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Originally published Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 9:03 PM

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May Day puts ‘McSchwinn’ on sweet ride

Police used bicycles as their secret weapon to defeat the May Day anarchists. So who’s laughing at Mayor McSchwinn now?

Seattle Times staff columnist

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For a guy who supposedly can do no right, things keep going curiously not wrong for Seattle’s unorthodox mayor.

Take last week. The campaign for Seattle mayor finally kicked into gear, with the first debates featuring a peloton of candidates pushing to brand lead rider Mike McGinn as bumbling and incompetent, especially when it comes to his police force.

So what happens? The May Day protests. At which Seattle police finally figured out how to handle the anarchists. Using as their secret weapons ... wait for it ... a bunch of bikes.

Police employed dozens of bicycles, helping direct the flow of the protests and then forming barriers with the bikes to block and sweep streets when some demonstrators got violent. Police experts said that while bikes for crowd control isn’t new, the stepped-up use of them this year was the key difference in limiting May Day property damage and injuries.

And they call him Mayor McSchwinn as if that’s a bad thing!

At a mayoral debate last week, the first question was about the police and the protests. The bike-in-chief beamed. The other candidates said they were pleased but didn’t look it. Then businessman candidate Charlie Staadecker piped up:

“Mayor McGinn has taken tremendous heat,” he said, turning to McGinn. “Tonight I just want to say thank you, to you and your team, for handling the scene.”

The crowd cheered. It was weird. When was the last time a Seattle mayor or our cops were applauded for a street protest? Maybe last millennium (though I don’t recall it happening then, either).

McGinn said the police were determined not to repeat mistakes made at May Day last year. Using bikes more was recommended by an outside consultant, so the department tried it.

“We studied what went wrong and made changes,” McGinn said. “We also made a conscious choice to be more assertive this year, because last year we hung back a bit too much.”

The whole campaign is going like this so far. Candidates go after McGinn for his myriad flaws and find themselves somehow blunted.

Example: State Sen. Ed Murray attacked McGinn at the debate for not working well with others. Easy shot, right? Well, it missed because Murray recently was stripped of his own title as Senate majority leader due to a coup by two members of his own party.

“I’m really glad to hear that nobody down in Olympia ever disagrees,” McGinn said to Murray, dryly.

The others seem similarly hamstrung. City Councilmember Tim Burgess is qualified and knowledgeable but at these debates has yet to show any fire.

City Councilmember Bruce Harrell is all fire — “He strokes our political erogenous zones,” quipped one onlooker — but is prone to rambling incoherence.

Former City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck seemed irked to be there — until he was asked about affordable housing and gave a detailed, positive, passionate answer. Maybe make him director of housing?

Nobody made a clear case for why McGinn should be dismissed. More important, none gave much of a reason why Seattle, where things are going pretty well, would be better off having them at the helm instead.

Maybe they figure McGinn is toast already. It’s true, his polling has been so low that conventional wisdom says he’s got long odds to even make it through the primary Aug. 6.

But would anyone have predicted that this mayor, or this police force, would get cheers, in Seattle, for their handling of a riot?

Maybe primary day will be another of those days when something goes curiously not wrong for this mayor, whom we may have to start calling Lucky McGinn.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or

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About Danny Westneat

Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to His column runs Wednesday and Sunday. | 206-464-2086

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