We've asked a crew of former and current political operatives to give us their take on the Seattle mayor's race. Here's this week's dispatch from the latest PubliCola ElectionNerd.—Editors
Despite the PubliCola reporting that inspired an ethics complaint against Ed Murray, or the Cola story on the embarrassing scandal at the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee that went down under Murray's watch (or even Erica's funny gotcha on Murray today), I hate to break it to you, but Mayor Mike McGinn is going to lose.
Even if you take the results of King 5’s poll (52-30 advantage Murray) with a heavy grain of salt (and you should), Murray’s lead in the Seattle Mayor’s race is all but insurmountable.
Even if you take the results of King 5's poll—52-30 advantage Murray—with a heavy grain of salt (and you should), Murray's lead is all but insurmountable...According to the King 5 poll, a plurality of Seattle residents believe the city is on the right track. That should be good news for an incumbent—satisfied voters aren’t usually looking to make a change.
And yet that same plurality—44 percent—disapprove of McGinn’s leadership of the city. How do you get to the point where people love what you’ve done with the place but want you out anyway? Mike McGinn has a Mike McGinn problem. There's no "snowstorm," but it looks like McGinn himself is the snowstorm.
Mike McGinn has a Mike McGinn problem.
The problem isn’t that our Mayor is unlikeable, or unpleasant. The problem is that the Mayor oppositional; he’s at his best when he’s fighting against something. You can’t fight City Hall when you run it, so McGinn has had to manufacture enemies. The list is long: Governor Gregoire, the Council, the Seattle Police Department, the Justice Department, the police union, developers, people who oppose development, and the "Establishment." Most incumbents spend a re-election campaign touting accomplishments, but the McGinn camp clearly believes they still need a bogeyman.
And so we’re treated to the bizarre strategy of trying to tag a state senator who wrote marriage equality legislation, has a 95 percent rating from labor, and a regionalist view of mass transit as “the establishment candidate.” In a city like Seattle, where the Council passes “emergency” legislation to stop the construction of visually unappealing drugstores and even the Chamber of Commerce is backing a tax hike, what does “establishment” even mean? (PubliCola tried to suss the answer to that question out of McGinn himself and even got him to acknowledge that he'd take the same "Establishment" chamber and corporate money that he derides Murray for taking.)
McGinn’s campaign would correctly point out that not every confrontation involving the Mayor is his fault. When City Attorney Pete Holmes refused to attend a public safety press conference because the Mayor would be there, it was petty politics on Holmes’ part. Holmes has let his personal feelings about McGinn color his professional judgment more than once and there is no excusing that; the childish spat that erupted in the press between Holmes and McGinn over the DOJ consent decree—and the tunnel for that matter—was as much on the Holmes as it was on McGinn.
It’s a testament to how unpopular McGinn actually is that Murray might make it to election day without ever having to say what he’ll do.
But the Mayor has a higher bar to clear when it comes to demonstrating he can build productive relationships. He’s been so confrontational for so long that the burden of proof falls to him. A majority of the City Council endorsed a Mayoral challenger for the first time in decades. That suggests deep and long-standing problems between the council and the Mayor that McGinn can’t dodge all responsibility for.
(Contrast this, by the way, with Gov. Inslee’s intervention in a labor issue on the tunnel project. It isn’t resolved, the two sides are still far apart, but Inslee talks about bringing people together, so he gets praise just for hosting a meeting).
This ElectionNerd was among those who thought the “McGinn is divisive” strategy wouldn’t get the job done for Murray' campaign, but the Mayor’s campaign seems determined to plow ahead picking fights and proving Murray right.
The Murray campaign has been far from flawless. Nearly a year in, the candidate still doesn’t display much knowledge of city issues, and doesn’t seem terribly interested in laying out anything like an agenda. It’s a testament to how unpopular McGinn actually is that Murray might make it to election day without ever having to say what he’ll do.
Looking for a more sanguine take on McGinn's chances—check out the ElectionNerd that ran in late August. —Editors