‘There is no mayor’s school,’ so McGinn learns on the job
Nine candidates are vying to be Seattle mayor. Times City Hall reporter Lynn Thompson sat down recently with incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn to give voters a chance to hear what’s important to him. The answers have been edited for length.
Occupation: Seattle mayor, attorney
Education: B.A. economics, Williams College, 1982; law degree, University of Washington, 1992
Home neighborhood: Greenwood
Family: Married to Peggy Lynch; three children
Hobbies: basketball, vegetable gardening
Q: You were elected in 2009. What have you learned, and what can we expect if you win a second term?
A: You have to remember that when I came in, we had really big budget deficits and a lousy economy. I had to choose department directors and get to know what the departments’ strengths and weaknesses were. I also tried to deepen ties to the community. It was really getting to understand the city.
After the first year, that’s when I really amped up the town halls, the neighborhood business-district tours and industry roundtables. That was a great way to hear from people what mattered to them. People’s words were with me when I sat around the table making hard decisions on the budget.
A final point. I review the correspondence that goes out of the mayor’s office. That was a really important way for me to see how departments are responding to the public.
There is no mayor’s school. I’m learning all the time the ways in which the mayor can move the dial on the issues people care about.
Q: What would you do to ensure the Seattle Police Department (SPD) has strong leadership and undertakes the work of reform?
A: The things I just talked about — connecting the community with the department and leadership in city government — that’s been my objective with SPD as well. We have an acting chief, Jim Pugel. Pugel’s directions are clear: Work with the monitor, implement the settlement agreement (with the Department of Justice).
The other thing that will help is the appointment of the Community Police Commission. This is historic. We have critics of the department and union members sitting at the same table with other community leaders.
Q: Seattle has a $1.8 billion backlog in deferred maintenance for transportation infrastructure such as arterial streets and bridges. That’s despite a $365 million Bridging the Gap levy passed in 2006 that was meant to catch us up. How would you address that?
A: Let’s be really clear. This is the legacy of decades of elected leaders prioritizing shiny new megaprojects over basic maintenance, and I’ve been trying to reverse that trend. I have prioritized basic infrastructure, the seawall, South Park Bridge. We have taken over $30 million in savings from the Spokane Street project and new excise-tax revenue and put it into basic maintenance.
That’s not going to be enough, given the size of this. Renewing the levy will help. I’ve also worked with other mayors and elected officials from around the state to support a local-funding option that will also fund transit. It may not pass because the Legislature is holding the local transit and street funding hostage to megaprojects.
Q: What’s your strategy for getting through a crowded primary?
A: I’m going to speak about what we’ve done and what we’re going to do. We’ve balanced the budget. We’ve added to the city’s rainy-day fund while protecting human services and public safety. We’ve also got a transit master plan under way. We’ve put more money into education through the Families and Education levy. We’ve supported our libraries. And we’re going to keep working to expand broadband, which is infrastructure for the future. And we’ll work every day on jobs and public safety.
Q: How would you balance growth with quality of life and protecting single-family neighborhoods?
A: We need to make sure we continue to invest in parks and open space. It’s also very important to invest in transit. As we see growth, we’re not going to be able to accommodate our mobility needs by cars alone. We need to make it easier and safer for people to walk, take transit and ride bicycles.
Q: It seems ironic that you criticized shiny new megaprojects over basic maintenance when you want to build light rail to Ballard and put an expensive new bridge over the Ship Canal. Isn’t that a shiny new project?
A: These are substantial lifts, but they are nowhere near the multibillions that the state is trying to find for other projects. If we look at where our choke points are in the city, the Ship Canal is a huge one. We’re talking about a bridge that would support transit, biking and walking. That would relieve the pressure on the other bridges for auto traffic as well. For me, this is a basic infrastructure project for a growing city.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @lthompsontimes