Standing in the yard of his single-family home in North Seattle Monday, former mayor Mike McGinn announced he was running for his old position again as a champion of the little guy—the small business getting squeezed out by rising taxes, or “the people who helped make this city what it is [who are] being pushed out by growth.”
Both the setting and the tone were a departure for McGinn, who ran for his first term as a Vulcan-backed advocate for density, urbanism, and—lest it be forgotten—GROWTH.
In a PubliCola endorsement of McGinn in 2009, my former colleague Josh Feit and I wrote:
Ever since 2004, when Mike McGinn emerged as a Greenwood neighborhood leader and reclaimed the vaunted role of “neighborhood activist” from the anti-urban reactionaries who had dominated local politics for so long, he has been shattering the status quo and pointing Seattle in the right direction. His first victory: Turning the Greenwood Community Council into a platform for green density, pedestrian-oriented streets, and smart development.
Even before he ran for office, McGinn was a friend to developers; for example, his green urbanist organization Great City was bankrolled by companies like Vulcan and Triad Development and advocacy groups like the Master Builders Association. So it was a bit jarring to see the onetime density advocate standing proudly in his single-family yard and denouncing property taxes and growth as the reason for rising rents.
Likewise, it was odd to hear a candidate who was once a passionate advocate for a tax on sugary soda—McGinn’s tax, which Murray did not support, would have paid for parks—speak out against raising revenues through additional taxes, finding savings instead through efficiencies and increasing revenues through a city income tax. (McGinn, an attorney, surely knows a city income tax is unlikely to pass legal muster).
And it was, frankly, jaw-dropping to hear McGinn suggest that the city should reverse the course it has set under Murray (who has worked to involve traditionally underrepresented groups in the Seattle process) and get traditional neighborhood activists more involved in city planning; as mayor, McGinn was never one to pander to lowest-common-denominator NIMBYism, although many on the left (including socialist council member Kshama Sawant and Position 8 candidate Jon Grant) have certainly cozied up to anti-growth homeowner activists since McGinn’s 2013 defeat. By extending an olive branch to density opponents of all stripes, including homeowners who believe new neighbors will harm their ever-rising property values, McGinn may simply be acknowledging the new political reality—candidates who want to flank pro-growth incumbents like Murray from the left have started taking the view that density and affordability are at odds.
On the other hand, it’s entirely possible McGinn hasn’t put together a coherent campaign plan yet. Everything about his announcement—from the slapped together logo to the grammatically confusing slogan (“Keep Seattle” may be 2017’s “Mike Listens“) to the fact that, so far, McGinn’s campaign lacks both a website and an endorsement list—suggests that the former mayor arrived at his decision to run not long after news broke about a sexual abuse lawsuit against Murray.
Murray, who beat McGinn 52 to 48 in their initial matchup, obviously considers McGinn a credible threat. Just 12 minutes after McGinn’s morning press conference got underway, Murray’s campaign issued a statement touting what the campaign described as Murray’s accomplishments and McGinn’s failures, and concluding: “We believe that the people of Seattle do not want to return to those bad old days of failed and divisive governance. We look forward to drawing a clear contrast between Mayor Murray’s stellar record effective, progressive leadership and the track records of all of the other candidates in the race.”
“Contrast” usually translates as “negative campaigning,” and indeed, the famously combative current mayor—whose response to a lawsuit alleging he sexually abused a teenage boy was to hand reporters a medical exam that included a description of his genitals—had this to say about his equally pugnacious two-time opponent: “Mike McGinn picked fights with everyone under the sun. He attacked our Democratic governor, calling her a liar. He fought the Obama Dept. of Justice on police reform. He fought with our U.S. Attorney. He fought with our City Attorney. He fought with the City Council.”
No doubt, the mayoral campaign just got a lot more interesting—Murray and McGinn are worthy combatants, and McGinn, at least, is clearly raring for a rematch. But with two big-egoed men who like to hear themselves talk thumping their chests in the foreground, will other voices—like Nikkita Oliver, who previously occupied the campaign’s lefty spot, or a second female candidate (perhaps activist Cary Moon?), who is rumored to be announcing Wednesday—get drowned out?
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