With Mike McGinn’s reprise entry into the Seattle mayoral race, the prospect of a replay between two dented politicians cries out for some fresh contestants.
Before retiring from office, just as the campaign to replace him was kicking off in earnest, Barack Obama issued what turned out to be one of the best observations about politics in our time.
What voters want, almost above all else, is “that new-car smell,” he said. This was right before America in fact did choose an erratic, never-before-seen model, instead of the seasoned brand with decades of experience.
“We get impatient for the next thing,” Obama mused, prophetically.
I bring this up now because the hankering for that new-car smell is about to become a theme in the biggest race in local politics, for Seattle mayor.
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On Monday I went out to the endearingly shabby Greenwood yard of Mike McGinn to hear the former mayor’s case for why voters should give him a second chance. He announced he’s running against embattled current Mayor Ed Murray, who is facing allegations he sexually abused teens 30 years ago.
McGinn tried his damndest to sound fresh. Right out of the gate he launched a populist broadside at Seattle’s pell-mell growth and how City Hall kowtows to developers. This was sure new, because when he was in office just a bit over three years ago, he was as pro-density and pro-development as any Seattle mayor in memory.
“The people who have helped make this city what it is, made it so attractive, are the people being pushed out by the growth,” McGinn 2.0 said Monday.
This can be the downside of having experience in politics. Often your past policy positions, failures and fights, all of which are an inevitable part of the game, instead come off as baggage.
So it occurred to me, listening to his “Let’s McGinn Again” pitch, that the two lead cars in this race both now have some serious dents and mileage on them. The cloud around Murray and the moss on McGinn practically cry out for fresh contestants.
“I sure think there’s a path that’s wide open,” says local political consultant Cathy Allen. “There are going to be newcomers entering this race, or at least there should be.”
On Wednesday, on cue, waterfront activist and urbanist Cary Moon announced she is a candidate. Like McGinn, she opposed the tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct — a fight they lost together. So it’s unclear how her candidacy might affect the race.
Allen said the situation is ripe for more new faces as city voters may subconsciously decide that “we just don’t want to deal with these two anymore” — meaning Murray and McGinn.
McGinn seemed attuned to that at his kickoff, and so seemed eager to remake himself. It was only a few years ago that he dubbed himself “the most progressive mayor in America.” But on Monday he lit into the current mayor from the opposite direction — from the right, saying Murray spends and taxes too much.
“The solution for every problem from this mayor and City Council is a new tax,” McGinn said.
This critique is true. One of McGinn’s unsung accomplishments as mayor was his overall fiscal moderation (by Seattle standards, anyway). Spending under McGinn went up 13 percent in four years, while under Murray it has escalated 22 percent in just the first three.
But McGinn instantly muddied that contrast by calling for a citywide income tax, which almost certainly would be challenged in court. It was confusing. If we’re spending too much, why do we need another new tax? A legally dubious one at that, even if it is more progressive than our current menu of taxes.
Still, the biggest hurdle was the simplest question: Why didn’t you tackle any of this stuff when you were actually the mayor?
Seattle has changed, McGinn said. He said he’s changed a bit, too (“I’ve mellowed,” was how he put it).
I don’t know, maybe Seattle of all places will happily go for used. We recycle food scraps enthusiastically. So I guess we can recycle our mayors.
But the question now hangs as alluring as the scent of a 2017 Tesla: whether, or when, Seattle’s next line of leaders will step up.