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Originally published November 5, 2013 at 9:33 PM | Page modified November 5, 2013 at 11:13 PM

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McGinn’s way not Seattle’s way, but he could be back

Voters fired Mayor Mike McGinn Tuesday, deciding he wasn’t Seattle nice enough. Is he done with politics? I bet not.


Seattle Times staff columnist

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The truth about Seattle politics is we don’t want a liberal bomb thrower. We want a liberal committee-chairer!

That, more than anything about policy or performance, is what did in our rookie mayor, Mike McGinn. He just wasn’t Seattle nice enough.

Voters fired him Tuesday — choosing instead, by a wide margin, the liberal consensus builder, state Sen. Ed Murray.

The defeat makes McGinn the third Seattle mayor in a row to be tossed by the people. The first were run out for botching riots and snowstorms. McGinn? He wore out his welcome more due to style.

The mayor who won the job by vowing to upend the usual top-down relationship between City Hall and its citizens never got much love back from the bottom up.

His approach, of using citizen outreach to empower a green, urban activism, was real enough. But his Election Day vote total back in 2009, 51 percent, would turn out to be the most popular he ever got.

On paper he seemed like a mayor Seattle could love, with the bicycling and the beard and the lefty, power-to-the-people politics.

He also didn’t do a bad job. The budget is balanced, jobs are up and the city is booming. His administration has been scandal-free.

And yet ... McGinn just stuck in Seattle’s craw.

It started as soon as he got into office, when he flipped on a late-campaign pledge to not stand in the way of the Alaskan Way tunnel project. I don’t think he ever fully recovered from that. Then came a series of moves alienating some city workers, the City Council and scores of other elected officials from the governor on down.

McGinn isn’t personally unlikable. He’s oppositional. It’s his way.

It just isn’t Seattle’s way.

“I thought I could charge in and change everything at once,” was the way McGinn explained how he got off on a well-meaning, but wrong, foot.

Contrast him to the other Green Mike, City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, also a Sierra Club activist. Like McGinn, O’Brien vaulted into politics first through work on environmental issues and then by crusading against the downtown tunnel project.

But O’Brien isn’t so divisive. He pushes his agenda without alienating the other side. And he won re-election Tuesday, on a platform nearly identical to McGinn’s, by 30 percentage points.

Then there’s Murray, the new mayor-elect. Murray’s been through so many policy battles — many of them losing ones — in an 18-year legislative career that it would never occur to him to try to “charge in and change everything at once.”

Murray’s favorite word during the campaign, other than “pragmatic,” was “incremental.” Boring!

But pragmatic incrementalism seems to work for Seattleites, most of whom like the city the way it is and aren’t clamoring for huge changes anyway.

On that note, it appears the socialist candidate, Kshama Sawant, will fall short in her campaign to truly alter the makeup of city politics. She is losing to longtime incumbent City Councilmember Richard Conlin.

But the new mayor, Murray, and the old council, all of whom are coming back, will return to a political landscape tilting ever leftward. Not only did a socialist almost win in Seattle, but SeaTac voters appeared to be passing a $15 minimum wage for airport-related businesses.

All of that makes it a virtual certainty Seattle will pick up the minimum-wage issue in 2014 in some form.

As for McGinn, he’s down. But after rocketing into politics, is he now out?

I bet not. He is gifted at civic activism. I’ve heard some citizens say they’ve never felt as listened to, or as empowered, as they did by the McGinn administration.

The best place for an activist probably isn’t the mayor’s office anyway. But City Council, or the Legislature, or even Congress?

There’s probably a home for our bomb-thrower of an ex-mayor. Now that he’s been evicted from City Hall, he just needs to find it.

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



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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 dwestneat@seattletimes.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
dwestneat@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2086

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