75% of Seattle voters picking someone besides Nickels in race for mayor
Even if Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels squeaks into the general election, he is in big political trouble. Environmentalist Mike McGinn held a tiny lead in Tuesday's primary with about half the expected votes counted. T-Mobile executive Joe Mallahan was slightly ahead of Nickels for the second slot in the Nov. 3 general election.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Even if Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels squeaks into the general election, he is in big political trouble.
Environmentalist Mike McGinn held a tiny lead in Tuesday's primary with about half the expected votes counted. T-Mobile executive Joe Mallahan was slightly ahead of Nickels for the second slot in the Nov. 3 general election.
With partial returns showing about 75 percent of city voters picking someone else in the primary, the results confirmed Nickels' vulnerability.
"It appears that the mayor is in a very deep hole," said political consultant Michael Grossman, who is not working for any of the candidates. "Even if he ekes out a first or second place ... he's going to have to make this a referendum on whomever gets through."
Nickels has never been very popular. His job-approval ratings were low even in the spring. Critics said his aggressive style alienated people.
After the city's poor response to a snowstorm in December, he drew criticism for being out of touch when he gave the city a "B" for its response. It was later revealed that a consultant's report, prepared months before the snowstorm, had documented major management problems within the city's transportation department.
McGinn garnered 26.58 percent of the votes counted. Mallahan received 25.77 percent of the vote, and Nickels got 25.06.
King County officials say it will take the rest of the week to count the remaining votes. Even then, the final outcome could be in doubt: State law requires an automatic machine recount if two candidates are separated by fewer than 2,000 votes and a margin of less than one-half of 1 percent of total votes cast.
At the McGinn party Tuesday night at a Capitol Hill bar, cheers broke out among supporters when the election results were posted. About 10 minutes later, McGinn arrived and the party moved to the parking lot, where the candidate gave a short speech.
"We went to talk to the people of Seattle about the kind of future they wanted, and I think our message kind of resonated," he said. "Even though we were outspent ... just the power of talking to people about ideas the choices we need to make and the priorities we need to make helped us really connect."
McGinn, a lawyer, a Greenwood neighborhood activist and a Sierra Club volunteer, wrapped his low-budget campaign around a single issue: his opposition to a tunnel planned for the waterfront to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Nickels has championed a tunnel and reached an agreement with county and state leaders earlier this year to build it. The anti-tunnel message appeared to be effective: McGinn's fellow Sierra Club leader, Seattle City Council candidate Mike O'Brien, soared above five opponents by emphasizing his opposition to the tunnel.
"So many of these older voters who are pretty vested in Seattle ... felt uncomfortable enough with the economic issues that they would basically back a couple of single-issue candidates," said political consultant Blair Butterworth, who worked on the unsuccessful mayoral campaign of City Council member Jan Drago.
It was subdued at Nickels' party in Sodo. Supporters were silent as they stared at their BlackBerrys and other mobile devices checking results.
Speaking to the crowd, Nickels said the voters were "insecure" and "grumpy." But, he said, he was confident he would make it through to the general election.
"I said I expected the election to be close, and it is," he told a crowd of about 200 supporters. "I haven't always gotten it right, but I worked hard to know this city and its people, and we have made progress."
Tuesday's results had echoes of Nickels' first run for mayor in 2001, when he and then-City Attorney Mark Sidran ousted incumbent Paul Schell in the primary.
In his last re-election bid in 2005, Nickels emerged from the primary with 57 percent of the vote. His opponent in the general, Al Runte, had 22 percent.
A jubilant Mallahan arrived at his campaign party a little after 8 p.m. to chants of "Joe, Joe, Joe."
"Wow. Boy, I think Greg's slur campaign seemed to hurt him more than me," said Mallahan.
Nickels spent more than $500,000, running an attack ad against Mallahan and negative robo-calls against McGinn. Nickels ran other ads admitting to making mistakes as mayor.
Nickels, who was a Metropolitan King County Council member before first being elected mayor in 2001, is the ultimate political insider. The mayor has been involved in Democratic politics since high school.
In two terms as mayor, he has earned a national reputation for his leadership on climate-change issues. During the spring, he became president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Mallahan, a vice president at T-Mobile who lives in Wallingford, entered the race with virtually no political experience. He made headlines early by writing his campaign a $200,000 personal check, then gained momentum among Democratic activists and district organizations. While Mallahan hired an experienced campaign staff, McGinn seemed at times to be running his campaign with little more than a bicycle and an iPhone. He spent about $87,000 for his campaign.
Small-business owner and former Seattle Sonic James Donaldson and City Council member Jan Drago were both considered serious contenders during the campaign, but trailed in partial results Tuesday.
In addition to the possibility of an automatic recount, candidates also can ask for a recount within three days of the Sept. 2 certification of the primary vote. The requesting candidate has to pay for it.
Seattle Times reporters Nicole Tsong, Steve Miletich, Jim Brunner, Lynda V. Mapes and Susan Kelleher contributed to this report.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246
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