Election rematches in politics are like revenge matches in the NFL and NBA playoffs: Fierce, unpredictable and rarely pretty.
If Mayor Ed Murray and ex-Mayor Mike McGinn emerge from the August primary as finalists, the contest will be turbulent, stirring the blood of the competitors and possibly spilling a bit of it on the floor.
Will this be good for Seattle, itself experiencing turbulent growth?
In politics, stretch runs that fall a little bit short tend to quickly be forgotten. Mike McGinn wants his remembered.
Then-Mayor McGinn climbed, and climbed some more, as late ballots were counted in the 2013 mayor’s race. He almost caught Ed Murray, topping out at over 48 percent of the vote. The surge of left votes did carry jargon spouting Trotskyist Kshama Sawant onto the Seattle City Council.
It wasn’t a victory, but a tribute to a tenacious politician with a volunteer organization that made other candidates salivate.
McGinn has since displayed a canny, jocular way of talking about his political future. If the brass ring came within reach, as it had with a weakened Greg Nickels in 2009, he might just reach out for it.
McGinn has since stayed active on the city’s political/green left.
He has been a “kayaktivist.” McGinn participated in in the protest against Shell’s Arctic drilling homeport. He paddled past Bill Gates’ digs in Medina, in a demonstration urging the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to divest from oil and gas stocks.
Since an accuser came forth with sexual assault allegations against Mayor Murray — which the mayor strenuously denies — pundits in the cheap seats have harped against the incumbent for being uptight and displaying a temper.
The McGinn years, however, are remembered for continuous confrontations. The mayor showed a talent for alienating just about everybody. Mike McGinn did not reach back to those who reached out.
Opposing replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a deep bore tunnel, McGinn insulted then-Gov. Chris Gregoire. “I don’t think we can can trust the Governor to keep her promise to protect us,” he said.
New York governors and New York City mayors say worse things about each other. In Washington state it was a blood insult. Gregoire bided her time, and backed Murray — bitingly. “We need a leader who can bring us together, not divide us,” she said.
McGinn initially balked at settling with the U.S. Justice Department on police reform, then resisted the choice of a monitor until it was forced on him by the City Council. He tried to shut Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes from the reform process, despite Holmes’ years of experience in the field.
With such McGinn moves as wanting to put light rail on the new Evergreen Point Bridge, the city found itself isolated.
“Seattle had a reputation in the past as being able to pull the whole region behind it: Those conditions are going, it’s hard to pull people together,” ex-King County Executive Ron Sims said in endorsing Murray.
McGinn even did the impossible: He persuaded Seattle’s generous, progressive voters to say No. They rejected his proposed $60 car tab fee. The waterfront tunnel, which he opposed, received a resounding Yes vote.
By contrast, Murray has pulled people together, at times by banging their heads. The results can be seen, principally in police reform, the city’s startup preschool program and the negotiated, phased in $15-an-hour minimum wage.
The incumbent mayor persuaded voters to go for a gargantuan $930 million transportation levy, despite fiascos of the Seattle Dept. of Transportation. The city voted money that has expanded Metro bus service, and to double the Housing Levy.
There were other McGinn bloopers, such as the Mayor’s celebrated buyback of guns. Gun rights advocates mounted a gun bazaar blocks up First Hill above the official gun buyback.
McGinn delivered disorganized, wing-it inaugural and State-of-the-City speeches with no coherent strategies or goals for the city, beyond holding endless talk session about goals.
The flip side is that McGinn was out front on some issues, and the city is better off for it. “He changed the game,” argued Alan Durning, head of the Sightline Institute, an environmental group that champions mass transit and anchored resistance to coal ports.
McGinn fought a proposed coal port at Cherry Point near Bellingham, which would have brought mile-long coal trains to the Seattle waterfront. He was the first to advocate that the city divest itself from Big Oil stocks.
He pushed for a Seawall replacement — though upstaging the announcement by arriving on a bicycle — and created a citizens police commission. The commission gave longtime critics of the Seattle Police Department a hand-on chance to work reform.
The 2013 campaign featured a succession of news conferences at which political luminaries (Sims, Pramila Jayapal), city officials (Holmes) state luminaries (Gregoire) and interest groups (Seattle Police Officers Guild) endorsed Murray.
“The last thing we need to do is maintain the current contentious attitude,” Council member Tim Burgess, the adult on the council, said in making the endorsement.
What of the rematch?
Seattle voters are willing to tax themselves, but taxing when it comes to mayors. Mayor Paul Schell did not survive the 2001 primary, nor did incumbent Greg Nickels in 2009. McGinn lost his 2013 reelection bid.
Murray has fought back against the accusation that he molested a teenage drug addict 31 years ago. The incumbent has even disclosed details about his scrotum. He is, however, taking fire from some on the city’s political left who equate the severity of the accusation, and its maker, with guilt.
A trio of gays in public life — then-U.S. Rep. Gerry Studds and Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Mayor Bud Adams of Portland — survived sex-related scandals (one involving sex with a House page, another a possibly underage legislative aide.) The basis of survival: They effectively did their jobs and were in touch with their constituents.
Several questions in a Murray-McGinn rematch: Will memories of McGinn confrontations cause the same rallying to Murray witnessed in 2013? Will Murray command the same loyalty in the neighborhoods as Studds and Frank?
Will McGinn be able to rebuild his volunteer corps? A left candidate, attorney-Black Lives Matter activist Nikkita Oliver is already in the race. The potential is there for left/activists’ feuds to be reported in 2,500-word articles in The Stranger.
Above all, will a blood match leave any wounds in a city whose growth and technology have — hopefully forever — stilled all talk about “putting Seattle on the map?”