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Mallahan's Muni League Rating Makes Sense

By Erica C. Barnett July 24, 2009

[caption id="attachment_10365" align="alignleft" width="353" caption="Joe Mallahan"]Joe Mallahan[/caption]

It's been a bit of a Nerd run here this morning. Back to our regularly scheduled wonkery.

As we noted in Morning Fizz, some of our readers—particularly supporters of mayoral challenger Mike McGinn—have been crying foul about the Muni League candidate ratings, which ranked Nickels  challenger Joe Mallahan as "outstanding" but Mike McGinn only as "good"—two notches below Mallahan's top "Outstanding" rating. (Nickels got rated "Very Good"—one spot below the top rating.)

The responses that helped Mallahan receive a rating of "outstanding" are a combination of: 1) valid examples of managerial experience; 2) standard-issue Seattle political pablum; 3) harsh attacks on Nickels; and  4) jargon-heavy corporate mumbo jumbo.

1) Mallahan calls himself a "superb manager of large organizations," giving as an example a product he created at T-Mobile that gave low-income customers access to the same cell-phone rate plans as higher-income ones.

2) Mallahan says he has "a long track record of bringing diverse groups of people together to solve complex problems" by "bringing diverse groups of stakeholders together to build a common vision for long-term improvements."

3) Mallahan calls Nickels a "bad manager" who "tolerates government abuse" and managerial ineptitude.

And 4)  "My typical technique is to convene a small group of experts to innovate a solution, then congregate subject matter experts in every company function to further vet and refine the solution, and finally, to make a bold decision and drive execution of the solution across the enterprise." Mallahan duplicated that response almost word for word at last night's CityClub forum.

Personally, I find Mallahan's responses to the Muni League questionnaire uninspiring, heavy on techno-speak, and less than specific on policy. Does that mean, as several folks in the comments have suggested, that the Muni League unfairly weighted their decision in his favor? Not necessarily.

If Mike McGinn fans think the Muni League should have rated him highly because of his smart environmental positions, they're misunderstanding how the Muni League works.

The League doesn't take positions on political issues. Their criteria for judging candidates deliberately sidestep particular policy positions—so that a candidate wouldn't get extra points, for example, for opposing the mayor's $4 billion waterfront tunnel, as Mike McGinn does. (McGinn, in fact, mentioned his environmental bona fides at least a dozen times in his own questionnaire, and focused on specific issues like the tunnel, the 2007 ballot measure, green buildings, and expanding transit service.) Instead, the League looks at things like character, life experience, and understanding of what the job entails to judge candidates for public office.

According to League board member Gabe Meyer, the committees that evaluate candidates decide "very much based on the [nonpolitical] criteria. ... They follow the process and it doesn't really matter who does it. You could have two different people with completely different positions on an issue and come to the same result."

Moreover, the League has always tended to be parsimonious with its "outstanding" ratings. In 2005, just ten candidates out of 111 received "outstanding" ratings; this year, 16 out of 113 did. According to Meyer, any ratings of "outstanding" or "not qualified" go through review by the board, which can also reconsider middling evaluations voluntarily; this year, the board reconsidered "a couple" of evaluations but didn't overturn any committee recommendations, Meyer says.

Finally, the League's ratings are based in part on one-on-one interviews and testimonials from people who know the candidate, including some references provided by the candidate and others the candidate evaluators themselves come up with.

Mallahan presents very well in person, and his testimonials may just have been far more positive (or his references more thoroughly coached) than those of his five opponents. "A negative reference goes a really long way," Meyer says, adding, "Some people just interview very well. Some of the ones who did really poorly may have just punted their interviews."

Of course, some candidates may do so poorly—or sound so paranoid—on their questionnaires that they don't stand a chance.

For example, mayoral candidate and viaduct-rebuild fan Elizabeth Campbell, who received a rating of "not qualified," wrote that she has "documented" that citizens are "being processed" by the "Seattle process"; position 4 candidate Brian Carver boasted about his "relevant experience" working at an auto welding shop and organizing a college mountain bike race; and Thomas Tobin, also a candidate for Position 4, left his questionnaire almost completely blank

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