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Originally published January 9, 2013 at 8:25 PM | Page modified January 9, 2013 at 11:39 PM

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Amid buzz about Kings sale, McGinn says he'll run again

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced his re-election campaign before an ethnically diverse group of cheering community activists, likely a peek at his strategy for re-election.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Sounding more confident than combative, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced his re-election campaign in a small but crowded room at the Filipino Community Center in Southeast Seattle before an ethnically diverse group of cheering community activists, likely a peek at his strategy for re-election.

Notably absent were any of the city's political or business leaders, with the exception of City Councilmember Mike O'Brien, an old friend and fellow former Sierra Club activist who said he is impressed with McGinn's commitment to the environment and social justice.

The crowd was swelled by dozens of reporters chasing rumors of the possible purchase of the Sacramento Kings by investor Chris Hansen. McGinn worked closely with Hansen through much of the past 18 months to negotiate a deal for public financing of a new sports arena.

Recognizing that the media, at least, might be more eager for news of the Kings than for his own declaration, McGinn opened his remarks by saying: "I don't know any more than you do, but if it's true, ain't it cool?"

The arena deal — to build a $490 million sports-and-entertainment venue without new taxes or a contribution from the city's general fund — might be the highest-profile accomplishment of McGinn's first term.

But it also highlights some of the things that make McGinn a popular political target.

He spent the first two years in office attacking city and state leaders for their support of the deep-bore Highway 99 tunnel and accused them of supporting a "backroom deal" with the state.

But his own negotiations with Hansen, a wealthy Seattle native, were conducted in secret without consulting City Council members or important city partners, including the Port of Seattle and maritime labor unions, who are suing to stop the arena from being built in Sodo.

On Wednesday, McGinn pointed to his accomplishments, including preservation of social services and police protection in the face of deep budget cuts and his work for improved transit and an expanded Families and Education levy.

"How we worked on these issues is as important as what we worked on. We did it by listening to you," McGinn said.

The mayor declined to address the number of A-list opponents who have filed to run against him, with many sensing vulnerability in an elected leader who a year ago had a 33 percent approval rating. Among those who have declared for mayor are state Sen. Ed Murray, City Councilmember Tim Burgess and former Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck.

While McGinn's emphasis on improved education and transit is similar to his platform of four years ago, it also showed a changed understanding of the mayor's role. Instead of vowing to take over Seattle Public Schools if the district didn't improve, he said Wednesday he would launch an initiative to strengthen early learning.

Instead of promising changes to Metro Transit, which is a King County agency, McGinn said he would seek a Seattle-only ballot measure to expand light rail.

"I am proud of what we've done and look forward to working on the future together," McGinn said.

The announcement was a contrast from the small group at a Capitol Hill pizzeria four years ago when the largely unknown Sierra Club activist declared his longshot challenge to two-term incumbent Mayor Greg Nickels.

McGinn didn't mention any failings of his first term: the overwhelming voter approval of the Highway 99 tunnel in an advisory ballot or the voters' defeat of a $60 car-tab measure that would have paid for expanded light rail.

The mayor's decision to announce his re-election at a South End community center showed a broadening of his base from his first campaign, when he relied heavily on volunteer efforts of young urban environmentalists.

But even in 2009, McGinn saw an opportunity to win support from former Nickels backers in the neighborhoods south of Interstate 90. He opened his campaign office then at Martin Luther King Jr. Way South and South Othello Street, far from his Greenwood home, in part to court those voters.

The mayor on Wednesday was flanked by several of his re-election campaign co-chairs: Estela Ortega, executive director of El Centro de la Raza; Tony Lee, an advocate for low-income housing; and Kip Tokuda, a former state representative.

Ortega led the audience with a chant of "Viva McGinn!" and praised the mayor for a willingness to listen to communities of color, which she said don't always have a voice at City Hall.

Tokuda praised other accomplishments, including the mayor's plans for more density in South Lake Union, the arena deal and McGinn's plans to expand broadband to city neighborhoods.

Tokuda acknowledged that McGinn has often seemed to lack some fundamental political attributes, such as working well with others or diplomacy.

"He's had a growth curve," Tokuda said, but he added that's common among first-term mayors. "Part of his attraction is that he isn't a career politician. He stands up for what he believes in."

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or lthompson@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @lthompsontimes.

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