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Seattle Mayor: PubliCola Picks Mike McGinn

By PublicolaPicks October 19, 2009

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All the grousing that this year’s mayoral candidates are unqualified is a bunch of crap. A longtime neighborhood activist vs. a local business VP? These are exactly the sort of people who run for mayor. And should.

PubliCola sides with the neighborhood activist, Mike McGinn.

Far from being under-qualified, McGinn, who has run a high-octane and infectious grassroots campaign, has the kind of resume—community council president, Sierra Club chair, green nonprofit founder, initiative campaign leader (and attorney)—that’s not only filled with relevant experience, but shows he’ll catapult the city in the right direction—left, toward green urbanism.

A fake divide between neighborhood activists and downtown interests has slowed City Hall’s ability to catch up with public sentiment on transportation, density, and urban living. McGinn’s green populist politics will leave one set of aging hippies (now neighborhood cranks) vs. another set of aging hippies (now corporate liberals) to yell at each other while he moves the rest of the city forward.

The first sign that McGinn was in sync with Seattle’s future came in 2005, when, as president of the Greenwood Community Council, he stopped a big-box development on North 85th St. in its tracks. McGinn wrested community power from the hands of the “Lesser Seattle” demagogues and their demands for lower density and more parking in Seattle neighborhoods. Instead, McGinn upgraded the concept of "neighborhood interests" to include density, affordable housing, and green development.

Game on.

In 2007, McGinn started a nonprofit called the Seattle Great City Initiative, which, among other things, pushed the city council to pass legislation requiring the city to add bike and pedestrian facilities whenever it tears up city streets. Then he led the fight to defeat 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. (McGinn predicted, correctly, that light rail alone would come back and win in 2008). And last year, he pushed for a $146 million parks levy, winning again—this time, against Mayor Greg Nickels’ vocal opposition.

If McGinn’s opposition to the $4.2 billion tunnel is stopping you from getting excited about his candidacy, calm down. While PubliCola agrees with McGinn on this (like McGinn, we support the surface/transit option, and we’re glad he’s been speaking his mind and standing up to Olympia), McGinn alone can't stop the tunnel.

If a consensus does build behind Mayor McGinn, than more power to him. As he said when he was fighting  the “done deal” on roads and transit: “We don’t let Olympia tell us what’s possible. We tell Olympia what’s needed.”

His other progressive agenda items (outlined in his neverending series of policy papers )— including community-driven solutions to youth violence, expanding light rail in the city, investing in green jobs, upgrading Seattle’s internet infrastructure to eliminate the digital divide—are all winners. (Sorry, but we fail to see what’s “elitist” about making sure kids have equal access to technology.)

McGinn has run circles around his sequestered opponent, T-Mobile VP Joe “Ideate” Mallahan, defining the debate as Mallahan constantly and awkwardly finds himself playing catchup and tripping over misstatements. For example, Mallahan told PubliCola he was for the South Lake Union streetcar,  then came out against it; he told us he wanted to consolidate small departments like the city’s arts office into larger departments, then told us, through a spokeswoman, that he had misspoken (sloppy and not quite believable); and he also parroted a NIMBY's criticism of Mayor Nickels' focus on racial issues in the neighborhoods, touted it, and then recanted.

He's also failed to vote in 13 of the last 25 elections. For a guy who wants to lead the city, he hasn't shown much interest in city candidates and issues.

Mallahan has little support beyond top-tier establishment check writers—just 16 percent of Mallahan’s money comes from small donors (and almost half his money comes from his own bank account), while 50 percent of McGinn’s take comes from small donors (under-$400).

And pinch hitter Tina “Deputy Mayor” Podlodowski's last-minute entry as top adviser/spokeswoman on the Mallahan campaign doesn't give Mallahan credibility either. Instead, it makes it even more obvious what's been clear throughout the campaign: Mallahan is unconvincing as a leader and thinker in his own right.

The establishment has gravitated to Mallahan, not because they’re inspired by Mallahan, but because he’s not McGinn. That's exciting.

PubliCola picks Mike McGinn.
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