Mayor Mike McGinn has invested significant political capital in Seattle's South End, especially in social service providers. Some of these organizations have received hundreds of thousands of dollars during McGinn’s tenure. The South End was the place where he gave his mayoral victory speech to an exuberant crowd of supporters, and it was the place where he announced his reelection campaign. It was also the place where he unveiled his first city budget numbers before revealing them to the city council – a bold and unusual move. McGinn was also one of the architects of the city’s immigrant and refugee office (IRO).

Bruce Harrell has now joined the mayoral race, which raises the question – what happens to McGinn’s political capital in the South End and Central District? My answer is that it is in grave jeopardy. Harrell is from the South End, and has deep roots in that community. His father is African American, and his mother is Japanese American. He is the only minority member of the city council, and the only minority candidate in the race so far. Many minority voters will consider these criteria when they are filling out their ballots. 

Harrell, despite his status-quo, and sometimes questionable, voting record on the council (in many cases, he has voted for business interests), enjoys a fair amount of support within the city’s minority communities. Additionally, many minority community leaders and activists do not want to give the appearance of turning their back on a minority candidate trying to move up the ladder.

This is especially true when the number of minority elected officials in all levels of Washington government is dwindling at an alarming rate. Therefore, I expect that Harrell will receive a lot of interest and support from South and Central District voters, leaving McGinn with a much smaller minority base. 

McGinn’s initial strategy was to seek the support of social justice progressives, communities of color, environmentalists, and urban transportation advocates. However, this coalition of voters has become more and more fragmented, due in part to what some see as the mayor’s mishandling of city affairs. Specifically, his pro-developer policies, unpopular transportation priorities, lack of interest in police reform, and his ambiguous and often conflicting social justice values have alienated the same voters that he was trying to woo.    

Progressives and neighborhood activists are already lining up behind Peter Steinbrueck. Communities of color will most likely align themselves with Harrell. The hard-core environmentalists are not sure about McGinn, and will probably think twice before they jump back on his bandwagon. These days, McGinn’s real base is the urban elites. These voters may have sacks of money, but they have neither enough votes nor a convincing message. For this reason, some people, including myself, think that McGinn’s re-election chances are slim to nonexistent.

Here's PubliCola's in-depth Q&A with Harrell—Eds.

Yusuf Cabdi, a social-justice advocate and onetime McGinn supporter, has endorsed Steinbrueck in this year's election.

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