After some epic losses last year, such as his crusade against a downtown tunnel for Highway 99 being rejected by voters, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn might be on a streak with a week of victories.
A year and a half ago, a local talk radio host summed up Seattle’s lightning rod of a mayor like this:
“I honestly believe that Mayor Mike McGinn is the worst office holder in any major office I have ever heard of or read about in the history of the United States.”
Holy hyperbole! That was from the nationally syndicated conservative talker Michael Medved. Who, granted, probably hasn’t much loved any mayor from our liberal city.
But the worst thing for the mayor about that quote? It was that nobody disputed the general gist of it. No one defended McGinn. Not strenuously, anyway.
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Then things got worse. McGinn’s crusade against a downtown tunnel for Highway 99 was rejected by voters in landslide proportions.
We sure hate our mayor, I wrote the day after that vote, in August 2011. Yes, I also exaggerated, to make a point. Which was that McGinn at the time sported an approval rating of 22 percent, a mark so low it was nearing a special circle of hateability occupied only by the likes of Dick Cheney.
Bottom line: McGinn was a dead man walking, politically speaking. Or I guess dead man bicycling.
So has anyone else noticed that this loser of ours is on quite the win streak?
Just take last week. Call this hyperbole if you want, but it was one the best weeks any Seattle mayor has had in years.
First up, the budget. McGinn declared the city’s financial problems over, for now, due to Seattle having what everybody else craves: jobs. Since the recession ended, in 2009, the city’s job growth under this supposedly anti-business mayor has been nearly four times the rate of the rest of the state.
Next, there’s the half-billion dollar Sodo arena, which got approved by his nemesis, the City Council. True, they refined it to get a better deal. But the deal probably wouldn’t have happened at all if McGinn hadn’t first put out an “open for business” sign to investor Chris Hansen a year ago.
Whatever your views on the city loaning money for pro sports, the outcome goes against all the main McGinn stereotypes — that he works poorly with others, hates business, hates cars, hates anything that attracts cars, and so on.
Then McGinn won his war with Seattle Weekly, which blinked first and severed its ties with the escort-ad site Backpage.com. McGinn had gotten 50 other mayors, from New York City to L.A., to pressure the site to stop letting minors place sex ads. The victory is symbolic, but still — politicians don’t often win fights with newspapers.
Finally, McGinn, along with Councilman Nick Licata, succeeded in capping Seattle’s usurious, sky’s-the-limit private towing rates. As one reader emailed me: “They did something that genuinely helps car drivers. What’s gotten into City Hall?”
Don’t know, but add it all up and that is one strong week. That would make a strong month, even year, for many mayors. Let alone the world’s worst.
What’s going on here? Is it luck — a blind squirrel blundering onto caches of nuts? Or does Seattle secretly have a good mayor? So secret nobody knows it?
I think epic failure helped McGinn. He still shows signs of the go-it-alone belligerence that got him so isolated on the tunnel. But his impulse then was to spearhead a rebellious ballot fight, like he was Tim Eyman instead of someone running a city.
Now, even when his back’s to the wall, as when the Department of Justice had the heat on the police this past summer, in the end he cut a deal. That’s more what we expect our mayors to do. What we need them to do.
Who knows what voters think of this new McGinn. So I wouldn’t dub him the comeback kid just yet.
But many more weeks like this past one, and the worst mayor in the history of the universe might end up, paradoxically, good enough for a majority of Seattle.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.