The campaign is over, but in his concession speech Friday morning, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels still had some things to say about his accomplishments.

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The campaign is over, but in his concession speech Friday morning, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels still had some things to say about his accomplishments.

The opening of light rail, the streetcar in South Lake Union, a “breakthrough agreement” to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel were all reasons Nickels said he is proud of his eight years in office.

Nickels’ tenure will end this year. He lost Tuesday’s primary election to political newcomers Joe Mallahan, a wireless-company executive, and Mike McGinn, an attorney and environmentalist.

“I believe that when the history of this decade is written, it will be seen as a time of tremendous change and positive change in our city,” the mayor said.

Nickels made his brief remarks, which he wrote himself, during an emotional City Hall news conference. Despite the disappointment, Nickels was funny and lighthearted at times. By his side were his wife and daughter and his longtime political ally, Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis.

Nickels said he tried as mayor to make the right decisions rather than the ones that would preserve his popularity.

“Based on Tuesday’s primary election results,” he said, “I have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams.”

Friends, family, staff and political allies gave Nickels several standing ovations as they wiped away tears and looked stunned by the incumbent mayor’s loss.

It had been no secret that the mayor would be in political trouble in the general election, but most polls indicated he would make it through the primary.

“I don’t think it’s any one issue,” Nickels said of his defeat. “I think it’s really the public deciding that it was time to make a change … really a generational change.”

Ballots continue to be counted, but after Friday’s tally, Nickels trailed Mallahan by 2,133 votes for second place. McGinn was leading Mallahan by 780 votes.

McGinn and Mallahan will face each other in the Nov. 3 general election.

On the national stage

During his two terms in office, Nickels, 54, has gained national prominence for his environmental policies. Since 2005, he has gotten more than 900 mayors to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol, an international effort to reduce environmentally harmful emissions.

This summer he was named president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Locally, however, Nickels’ popularity waned in his second term. Polling throughout the spring and summer showed Nickels with a low job-approval rating, and it was widely reported that he was politically vulnerable.

His opponents criticized his style. They said he was too quick to take credit for things and insisted on getting his way. He was a bully, they said, and alienated regional and state leaders.

In December, Nickels’ image was further tarnished by the city’s poor response to a record snowstorm. He gave the city a “B” for its response, infuriating people who were stranded by icy, rutted, unplowed streets during the busy holiday shopping season.

The snowstorm revealed myriad management problems within the city’s transportation department.

City Councilmember Jan Drago said she got into the race this summer in part because polling showed Nickels in deep trouble, even though many people couldn’t say exactly what bothered them about the mayor.

“People disliked him so intensely that they couldn’t give him credit for anything he’s done,” she said. “He certainly has a record of accomplishment, but they couldn’t see it.”

Drago, who came in fifth in the primary, wasn’t the only one who saw opportunities. Seven candidates filed to run against the mayor, and Nickels said on election night that he sometimes felt like “a piñata,” with seven opponents beating him up.

Despite spending more than $500,000 and acknowledging in his television ads that he’d made some mistakes, Nickels never budged beyond about 25 percent in the polls.

Nickels ally Dwight Pelz, state Democratic Party chairman, said that in the end, voters rejected Nickels despite his accomplishments.

“I think style matters a great deal to the people of Seattle,” Pelz said.

‘Challenges of success’

Nickels said Friday the city is “stronger, better and kinder than the Seattle of yesterday.”

Of the campaign that will now go on without him, Nickels said, “Those who are running for office must make a case that they are the best person. But they should not denigrate what we have done. We’ve done those things together, and we are not a broken city. Far from it. The challenges that we face are the challenges of success.”

City Council President Richard Conlin issued a statement praising Nickels. In it he said, “Mayor Nickels has dedicated his life to public service, and has worked hard to make Seattle a better place.”

Nickels is Seattle’s second mayor in a row to fall in a primary. In 2001, Mayor Paul Schell lost to Nickels and then-City Attorney Mark Sidran.

Schell was blamed for the city’s response to the 1999 WTO riots and 2001 Mardi Gras street brawling that killed a 20-year-old man.

Before being elected to his first term as mayor eight years ago, Nickels spent 14 years as a King County Council member, and before that he was an aide to then-Seattle City Councilman Norm Rice.

Nickels ran for county executive in 1993 and Seattle mayor in 1997. He has been involved in local Democratic politics since he was in high school.

As for what he will do after leaving office, Nickels said he has “no idea.”

He added, “Nothing in my future career will match the honor of being mayor of this city.”

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

Staff reporters Lynda V. Mapes and Jim Brunner contributed to this report.