Survivors: Murray vs. McGinn

How rough will Seattle's mayoral campaign get as the race comes down to a tough matchup?
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Mayor Mike McGinn is surrounded by supporters on a happy primary election night.

How rough will Seattle's mayoral campaign get as the race comes down to a tough matchup?

Memo to the Wake-Me-When-It's-Over Crowd: It's over!

With the first results of the primary balloting in, the race for Seattle mayor looks to be between top vote-getters state Sen. Ed Murray (30 percent) and Mayor Mike McGinn (27 percent). In a low-turnout, hard-to-predict election with a crowded field of candidates (nine), the winnowing has occurred. What it sets up is a fascinating race between a City Hall insider who's happiest as an outsider (the mayor) and a City Hall outsider who's running as an insider (Murray).

Mike McGinn took his victory lap in a sports bar in Pike-Pine named 95 Slide after Ken Griffey Jr.'s famous playoff-winning run in the 1995 series with the New York Yankees. That was a come-from-behind win, and so was McGinn's strong showing in the top-two primary, especially given that last fall hizzoner was widely assumed to be politically dead and his popularity numbers were grim and flat-lined.

He looked headed for the fate of mayors Paul Schell and Greg Nickels who were both dumped in primaries. But the mayor is nothing if not a fighter. His friends laud him for it and his enemies say: That's the mayor's problem, he's divisive. But this night, fighter Mike was elated. "I feel good, man," he said of the results. His supporters loudly chanted "Four more years," and a supporter standing behind the mayor as he snaked through the crowded bar was already looking ahead to the battle with Murray: "Throw some punches, man!"

A second victory party took place at The Crocodile in Belltown, which was jammed with celebrating Murray supporters. The senator stood on a stage jam-packed with key backers — including mayoral dropout Tim Burgess and City Attorney Pete Holmes — and gave what sounded less like an election-night victory speech than an inaugural address. Murray ranged from saving transit from budget cuts to the sidewalk maintenance backlog, but his main pitch was "a vision called community."

Where McGinn divides, Murray brings together, at least that's the idea. Murray's speech already showed hints of appealing to his opponents' voters by touching on the themes of Peter Steinbrueck and Bruce Harrell, who placed third and fourth respectively in the night's ballot count. Murray pitched for both density and preserving traditional neighborhoods — "It's not either or," he said, echoing Steinbrueck's message. He also called for one city, consistent with Harrell's unity message.

Murray painted a picture of a city government that is not as good as the city itself. He said, "Seattle too often succeeds despite its leadership," and promised to change the atmosphere of polarization and division. He wants "a city we can all feel proud of again."

The Olympia vet Murray's crowd was strong with gays, greens and business types who, as one said, find him not so much pro-business as a guy who promises predictability. Murray's message is safe, sane and aimed at the great Seattle middle — the liberal, middle class voters who aren't particularly disenchanted.

McGinn's shout outs are to the maids and grocery workers, to the bike and transit advocates, the community activists. He paid tribute to the late Kip Tokuda who, he said, was the "conscience of our campaign." He asked, "What does this city stand for?" McGinn has said he wants to be the most progressive mayor of the most progressive city in America.

Progressiveness doesn't really seem to be the issue, but style is and will be. The choice seems to be between the progressive-combative city of McGinn and the progressive-collaborative city of Murray. Do you get the best results wearing combat boots, or sensible shoes?

Likability is an important factor, says former mayor Charles Royer, who is a Murray backer. He respects the incumbent's political skills -- "We've seen the mayor's ability to campaign" -- he acknowledges. Still, he remembers what city council legend Sam Smith once told him: "People wanna like the mayor."

Both campaigns acknowledge a tough fight ahead. If the results hold up, McGinn will have to overcome a primary in which 70 percent of the voters chose someone else. On the other hand, Murray is not as well known -- his campaign staff already predicts a stronger showing for McGinn in the first general election polling because of his name familiarity. Murray has to get his message out to a lot of voters. McGinn and Murray are both expecting a hard battle. McGinn is used to fighting as an underdog, and Murray wants to avoid over-confidence.

One thing to watch is how negative the campaign gets. McGinn and Murray sniped during candidate forums and took different stands on hot-button issues like the West Seattle Whole Foods controversy. But neither has really taken the gloves off yet. Expect punches to be thrown before November.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

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