No matter their ultimate veracity, the sex abuse allegations against Mayor Murray will make for a chaotic mayoral race this summer and fall, with everything suddenly seeming possible. Murray could resign before the primary, he could survive into the general as a wounded candidate, or he could emerge victorious if the field becomes crowded and dilutes the anti-Murray vote.
To everyone’s surprise, yesterday morning former Mayor Mike McGinn threw his hat into the ring once again. Long seen as a one-and-done Mayor who left few friends at City Hall, what is McGinn’s legacy? Does he stand a chance?
First things first, McGinn was nearly always right on the substance of growth and transit issues. A friend of the blog and endorsed by STB in 2009 and 2013, McGinn took the hottest of the early ‘bikelash’ heat from the mainstream press, famously earning the moniker of Mayor McSchwinn. His passion for a calmer, safer city that prioritized people rather than vehicles is undoubtedly one of his best legacies.
He was unflinchingly pro-transit, albeit sometimes in ways that made him seem erratic or indiscriminate. He called for another Ship Canal bridge at 3rd Avenue West, a long overdue idea that still needs to happen. He wanted rail to Ballard, and got pre-ST3 studies funded. But he also waffled on grade separation, pitching MAX-style streetcars instead. He often seemed to favor set-piece, symbolic transit that made for attractive, European cityscapes, but he also lacked a passion for optimizing transit’s capacity and performance.
He was an untraditional candidate and mayor, in ways that both helped and hurt him. You could often see him cycling down 5th Avenue towards City Hall, looking like a quintessentially Pacific Northwest, disheveled everyman. His reputation as a go-it-alone, process-eschewing mayor was well deserved.
In McGinn’s defense, let’s remember that in 2009 the economy was terrible, money was tight, and everyone was angry. The SR 99 debacle was approaching its Gregoire-era strongarmed finale, with a tunnel no one really wanted (but no majority wanted any of the other options either). Into this morass McGinn benefited from both anti-tunnel and anti-Nickels fever, and he then triumphed over the milquetoast weakness of Joe Mallahan. He emerged as a victorious neophyte, and it showed.
He was brash and passionate and had a steep learning curve on which backs you have to scratch to get things done. He announced his budget and dropped a seawall ballot measure without talking to Council. He burned bridges quickly, and they never really got rebuilt.
Which is really too bad, because he grew in office and became a much better Mayor by the end. His early missteps hardened public perception of him unfairly, and much of the opposition to his policies began to look like anti-McGinn obstructionism. Against this reputation, the powers that be desperately wanted a traditional candidate, and Senator Ed Murray checked all the boxes and more. This coalition propelled Murray to a 52-48 victory.
So who is McGinn 2017? His press conference yesterday left a mixed taste in urbanist mouths. He made his traditional comments supporting growth and transit, and he called for progressive taxation via a city income tax. But he also sounded worryingly NIMBY, calling for more process on housing, and an increased role for neighborhoods in planning and development. He sounded much more anti-tax than usual, criticizing property tax levies that he said threatened to turn us into San Francisco.
Perhaps McGinn knows he can’t (and shouldn’t) run to the left of Nikkita Oliver, and that Murray will likely hold much of the neoliberal center and whatever exists of a “Seattle right”. If McGinn’s olive branch to neighborhoods is a way for him to try to hold the urbanist left while peeling off the anti-Murray neighborhood vote, it may be good triangulated politics. But it’s not coherent from a policy perspective, and increased calls for process will make most of us groan.
It’ll be interesting to see who McGinn’s constituency is this time around. If Murray survives, most of us think he’s done a pretty good job on urbanist issues. The left flank is far likelier to be excited by Nikkita Oliver, who brings a ton of energy and freshness to the race, even as her comments on housing are worrying. The bike-and-greenways crowd will be split between Andres Salomon and McGinn. Who votes for McGinn 2017? Let us know what you think in the comments.