After Mayor Mike McGinn’s eight challengers spent six months attacking his leadership and style, even McGinn’s own campaign was preparing for him to be in third place in Tuesday’s primary-election returns.
But instead McGinn — along with state Sen. Ed Murray — easily advanced to the November general election.
As of Wednesday, with about 18,000 more votes tallied, Murray continued to lead with 30 percent of the vote. McGinn was trending upward, with nearly 28 percent of the vote.
The next nearest challengers, former City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck and current Councilmember Bruce Harrell were a distant third and fourth with 16 and 15 percent, respectively.
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As in his insurgent election in 2009, McGinn crafted an outsider coalition of environmentalists, transit and bike advocates, social- justice and minority communities — and some spirited Sonics supporters for good measure.
But the mayor faces another tough battle in the general election and far fewer opponents to divide the vote. He already has painted Murray — a liberal in any other city — as the establishment candidate, with backing from the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and downtown developers.
Murray countered with a primary-night victory speech that listed virtually identical priorities for the city as McGinn’s — light rail, transit, the environment, education and better social services — but said he has the experience and relationships to advance those goals.
Murray also renewed his call for new leadership of the Seattle Police Department, an issue upon which McGinn was silent in his own victory speech.
The decisive Tuesday results were a relief to McGinn’s campaign, which had warned he might struggle to get through the primary. McGinn’s top-two finish means he dodged the fate of recent mayors who failed to get past the primary elections: Paul Schell in 2001 and Greg Nickels in 2009.
John Wyble, McGinn’s political consultant, credited the campaign’s volunteer operation for bringing out voters, including some who might have otherwise sat out the summer primary.
The McGinn campaign said it made more than 100,000 phone calls to voters before the primary, and had volunteers who reached out to immigrant communities speaking Vietnamese, Tagalog, Spanish and other languages.
Wyble said McGinn also benefited from his effort to block a proposed Whole Foods store in West Seattle over wage complaints raised by unions.
McGinn told the city’s transportation department in a July 15 letter to recommend denial of a key alley vacation needed for the project — a largely symbolic gesture since the alley decision rests in the hands of the City Council.
“It wasn’t necessarily about Whole Foods, but it was this values statement — it said to a whole bunch of people, ‘Oh there he is, there’s the guy I am looking for,’ ” Wyble said.
Moving forward, Wyble said, Seattle voters will want to hear more from Murray than criticisms of McGinn’s sometimes divisive style.
Murray spokesman Sandeep Kaushik said Murray will roll out more specific policy papers in the coming weeks.
Kaushik agreed Tuesday’s primary outcome was likely swayed by the strength of the Murray and McGinn ground games. Murray had hundreds of volunteers who made more than 25,000 phone calls in the final two days before the primary.
Just as McGinn had lowered expectations for the primary vote, Murray’s campaign signaled he might begin the general-election matchup behind in polls.
The November election will include tens of thousands of voters who sat out the primary and paid little attention, Kaushik said.
“We start with those voters in the same place we started with the universe of primary voters a few months ago. They don’t know Ed very well at all,” Kaushik said. “It doesn’t mean we’re in a bad place. It means we have work to do.”
Besides McGinn’s strong showing, the other surprise was how far behind Steinbrueck and Harrell finished. Steinbrueck declared Tuesday night the election was far from over, but by Wednesday morning he had called Murray and McGinn to congratulate them on advancing to November.
Steinbrueck attributed his distant third-place finish in large part to the amount of money Murray and McGinn amassed for the primary. Murray led all candidates with $425,000. A largely business-backed PAC raised an additional $134,000 to support him.
McGinn raised $285,000 plus a crucial $65,000 in PAC money from the hospitality workers union, Unite Here Local 8, and the grocery workers union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21.
“An enormous amount of money poured in,” said Steinbrueck, who trailed in fundraising among the top four contenders, with $184,000. “It’s a troubling trend in city elections. Even if we move to public financing, that won’t address the independent expenditures.”
McGinn’s strong courting of minority voters also might have hurt Harrell, who has enjoyed strong support from communities of color in his previous two council races.
Harrell’s campaign manager, niece Monisha Harrell, said McGinn used the power of incumbency to direct city dollars to social-service agencies in Rainier Valley and to appoint minorities to city boards and commissions.
She noted that even the city’s African-American newspaper, The Medium, endorsed McGinn and Steinbrueck over Harrell, who is of Japanese-American and African-American heritage.
Neither Harrell nor Steinbrueck was willing Wednesday to endorse either finalist.
McGinn did pick up the support of RealChange founding director Tim Harris, who had endorsed Steinbrueck in the primary.
“McGinn is still the grass-roots, populist outsider not beholden to anyone,” said Harris.
The race is shaping up as a battle over who’s the more progressive candidate and who’s more effective at advancing a progressive agenda.
Political consultant and former Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis, a Murray supporter, said McGinn won’t make a lot of inroads attacking Murray as the establishment candidate backed by the Chamber.
“We’re talking about REI, Amazon, companies that are driving the city’s prosperity,” Ceis said.
Critics say McGinn also remains vulnerable to concerns about his combative relationships with city and state officials. And he’s led the Seattle Police Department as it faced a federal investigation and findings of excessive use of force, particularly against minorities.
“The issues related to the Police Department show no traction in terms of getting solved,” said Tina Podlodowski, a former city council member and a McGinn appointee to the Community Police Commission, which was created to implement and oversee the federally mandated reforms.
Podlodowski, who supports Murray, said McGinn has appointed few women to leadership positions in the city and said he doesn’t have strong ties to the LGBT community.
“That will not go unnoticed,” she said.
But McGinn retains a strong following among young urban activists who feel a sense of urgency about climate change and see McGinn as someone willing to back up his vision with city funding, said Evan Manvel, policy director for the Cascade Bicycle Club.
“His leadership to create safe spaces to get around the city is so much stronger than any other candidate. He’s willing to invest in the vision,” Manvel said.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @lthompsontimes
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or email@example.com. On Twitter: @Jim_Brunner