What Now, Mayor McGinn?

Well Michael, if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the road ahead, worry not, because the Seattle Times editorial board has got your back. You see, the Seattle Times editorial board, they’ve been around, they know how the world really works, and they’re both bemused and concerned about the success of  you and your rag-tag band of jobless skoolkidz, and so for the good of the City, they’ve kindly offered you a little friendly paternal advice:  “Hire highly competent staff who know more than you do.”

And as if that’s not enough breathtaking wisdom for any one Mayor-elect to chew on, there’s more, this time delivered in the third person, a little wink and a nod to all those readers who are just as condescendingly uptight as the Seattle Times editorial board is about an upstart Mayor who has the gall to propose bold plans:  “He needs to assemble a team that can filter some of his overly ambitious ideas.”


All apologies for stating the obvious about how stunningly out of touch the Seattle Times editorial board has become, but their take on things is useful in that it does illustrate one end of the spectrum of possibilities for McGinn’s approach out of the gate.  Namely, the timid approach, the glacially-paced, Seattle process approach.

At the other end of the spectrum of possibilities, McGinn comes out with guns blazing, swinging for the fences from the first inning.  And this, needless to say, is what the “reasonable” crowd fears.  But let us not forget that McGinn’s potential as a visionary change agent is the very stuff that energized his volunteer army.   He is where he is precisely because he inspired his supporters with his talk of bold action.  In fact, one might be tempted to say that he has a mandate to swing for the fences.

But of course the risk of the guns blazing approach is that those guns could backfire.  If the change agent is perceived as a loose cannon, stirring up the pot only for the sake of the stirring, then the capacity to accomplish anything will quickly evaporate as people push back.

On the other hand, if McGinn holds back, is too accommodating, gives everyone from everywhere all the time they want to be heard, then his ambitious plans will grind to a halt beneath the rusty wheels of the bureaucratic machine.

When Mayor Nickels came into office in 2002, he wasn’t afraid to make a statement:  he fired the popular head of the Department of Neighborhoods Jim Diers, abolished the Strategic Planning Office, restructured the Planning Department, and soon created his own strategic planning shop, the Office of Policy and Management.

No doubt it is an exceedingly delicate dance, balancing the establishment of power and leadership with the need for collaboration and unity.

One key ingredient to succeeding with bold structural and policy innovations is to establish a clearly defined set of goals up front.   For example, goals such as:  50 percent of the pedestrian master plan will be implemented by 2011.  If people buy in to the goals, and they understand why changes are necessary to achieve them, then those changes become easier to swallow.  It’s human nature.  And so I hope to see Mike McGinn lean strongly toward the guns blazing approach, backed with an inspiring, visionary set of goals for the City. 

But hey, why listen to an armchair blogger like me about this?  Anyone out there have an opinion about the best path for McGinn to take?