: A guide to choosing Seattle's next CEO

Voters can't elect a mayor based on candidate qualifications, because there aren't any minimum requirements for the job. So we decided to create some.
Crosscut archive image.

Tim Burgess campaign headquarters

Voters can't elect a mayor based on candidate qualifications, because there aren't any minimum requirements for the job. So we decided to create some.

The 2013 Seattle Mayor Games kick off tonight with the first all-candidates' debate. The field of eight hopefuls — Mike McGinn, Charlie Staadecker, Tim Burgess, Bruce Harrell, Ed Murray, Peter Steinbrueck, Kate Martin and Mary Martin — face off at 6:30 p.m. at South Seattle Community College’s Georgetown campus. (Doors open at 6 p.m.) Crosscut will be there, providing analysis on our site, live coverage on our Twitter account ( and post-debate video highlights. 

As we’ve been watching the mayoral campaign slowly unfold, we’ve been thinking a lot about what makes people vote for a particular candidate. Why one might pick, say, Kate Martin over the rest of the field?

The choice could be a simple party line or ideological call (Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative, etc.). It could be that we share a feeling of intellectual kinship with a certain candidate whose positions on particular issues align well with our own. We might be in thrall to sentiment; opting for a candidate who hails from our neighborhood or social class or college. We might be dazzled by a wannabe’s vision or rhetorical flare. Or maybe we just think they’re cute.

The fact is we voters rarely cast our ballots based on some careful analysis of a candidate’s qualifications for the job, because guess what? Like parenting, there are no agreed-upon minimum requirements for being mayor – or governor, or alderman or for that matter any political position. Though good hair – and a Harvard connection – always help.

So, we’ve decided to step into this void and craft our own job description for Seattle’s next CEO. Hopefully, it will help us — and you — cast a vote based, at least in part, on who’s best qualified for the job. It is surely important to evaluate candidates based on their views about the height of buildings in South Lake Union or the best way to reform the SPD. But the job is about more than position papers. To be successful, a mayor also needs a bigger vision and, maybe even more importantly, the management skills (and temperament) to pull that vision off.

Post mortems on the administrations of some former Seattle mayors show just how rare a combination that is. Two-termer Greg Nickels (2002-2010) knew how to execute, but he alienated people with a my-way-or-the-highway style. Developer Paul Schell (1998-2002) was long on vision — at least where it concerned the built environment — but short on implementation and decisiveness. Incumbent Mike McGinn won fans for his deft handling of the city budget, and critics for his confrontational style. 

For Seattle’s next mayor, we’re looking for somebody who imagines an exciting future for the city — and can actually make it happen. Somebody who brings an eye for talent, and the chutzpah, politesse and personal charm to mold and wield the city’s unwieldy bureaucracy. Somebody with enough public sector experience to understand how a bureaucracy works, and enough private sector experience to know how it could work. Somebody who can lead and manage. Somebody who can play big and small ball. (And a rich, resonant voice that we wouldn’t mind listening to for the next four years would be nice.)

Click here to check out — and comment on — our Seattle Mayor job description. Go here to follow Crosscut's ongoing coverage of Seattle's 2013 Mayor Games.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Mary Bruno

Mary Bruno

Mary was Crosscut's Editor-in-Chief and Interim Publisher. In more than 25 years as a journalist, she has worked as a writer, editor and editorial director for a variety of print and web publications, including Newsweek, Seattle Weekly and Her book, An American River, is an environmental memoir about growing up along New Jersey's Passaic.