When Mike McGinn announced his run for mayor in April, shortly after sexual abuse allegations against Ed Murray surfaced, he immediately had one strong opponent: the mayor himself. Murray that same morning sent a strongly worded press release reminding reporters of what he considered a failed and divisive administration led by McGinn four years earlier.
"The experience of being mayor was extraordinary in so many ways," McGinn told PubliCola, in response to how he's changed in the past four years. "In short I'm a little older, I hope a little wiser, a little more relaxed on how to approach issues."
A New York native, McGinn got his start in politics as an aide for Oregon congressman Jim Weaver, who opposed more nuclear power plants with a filibuster in the House of Representatives and fought for conservation efforts. McGinn admired that kind of tenacity, he said.
"I decided I would always try to have guts," McGinn said. There were a lot of reasons—his job, his family—he ultimately chose not to run for office for decades, he added.
McGinn first gained prominence in Seattle leading the Sierra Club's local chapter. He fought against highway expansions and opposed the SR 99 tunneling project. And when he in 2009 finally ran for elected office—an anti-establishment, underdog mayoral campaign against Chamber-backed challenger Joe Mallahan—he won.
McGinn can often be spotted carrying his bike helmet. He continued some of the environmental advocacy after his term as mayor, supporting divesting the city's pension fund from fossil fuels. Like Jessyn Farrell, he also said he wants to speed up light rail systems. He said the city could've gone with additional zoning height and would like to see more small retail and grocery stores in low-rise zones. But, he hasn't isolated voters living in single-family zoning who don't want more density in their neighborhoods. His campaign slogan? "Keep Seattle."
"That's a place where a mayor is well advised to listen," he said.
McGinn doesn't have the financial backing of other high-profile candidates ($38,500 raised), and he doesn't have the endorsement of even his closest allies like Mike O'Brien. He did get endorsed by the Sierra Club—whose chair, Jesse Piedfort, in a released statement said he "has a proven track record of using the mayor's office" to advance the Sierra Club's agenda, and has continued to fight for climate justice.
A KING 5/KUOW poll placed him as a frontrunner to make it through the primary. His name recognition as a former mayor carries weight in a 21-candidate race in which a large chunk of voters are still undecided—the survey also said he polled well with both minorities, and conservatives.
"I think it's a function of, people remember that I was careful with dollars, that I warned about cost overruns of the tunnel and tried to protect the city from that," McGinn said.
The former mayor criticizes Murray for not using the city's money wisely but doesn't say which parts of the budget he would cut. He proposes no new sales taxes, and only an increase in property taxes with inflation. On OVG's Key Arena proposal, he said the process was rushed and supports the SoDo Arena.
Probably the most contentious issue McGinn dealt with during his term was police reform, when the U.S. Department of Justice stepped in to address the Seattle Police Department's excessive use of force and biased policing. McGinn throughout his campaign this year has taken , though back then he clashed with city attorney Pete Holmes on the DOJ settlement. (Jenny Durkan, who's also running for mayor and was U.S. attorney at the time, told PubliCola McGinn had fought police reform every step of the way.)
"That's a narrative that they adopted," McGinn said. "The reality was that we wanted to have a discussion about the best way to do police reform and the way to involve the community, and that's what we did." McGinn proposes using a Seattle police academy to train officers as another step toward accountability and said Tuesday that the city needs to address increasing gun violence in South Seattle.
"I don't think I've ever seen the city more divisive than I see it right now," McGinn said. "The level of angst and anger and frustration is really at a level I've never seen."