Tuesday Jolt: Holmes v. McGinn. Again.

By Josh Feit July 17, 2012


Sadly, City Attorney Pete Holmes' admonition of Mayor McGinn was a defining moment for the McGinn administration.

The Seattle Times had a big scoop today—they got hold of a letter that Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes sent to Mayor Mike McGinn urging McGinn to reach a deal with the Department of Justice to institute police accountability measures. If McGinn didn't take action, Holmes warned, the city could face a daunting courtroom showdown with the DOJ.

The angry letter from Holmes to McGinn highlights one of my biggest disappointments in McGinn's term to date.

Quickly, because Holmes' specific concerns per se aren't what today's Jolt is about, Holmes criticizes the mayor for getting provincial and relying on an iffy legal theory to stiff-arm the DOJ rather than seizing an opportunity for comprehensive reform.

Honestly, I've never understood McGinn's play re: the DOJ.

On two counts—school funding and police accountability—the public has been dying for the grownups to show up and force some action. And we got it in spades. On education, the State Supreme Court told the state to quit effing around and fund schools already. And on police accountability, the federal government showed up at our door and told the SPD to get its act together. Enough with the intractable union negotiations.

For hippie liberal McGinn to suddenly get all George Wallace about federal authority and all pals-y with the police union is tone deaf. As Holmes said in his letter, McGinn is missing an "unprecedented opportunity" for reform that could benefit the city for "generations to come."

So, here's the bigger story. In 2009, the city elected a pair of  lefty change agents, McGinn and Holmes, a kind of storm-the-barricades duo the city hasn't seen since voters sent council members Nick Licata and Peter Steinbrueck to city hall together in 1997. To my thinking, McGinn and Holmes were a pair, a new mayor and a new city attorney, that could truly usher in a progressive era in Seattle, particularly on police accountability—the issue Holmes made his reputation on as a member of the public's police oversight board, the Office of Professional Accountability Review Board, and has continued to push for in office.[pullquote]Today's Seattle Times headline—"City Attorney Rebukes McGinn's DOJ Strategy"—sounds like a doozy. But at this point in the McGinn administration, it's par for the course.[/pullquote]

However, it's been clear ever since Holmes and McGinn disagreed vehemently over legal minutiae on the tunnel that their partnership was not meant to be. Sure, there has been city unity on causes such as legalizing marijuana, protesting Rob McKenna's suit against health care, and taking on Village Voice Media's escort ads, but the icy relationship between McGinn and Holmes has been a huge disappointment.

I have to say, I blame McGinn. The controlled experiment is McGinn's relationship with everyone else.

Exhibit A: The city council.

McGinn also has a chilly relationship with the council (which is probably why the arena deal is on the rocks), while Holmes does not. (Holmes once went to bat for then-council president Richard Conlin against McGinn on the tunnel signature flap).

PubliCola endorsed McGinn in 2009, and we did not endorse Holmes, though we quickly became fans of his reform agenda.

Today's Seattle Times headline—"City Attorney Rebukes McGinn's DOJ Strategy"—sounds like a doozy. But at this point in the McGinn administration, it's par for the course.
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