OF THE SIX CHALLENGERS incumbent Greg Nickels will share the primary ballot with on August 18, only one poses a threat to the mayor’s rank as greenest candidate. Michael McGinn spent three years as the local chair of the Sierra Club (and nine years on its political committee) and earned more eco-cred as executive director of Great City, a nonprofit organization that encourages sustainable decisions for Seattle.
McGinn doesn’t shy away from poking at Nickels’s record and shrugs at the mayor’s baby, the Climate Protection Agreement, which encouraged U.S. mayors to follow the Kyoto Protocol on reducing emissions even when the Bush administration refused to go along. “Kyoto was a start,” says McGinn, “but everybody knows we need to do better [by] “working with individual communities to create change [and to] reduce emissions on local transit.” Such a two-pronged approach, he says, would be more effective than Nickels’s lofty declarations about being the vanguard in the fight against global warming.
McGinn also opposes another mayoral initiative, the Alaskan Way tunnel, on the grounds that investment in local transit instead of highways would keep more cars off the road. “Every time we build,” says McGinn, “we should ask ourselves how we can build something that’s efficient.”
Right, says Nickels campaign spokesperson Sandeep Kaushik, that’s just how the mayor’s operated for decades, and the light rail line opening to the public in July proves it. The project, which has been Nickels’s pet for 21 years, says Kaushik, will “benefit the environment by reducing emissions and reducing pollution.” McGinn, a supporter of Sound Transit, concurs, but he’s impatient. “We can’t wait for the time and expense of light rail to pay off. We have to invest in the quality and quantity of our local service to better serve everyone.”
Such concerns didn’t stop Washington Conservation Voters, a nonpartisan environmental group, from endorsing Nickels back in May. “The mayor has been there since the very beginning on transit,” says Sudha Nandagopal, communications director for the organization, “and that is a critical piece on the environmental agenda.” But Conservation Voters also back McGinn’s Parks Levy (a property tax levy passed in 2008 to support Seattle’s green spaces), a plan Nickels rejected. Which may mean that, regardless of McGinn’s record, where environmentally conscious voters are concerned, the mayor is always greener.