Timing really is everything. This winter, mayor Mike McGinn’s hopes for reelection were all but dead. Then, within days of announcing his intention to run, San Francisco hedge-fund manager Chris Hansen cut a deal to bring the NBA’s Sacramento Kings to Seattle and fill the $490 million arena he hopes to build in SoDo. And just like that, McGinn was back in the hunt. Neither the arena nor the team’s move were a done deal in January, but the excitement (and ire) both have aroused is proof that basketball could play a major part in deciding who takes city hall. 

 

The Hero McGinn—who has championed Hansen’s efforts from the beginning—demurred when asked about the Kings-to-Seattle chatter but added, “If it’s true, ain’t it cool?” It certainly would be for McGinn. A Sonics return would transform his image from the do-nothing mayor (belated seawall, thwarted bike lanes) to the mayor who restored Seattle’s civic pride. 

The Iconoclast Alone on the other side of the debate sits former city council member Peter Steinbrueck, who has railed that the arena will harm industrial businesses and the Port of Seattle; that the cars it will bring to SoDo will hurt the environment; and that the City has failed to consider other sites, such as the Rainier Valley. As a candidate for mayor, Steinbrueck’s bomb-throwing style may alienate some, but he’ll likely peel off anti-arena voters, including those who want to stick it
to McGinn for what they perceive as a tax giveaway to a wealthy developer. 

The Sore Winner Somewhere in the middle is city council member Tim Burgess, who jumped into the race in January. An early arena skeptic, he came around after negotiating numerous concessions: $40 million for transportation improvements, $7 million to explore new uses for KeyArena, and a personal guarantee from Hansen that he’ll pay for the arena’s annual debt payments if taxes from the facility fall short. But Burgess has already been upstaged by McGinn, who’ll win most of the credit if the deal goes through. 

“Bring back our Sonics” is a powerful rallying cry. But if the deal goes south, or if new information makes it look less than solid, Steinbrueck will be the first to say, “I told you so.”

 

 

Published: March 2013