Last week's Seattle mayoral election left many voters scratching their heads. Two political newbies are vying to become mayor. Watch for the rise of the power of the City Council. For our city's sake, hope for the write-in candidacy of state Sen. Ed Murray.
As vote tallies from Seattle’s unusual mayoral election dribbled in, a listener told KUOW Radio he voted for former Sierra Club leader Mike McGinn, but now feels regret: “I have a good case of voter remorse right now.”
There is a fair amount of that going around, a dazed feeling of “What were we thinking?” selecting neophytes McGinn and Joe Mallahan to vie for mayor. Sure, there was a lot of anger at Mayor Greg Nickels but it feels today like we overstated the mad-as-hell message.
A few things are about to happen as one of the most envied cities in the world faces the loss of an experienced politician to be replaced by one of two candidates who will spend the first part of the term locating the coffee bar and men’s room.
A poll is in the field this week to gauge the appeal of a write-in campaign featuring state Sen. Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat known for helping to secure two gas-tax increases to pay for road improvements. He is even better known as a widely respected crusader for gay and lesbian rights.
Additionally, Nickels’ ouster last week will trigger the rise of the City Council. The decisive Nickels is on the way out. Since power abhors a vacuum, the council is likely to step in and fill it. Three council members can be expected to rise in influence — Richard Conlin, Tim Burgess and Sally Clark.
The write-in idea came first from labor interests but business leaders also are contributing to the cost of the poll. Murray is known as a go-getter and doer in Olympia.
In contrast to McGinn, the mulligan “do-over” candidate who wants to rehash the long-fought decision on the tunnel, Murray introduced the legislation for a deep-bore tunnel. He gets kudos for saying it is nuts to refight that battle. Murray also wants to focus attention on rebuilding Highway 520.
To be clear, Murray is not leading the charge to be a write-in candidate, but is listening to others who are clamoring for his participation: “I don’t know what I’ll do, there are a lot of considerations, it’s very late. I’ll think about it. I am not on some tilting-at-windmills mission.”
In other words, if enough people beg and polls show a write-in has half a chance, he will probably jump in.
Write-in endeavors are rare because they are difficult. Some citizens will feel a candidate who wanted to run should have campaigned in the primary. In other words, there could be a backlash against leapfrogging into the general election.
The last best known person to be successful as a write-in was former Rep. Linda Smith who won the 3rd Congressional District seat in Southwest Washington in 1994 with Republican gale-force winds at her back.
Murray would be lucky to get a low-pressure system working in his favor. But if voters think about it, they would quickly recognize Murray’s experience and grasp of issues greatly exceeds those of the two candidates left standing.
It all depends on how many voters reach the same eureka moment about the somewhat scary prospect of a novice running City Hall and another question mark over newcomer Susan Hutchison running King County.
The Seattle mayor’s office should not be training camp for a politician. There are other starting positions that make more sense.
In 2001, Nickels was able to win the election and get right to work as the new mayor because he had the requisite experience. He knew how City Hall worked. He served as aide to Norm Rice when Rice was a council member. Nickels served many years on the County Council.
Nickels was able to dominate the council because he knew the ropes. If Murray doesn’t run, McGinn and Mallahan are about to find out what happens when a weak mayor takes the helm.
Council personalities will emerge. Five votes will come together quickly to slap either newcomer mayor around.
Murray would be a compelling candidate in a three-way race. Even with long odds, he ought to go for it.
Joni Balter’s column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org