(I MET MAYOR Mike McGinn in his office on the seventh floor of City Hall on the morning of April 2, one week after Seattle Times columnist Joni Balter called him “the un-mayor,” a “stumblebum” who is “the most immature politician I have ever encountered.” McGinn, evidently unfazed by Balter’s lament that he “dressed like a schlump,” wore casual slacks and a zip-up turtleneck. Alison Burson, his executive assistant, darted in barefoot to update him on his schedule. The spring winds blew so hard that the windows beside us shook and the deck chairs rattled on the lanai behind them—a fitting close to McGinn’s stormy first three months in office. This is an unabridged, minimally edited transcript of our conversation.)

(McGinn laughs.)
I hear you used that with the PSRC.

McGINN: Yeah, I cracked a joke. When they introduced me as the mayor of Seattle I said, no, if you’ve been reading the papers my correct title is un-mayor. A few of them laughed. They read the papers, so they saw Joni’s column.

It looked like a pretty serious meeting, other than that.

It’s interesting…. There were a few things that struck me about that meeting. The Puget Sound Regional Council was approving something called Transportation 2040, a long-term vision for the region, a transportation future. And the Puget Sound Council is not a well-known body in local politics. It’s composed of elected officials from around the region. We have votes on the body according to the population of the places that we represent. The point of it is that it exists to plan for the region and chew around land-use and transportation issues. On the plan that was before them—prior mayor Greg Nickels had sent them a letter, signed by city council members, which pointed out how deficient Transportation 2040 was in light of the goals that the region had set for itself in terms of sprawl, social justice, reducing global warming emissions, transportation outcomes, there not being sufficient transit.

When they introduced me as the mayor of Seattle I said, no, if you’ve been reading the papers my correct title is un-mayor.

And all the council members voted for it this time.

They did, the same council members voted for it. They had asked for amendments to the plan, and they were good amendments they were asking for, but you know…. Those amendments didn’t change the fundamental flaws of the plan.

There was a desire by the leadership of the PSRC that it should be a unanimous vote. And I didn’t see why I should vote for a plan that didn’t meet those stated goals.

You and the mayor of Port Orchard. (Port Orchard Mayor Larry Coppola cast the only other nay vote, for very different reasons: because the plan included tolls, was unfair to car owners, and represented rampant “social engineering.”)

That’s right, me and the mayor of Port Orchard.

Strange bedfellows.

I don’t know the mayor of Port Orchard, I would look forward to talking with him. His objections were to tolls.

There’s a huge gap between our stated goals and our actions when it comes to transit, when it comes to reducing pollution, when it comes to fighting global warming.

That’s the phrase you hear about Barack Obama, that his actions don’t match his stated goals.

Well, delivering results is hard, but trying to stay to true, working for those results, really just standing up for what you believe in, shouldn’t be that hard. But it does get—look, here’s what the PSRC does, just so you know. It has a project list, and every elected official wants something on that project list. And by the time you’re done putting everything on that project list, you’ve got billions and billions of dollars of unfunded projects that will contribute to sprawl, that will contribute to global warming, that don’t support good land use patterns, and that don’t provide affordable transit to those who need transit the most.

Do we need another kind of transit governance, a transportation super-board?

People put out different ideas. I personally am open to looking at transit governance in the region, because things aren’t working now. So I’m open to looking a different way for how we make decisions about transportation. We really need to integrate our decision-making with regard to regional transit, local transit, local streets, and state roads. All of those four have different governments and different taxing sources, and don’t make decisions that complement each other or work with each other. That’s one of the huge challenges we face, having integrated planning and financing for our transportation system. It’s not an accident that 520 currently has no real light rail component to it, even though state law says it has to be six lanes designed to accommodate light rail in the future. Right now it’s six lanes designed to preclude light rail in the future.