McGinn Group Funded by Seattle's Biz Establishment

By Erica C. Barnett September 12, 2009

This article was originally posted on Friday.

[caption id="attachment_13929" align="alignleft" width="350" caption="Mayoral candidate Mike McGinn"]Mayoral candidate Mike McGinn[/caption]

Mayoral candidate Mike McGinn is best known as an environmentalist and biking enthusiast. He founded the green urbanist group Great City; he served as head of the local Sierra Club; and his campaign slogan is "Mike Bikes." Support for his grassroots, all-volunteer campaign comes largely from environmental leaders (Tim Gould of the Sierra Club; Gary Manca from Friends of Seattle; bus proponent Jack Whisner; etc.) and people who admire his green ethos.

So it may come as a surprise to some of his idealistic supporters that the group that financed McGinn's Great City—in addition to environmental groups like the Cascade Bicycle Club and the Bullitt Foundation—includes many of the city's biggest developers, law firms, and builders.

"I’m really proud of my ability at Great City to bring together businesses and environmentalists and neighborhood leaders who donated to the organization," McGinn said.

Although neither McGinn nor current Great City head Joshua Curtis would reveal the exact contributions Great City received from its funders (and the group has not yet filed a 990 form with the IRS, because it has long been funded, until this year, through the Cascade Land Conservancy), the group has posted a list of the companies and organizations themselves that funded the group's creation.

The most prominent company on the list  is Vulcan, Paul Allen's South Lake Union development firm. Although McGinn wouldn't say specifically how much Vulcan had contributed to Great City, he does concede that the developer is among the organization's top two or three contributors, along with Bullitt and the Land Conservancy.

Several of McGinn's positions on big city and development issues line up closely with Vulcan's: He supports a version of the proposed $290 million "Mercer Mess" fix (although he says "we have to figure out a way to make it cheaper"), and he wants to make "incentive zoning" (a scheme in which developers get to build taller buildings in exchange for investing in amenities like affordable housing) more flexible than current guidelines mandate. (In 2007, Vulcan successfully lobbied the city to exempt it from some incentive zoning requirements for one of its developments in South Lake Union).

Great City's contributors also include real estate developers like Triad Development, Lorig, the Bloom Company, and Harbor Properties, which collectively own hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of downtown and South Lake Union real estate and frequently lobby the city for breaks on development regulations; architecture firms like GGLO, Mithun, and VIA Architecture; and conservative advocacy groups like the Master Builders' Association, which lobbies against green regulations on development and has generally supported Republican candidates. (For example, the Master Builders backed Republican Dino Rossi in 2008, opposed stormwater restrictions that same year, and has opposed restrictions on development in the state's environmentally critical areas.)

Interestingly, most of the companies that funded McGinn's group have also been staunch political and financial supporters of lame-duck Mayor Greg Nickels, and very few have given to McGinn.

Now that Nickels is out of the running, will they support his former rival? That remains to be seen, but my guess is that it will take more than a pro-development attitude to woo business leaders into the former Sierra Club leader's camp. Business insiders suggest that were it not for McGinn's position on the proposed $4.2 billion waterfront tunnel, they'd be far more likely to back him than his opponent Joe Mallahan, who has shown little familiarity with business—or any other—issues.

A partial list of Great City's backers is below the jump.

Jake Blumgart contributed to this report..

Vulcan, the mammoth Paul Allen-funded South Lake Union developer and Number One bad guy for anti-gentrification, anti-density Seattle activists. Vulcan and its employees give generously to city candidates and causes; since 2003, Vulcan and its employees have made around 200 contributions to city candidates, much higher than any other developer. Vulcan is a longtime Nickels supporter.

Triad Development, another large downtown developer who has supported Nickels in the past.

Lorig and Associates, another real estate developer;

The Blume Company, a developer in South Lake Union that's building a 776,000-square-foot office and retail complex in the neighborhood;

Geoengineers, a company that aims to "apply earth science and technology to improve the world we live in";

Harbor Properties, which owns more than $200 million worth of real estate around the city. Harbor lobbied current mayor Greg Nickels successfully against a downtown upzone that could have blocked some views at its downtown Harbor Steps development;

The Master Builders Association, a member group of the generally right-leaning Builders Industry Association of Washington, which lobbies against green regulations on development;

Opus NW, another real-estate developer and construction firm; and

Pemco Insurance, a Seattle-based insurance company.
Filed under
Show Comments