A political newcomer wrote a $200,000 check to his own Seattle mayoral campaign this week, making him the first candidate to get anywhere close to Mayor Greg Nickels' funding. Joe Mallahan said his personal donation "levels the playing field."

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A political newcomer wrote a $200,000 check to his own Seattle mayoral campaign this week, making him the first candidate to get anywhere close to Mayor Greg Nickels’ funding.

Joe Mallahan said in an e-mailed statement Tuesday that his personal donation “levels the playing field” so the campaign can be about Nickels’ record instead of “the mayor’s 10-to-1 fundraising advantage.”

The question now is how far a big check will go toward making an unknown candidate quickly viable against a two-term incumbent. The primary is Aug. 18.

Mallahan, 46, is a T-Mobile executive who lives in Wallingford and says he is running to improve basic city services.

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Mallahan said he’s “not a multimillionaire,” but that he and his wife have been saving money for several years, knowing he likely would run for office.

Nickels’ apparent lock on major donors has scared off at least a few potential challengers this spring, and three other candidates who got into the race are struggling to raise much money.

Former Sierra Club leader Michael McGinn said Tuesday he has raised about $28,000. Former Seattle Sonic James Donaldson was $2,000 in debt at the beginning of April. He said he has paid his debt and raised $5,000 since then. Corporate recruiter Norman Sigler had raised less than $1,000 as of a month ago.

By comparison, Nickels has reported raising $300,000, of which he has spent about $100,000. He raised an additional $25,000 or so in April, said his campaign spokesman, Sandeep Kaushik.

The campaigns’ latest financial reports are due to the city’s Ethics and Elections Commission this weekend.

The other candidates in the race immediately criticized Mallahan for funding his own campaign.

McGinn said: “Must be nice to be rich.”

Donaldson called it “showing off.”

“I don’t think it resonates well with our general populace out there that someone can just write a check and buy a position as a viable campaign and potentially buy a position in office,” Donaldson said.

The Nickels campaign sent out a statement calling the contribution “an obvious attempt by a wealthy individual with little experience in public service to buy their way into elected office.”

Mallahan did not make himself available for an interview Tuesday. In an e-mail reply to a few questions, he said he wasn’t interested in tearing down the other candidates.

“This contribution shows just how committed I am to leveling the playing field and making this race about the Mayor’s record and my vision for a better Seattle,” he said.

It’s not clear how much money a competitive campaign against Nickels would cost. Nickels raised $600,000 to win his first race for mayor in 2001, unseating Mayor Paul Schell in the primary and edging out Mark Sidran in the general election.

In 2005, Nickels raised $500,000 as he coasted to victory over Al Runte, a former University of Washington professor who ran a low-budget campaign.

Poll asks about Drago

Seattle City Councilmember Jan Drago has spent her own money — though she wouldn’t say how much — on a poll to help determine whether she should run for mayor. After 16 years on the council, Drago in March said she would not seek another term.

The poll this week asks whether respondents are swayed by various parts of Drago’s record. Would the respondent be more likely to vote for her, for example, if they knew she used to own small businesses? If they knew her record on dog parks? Or the fact that her election would make her Seattle’s first female mayor in 80 years?

The poll asks respondents whom they would vote for in a contest among Drago and the other four candidates in the mayor’s race, and in a post-primary matchup between her and Nickels.

Drago said she is “seriously considering getting into the race.”

“I’ll be filing the appropriate papers at the appropriate time,” she said. She estimated she’d make a decision within two weeks.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com

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