Seattle Mayor: PubliCola Picks Mike McGinn

By PublicolaPicks August 3, 2009


Ever since 2004, when Mike McGinn emerged as a Greenwood neighborhood leader and reclaimed the vaunted role of "neighborhood activist" from the anti-urban reactionaries who had dominated local politics for so long, he has been shattering the status quo and pointing Seattle in the right direction. His first victory: Turning the Greenwood Community Council into a platform for green density, pedestrian-oriented streets, and smart development (he stopped a big-box development on North 85th St. )

In order, McGinn's follow-up acts included: 1) Starting an urbanist nonprofit called the Seattle Great City Initiative, which, among other things, helped nudge the city council to pass the legislation requiring the city to add bike and pedestrian facilities whenever it tears up city streets; 2) Defeating the ill-advised $18 billion 2007 roads and transit measure, which would have undermined light rail expansion by coupling it with 182 miles of new highways (and predicting, against liberal establishment naysayers, that it would come back and win in 2008); and 3) Taking the parks levy to the ballot last year and (again) winning—this time, against Mayor Greg Nickels' vocal opposition.

McGinn, a past local Sierra Club board chair and longtime attorney with Stokes Lawrence, is out to shatter the status quo again. First, he's an underdog. Incumbent Nickels is perceived as unpopular, but his numbers in the six-way scrum are perfectly acceptable (in the 20s), while his bank account and that of T-Mobile exec-turned-candidate Joe Mallahan dwarf McGinn's—as do the name I.D. of former Sonic James Donaldson and longtime city council member Jan Drago, who are also running.

Second, McGinn has banked his campaign on overturning the decision to build a $4.2 tunnel along the downtown waterfront, now the consensus option of city hall and Olympia (and all the other candidates).

McGinn isn't only opposed for environmental reasons (the tunnel will preserve our region's dedication to the car and foreign oil). He's also against it because he thinks it takes money away from more important city priorities.

"You can't use all of our tax revenues and put them into the tunnel and not see that as the most significant economic development decision in the city," McGinn says.

McGinn's opponents have accused him of being a single-issue candidate obsessed with the downtown tunnel. Having talked to McGinn repeatedly about issues ranging from density to transit access to neighborhood policing, we think that criticism is off base.

For example, in the most timely and on-point  of any candidate in the race, McGinn has declared he will redirect resources (some of them, yes, from the tunnel) toward city programs that help kids in public schools; and dramatically, if the schools don't improve within two years, he says, he'll take them over.

"We have to make the case to the public about what a different vision would look like," McGinn says. "I'd love to have all the elected officials competing for who could do the best job for our schools."

PubliCola applauds McGinn's position, which dovetails with President Obama's education platform.

Nickels has the right agenda,  but he's too polarizing to lead effectively.

T-Mobile executive Joe Mallahan has made vague promise to remake the city using his skill as a private sector manager. He also seems to be coming up with campaign themes as he goes, most of them simply criticisms of specific Nickels blunders.

Longtime city council member Jan Drago is a talented legislator, but she lacks vision as a candidate. On the campaign trail, she's been underwhelming and rambling, and her recent 16-page "A Blueprint for Our Future" (Bullet Point: "Increase training and job opportunities" .... white space, white space, white space ... ) was a bit embarrassing.

We chose not to interview former Seattle Supersonic James Donaldson, viaduct-rebuild champion Elizabeth Campbell, or matchmaker Norman Sigler. After seeing Donaldson speak at numerous forums and meeting him informally several times, we weren't impressed with the caliber of his statements or grasp of the issues in the campaign. Both Sigler and Campbell seem unqualified for the job.

PubliCola wants McGinn to make it through to the general election, where we hope he'll expand on his already well-calibrated campaign theme of greening the city's priorities and fixing our public schools.

PubliCola picks McGinn.

Full disclosure: PubliCola’s cofounder and advisor Sandeep Kaushik works for Mayor Greg Nickels; PubliCola advisory board member Mark Matassa is consulting for Jan Drago; and our ObamaNerd columnist works for Joe Mallahan. We’ve explained our endorsement process fully here (in short, Kaushik, ObamaNerd, and Matassa had nothing to do with our mayoral endorsement process).
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