From the Cola Archives: New Nickels Opponent,T-Mobile VP Joe Mallahan

By Erica C. Barnett December 10, 2009

Next month marks PubliCola’s one-year anniversary. (We debuted on January 19, 2009.) Throughout December, we’re going to be re-posting our favorite Cola articles from our first 12 months.

Yesterday, we ran a piece by our original NerdNerd, Sarah Mirk. Today, we're running Josh's May 1 interview with Joe Mallahan. In his first-ever interview, the "mystery candidate" hyped his business cred, but offered few specific policy proposals or actual quibbles with the mayor.


Given his assertive statement in this morning's Morning Fizz that he would "be on par" with Mayor Greg Nickels at the next campaign finance reporting deadline (Nickels has raised about $300,000 and has about $200,000 on hand as of the last report), I just sat down with mystery candidate Joe Mallahan, 47, to ask how much money he actually had.

Mallahan, an earnest sitcom dad type, demurred and said only that he had enough to match the mayor at this stage, but he's not independently wealthy and added, "I cannot run this on my own dime. My personal resources won't support a campaign that citizens don't respond too."

He added that he drives a used Prius,  lives with his wife and two kids in a 100-year-old house in Wallingford and has to stay on part time at his (admittedly fancy) job at T-Mobile as a VP.

Mallahan, who went to the University of Chicago's prestigious finance graduate program before working at corporate consultant Price Watherhouse Coopers—and then Voicestream and then T-Mobile, hypes his business credentials. "I can smell inefficiency," he says.

He says has always planned to run for office and as a liberal he "intentionally" chose to go through U. Chicago's famously conservative finance program. "It made me a smarter liberal," he says. "I learned how the Republicans are full of it. They aren't really business people. They are demagogues."

He described himself as a "bleeding heart liberal" (a pro-choice Catholic) who got super involved in the Obama campaign (he doorbelled in Indiana and went to the state convention as a delegate).

Although he was armed with a marked up copy of the city budget, he didn't seem schooled on city issues yet, and he demurred when it came to discussing specifics, answering several questions—How should Seattle accommodate growth? How can we fund public safety?—with  "I'm not a traffic planner or an expert."

Or, for example, asked what he thought of the latest city ballot issue, the fee on plastic bags, he said: "I don’t have a position on the bag tax. It has good intentions—but it feels smallish and gimmicky rather than visionary."

Indeed, when it comes to the Mayor, Mallahan doesn't think Nickels is providing "visionary" leadership.

The problem with Mallahan's critique is that he didn't provide any "visionary" ideas of his own. ("I'd like to sit down with Peter Steinbrueck and hear his ideas on urban planning...mass transit down Aurora, that'd be cool").

And he seemed to agree with the Nickels on all of Nickels signature issues—increasing density and building heights, the Westlake trolley, the housing levy, and pushing light rail ("Nickels has been a leader on that, no question").

And even though he said—as opposed to the "smallish" bag tax—that "reducing car ridership" should be our number one environmental goal, he also supports the mayor's tunnel plan, which he acknowledged, duplicates the ridership numbers of a highway along the waterfront.

Mallahan's case against Nickels—which seems to mirror polling data on voters' feelings—comes down to a general sense that he just doesn't think Nickels is doing a good job. "I just don't trust the mayor," Mallahan says.

"Look at the city website," he explains. "It says 92% of potholes are filled in 48 hours. Are we supposed to believe that?"

And he said: "My biggest gripe is that he's running for an unprecedented third term after falling down on basic services." Mainly, Mallahan was alluding to the comical City response to the snow storm.

Here is PubliCola's coverage of Nickels' other opponent, Mike McGinn, of whom Mallahan said: "Mike doesn't seem to have have a cohesive campaign. His points seemed to be a little scattered." He added that there didn't seem to be a lot going on with the McGinn campaign and said he "couldn't get a vibe on Mike."

I've linked Mallahan's press release announcement below the jump.

Mallahan Press Release:
Mayoral candidate vows to pick up a shovel and clear a path to a better Seattle

SEATTLE – Joe Mallahan, Wallingford resident and T-Mobile executive, declared his candidacy for Seattle Mayor today. Citing his business track record of solving complex problems, Mallahan vowed to restore trust, confidence, and accountability to Seattle City Government.

“We need a climate change in city government,” Mallahan stated. “Our current city government is broken, it isn’t delivering basic services and the Mayor is out of touch.”

Mallahan wants to regain the trust of citizens by efficiently delivering the basic services that are relevant to taxpayers and Seattle businesses struggling in this tough economy. “I have a track record of being a guy who rolls up his sleeves and works hand in hand with people to solve big problems,” said Mallahan.

“I am known to T-Mobile employees as someone who always takes care of the customer,” said Mallahan. When Hurricane Gustav was threatening to hit southeast Texas last fall, Mallahan worked over Labor Day weekend with a dedicated team of technologists to activate free calling for hundreds of thousands of customers who were evacuating and otherwise might not have been able to use their phones. “When Greg Nickels was faced with a snowstorm disaster a few months later it seems he just stayed home and threw another log on the fire,” said Mallahan.

Mallahan acknowledged his outsider status, “Listen, I haven’t been a politician since I was a teenager nor have I been fundraising for the past eight years. But I assure you by the May 10th financial reporting deadline, I will be on par with the incumbent’s war chest through grassroots fundraising, new social media and my own personal contribution to the campaign. The Mayor will no longer be able to hide behind his war chest or his political machine. Mayor Nickels will now have to defend his disappointing eight-year record. He’s been able to scare off viable, legitimate candidates to date, but no longer.”

Mallahan comes from a large Irish Catholic family. One of nine children, he was born and raised in South Everett. He crabbed and fished with his father, a paper mill worker, in the Puget Sound as a child and takes his own children crabbing and shrimping right in Elliot Bay. As a teenager, Mallahan was a student editorialist for KIRO-TV, where he supported the bargaining rights of striking teachers in the fall of 1980.

Mallahan has a Masters degree in International Studies from the Jackson School at the University of Washington and an MBA in Finance from the University of Chicago. He and his wife, Carolyn, moved to the Wallingford neighborhood nine years ago, where they live in a 100 year old house with their two teenagers.

For more information, please visit Joe’s website at

# # #

Filed under
Show Comments