Department of Good Timing: Just as Seattle politics appeared to be imploding, up stepped the best crop of mayoral candidates in 50 years (at least by one rating service’s estimation).
For a city as overflowing with promise as Seattle, we’ve always struggled noticeably in one area: producing top-tier political talent.
And for a time this spring, after Seattle Mayor Ed Murray was hobbled by explosive allegations of sex abuse, it appeared the West Coast’s rocket ship of a city might fly rudderless, with no one really at the political helm at all.
But something unexpected materialized on the way to the Aug. 1 primary: the deepest, smartest field of mayoral candidates this city has seen in decades.
Rosy hyperbole? Maybe so (program note: carping Danny will be back in his regularly scheduled spot next week). But after attending some forums and listening to the candidates spar it out, it hit me that there’s a reason this campaign, for all its importance, hasn’t generated a ton of news.
It’s because they aren’t messing up. They know their stuff. It’s one of higher-level, nuanced debates we’ve had around here.
It isn’t just me who thinks this. The Municipal League of King County has been using citizen volunteers to interview and rate candidates for a century. This year’s Seattle mayoral field got by far the highest rankings in the past 50 years (that’s as far back as I looked).
The Muni League approaches it as a job interview: Do the candidates have the background and the skills to be mayor? This time, three earned the top grade of “outstanding.”
No Seattle mayoral field going back to 1977 has had more than one “outstanding” candidate. And in four elections — 2001, 1989, 1985 and 1981 — the medal-deserving volunteers couldn’t find a single candidate that earned an A grade.
The A grades this time went to former state Rep. Jessyn Farrell, state Sen. Bob Hasegawa and former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan.
A mayor is a community organizer that also has to get things done, as I think infamous ex-mayor Sarah Palin once said. There are mundane but critical tasks like managing 12,000 employees and shoveling the snow (see Nickels, Greg). But of late the Seattle mayor also happens to run one of the West Coast’s most-watched political operations.
Who can do both?
Farrell has managed a nonprofit transit group and also run multiple successful political campaigns. Hasegawa has headed a 6,000-member union and also been elected to the state legislature six times. Durkan has run the 140-person U.S. Attorney’s Office here and also been a Democratic power broker for decades.
The only other candidate with some managerial and political chops is Mike McGinn (he’s actually been the mayor). The League gave him a B grade — “very good” — probably downgrading him for not doing much in the four years since losing to Murray.
Durkan is super-competent and a strong choice if you like outgoing Mayor Murray’s slant (Democrat liberal, not tear-down-the-joint liberal). She’s fierce enough to stand up to interest groups (though to which ones remains to be seen). One worry I have is that she’ll run a top-down shop at City Hall — as suggested by her own favored hashtag, “#bosslady.” That’s not the soothing world of facilitated consultation to which Seattle has become accustomed.
Farrell might be the rising star for the Seattle technopolis. A mediation lawyer, she’s all about facilitation and has forgotten more about land-use and transit policy than most politicians ever know. She’s the ‘densinista’ candidate, who argues that our real growth problem is we’re not building fast enough.
Hasegawa meanwhile is your candidate if you feel Seattle is too much the puppet of developers and technocratic corporate elites. He’s a truck driver who’s not afraid to tell a roomful of pedestrian activists that freight mobility is the true heartbeat of the city. Yet he’s also a Bernie Sanders populist who’s calling to make the buses free.
I haven’t even mentioned the two smartest candidates. Urban planner Cary Moon and educator Nikkita Oliver often drive the mayoral debates with their ideas. Neither has much experience for the job, especially on the managerial side, yet both still earned “very good” ratings from the Muni League.
If all of this is too much, there’s always McGinn again. Or as he’s hoping, a new McGinning.
For far more detail, I highly recommend The Seattle Times’ excellent online guide.
Three months ago, it looked like we might be in for a bruised Murray-McGinn do-over. “A replay between two dented politicians cries out for some fresh contestants,” I wrote then.
The good news is: We got them. For that alone, Seattle’s political future looks a little steadier.