McGinn, Declaring his Candidacy for Mayor, Says City Should Take Over Seattle's Schools

By Josh Feit March 24, 2009

Re: The News that Sierra Club leader Mike McGinn is running for mayor against Greg Nickels—here's PubliCola's report on the press conference McGinn held at Piecora's Pizza on Capitol Hill a few hours ago where at least 40 supporters crammed in the back of a long dining room by the street-front windows while McGinn, sitting down informally at the head of a dining room table, fielded questions from a gang of reporters who also sat around the table.


First off, he announced some initiatives and priorities:

McGinn said the city would take over Seattle schools two years into his term if there wasn't "demonstrable improvement in the schools." He followed that up by saying if there wasn't demonstrable improvement after for years, "Fire me. Kick me out."

He also said Seattle City Light should build a citywide broadband network and wire the city for Internet, joking that we live in a "Web 2.0 world, and I'm not sure our government's even at 1.0 yet." (He puts the cost at around $400 million, saying we already owned the polls and wires.)

These two initiatives, McGinn said, were part of his top two priorities: education and technology, which fit into the main theme of his candidacy—"making smart investments in our future." (In case we missed the point, his three elementary-school age children were seated to his right, along the table.)

Using a sports metaphor (which are usually annoying as hell, especially coming from a guy's guy like McGinn), he actually had a good one. He said when Hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky was once asked why he was so good despite being slower than other players, Gretzky explained he didn't skate to where the puck is, but rather, where the puck is going to be. McGinn added that Seattle's leaders are often skating to where the puck used to be.

McGinn's third "future"  issue was transportation. He was vaguer on this. He said he wanted to banish the phrase "overcrowded buses" from our vocabularly, and he wanted "cleaner, safer, reliable" bus service. He did add that  he was against the tunnel option for the waterfront (saying he supported the surface transit option). He pointed out that Seattle voters had gone against the tunnel option by 70 percent. He chastised the mayor for then going out and getting $2 billion from the state to build the tunnel, adding that the city should be in Olympia fighting for that kind of money for schools and expanded bus service.

Asked about pending voter initiatives like the repeal of the city council's .20 bag tax and the hybrid district elections idea for city council, he said: He supports the bag tax (no surprise there as the campaign is being headed up by McGinn's Sierra Club colleague, Brady Montz), and he's for the hybrid district model because having council members represent specific neighborhoods would help decentralize power.

McGinn's best line of the day came when he was asked why he wanted to oust a mayor like Nickels who was known as a Green mayor. (Indeed, Nickels has gotten national recognition for his effort to get cities across the U.S. to meet the Kyoto Protocols.) McGinn quipped: "It's equally important that we actually meet the Kyoto Protocols with the decisions we make," to an impromptu burst of applause, laughs, and cheers. (There were a lot of Sierra Club folks in the room.)

McGinn pointed out that Nickels fought for 2007's roads and transit initiative which would have built 182 miles of new highways, and that Nickels' tunnel option is going to "increase green house gases."

(McGinn also got a big laugh when reporter Joel Connelly asked if McGinn was going to pay his communications director $160,000—a reference to Nickels' high-paid p.r. guy, Robert Mak. "Are you applying?" McGinn joked.)

McGinn, with his socialist-y agenda (building a public broadband network and taking over the schools), did offer an olive branch to business saying that Seattle's world-renowned private sector—Microsoft,, and biotech (supported by U.W.) were too often left out of the city's initiatives, and he wanted to turn to them and get them involved. "This town is full of smart people and they're not engaged or involved in governance. Our city is not doing a good job on that," McGinn says.

In perhaps the only awkward moment of his lunch table chat, McGinn—who was otherwise at ease throughout—botched a question on public safety, basically saying youth violence was a "priority," but telling reporter Essex Porter that he'd have to get back to him after he consulted with experts.

McGinn wouldn't talk about fundraising—Nickels who's raised about $300,000 (the majority of it from big donors), seems to have a lock on establishment money. McGinn told PubliCola simply: "I want to talk about the issues not inside baseball." Pressed, he told me: "I'll do what needs to be done [to raise money]."

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