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?

31 Responses to “What Now, Mayor McGinn?”

  1. chrismealy

    Take on the schools! From McGinn’s website:

    “In this city we treat education like it’s a hot potato. Everybody runs on it, but when things get tough they point to someone else and say it’s their problem.

    That has to change.

    I believe the mayor needs to be held accountable for the success of the school system. And if elected, that’s what I’ll do. …

    But if that doesn’t help Seattle’s public schools improve, I will work to have the city take control of our school system. ”


  2. slag

    I have a wish list for Seattle that’s as long as my arm (and only getting longer). Of course I would advocate for an ambitious early agenda. It would be interesting to see him model at least some of Obama’s approach. Of course, he’ll run into some of the same problems (eg, Seattle Times playing the role of Village elder just like the national papers did), but in order to get things done, an element of fearlessness is required (something I wish Obama had more of). When the elders whinge that he’s doing too much, he should only do more. Because f*ck ’em, that’s why. People respect leadership, not manipulation.

    In short, he should listen closest to those who helped put him in office. Which certainly doesn’t include the Seattle Times.

  3. Gordian

    I would encourage McGinn to look at putting SDOT and DPD into one office (Office of Strategic Planning) and bring in a visionary director who’s going to knock heads and provide a bold path forward.

  4. Ross

    I read the editorial this morning and found it to be rather condescending (especially since the Seattle Times major endorsements were so ridiculous and fruitless). However, I did think these sentences were pretty good*:

    “Direct money to pothole filling and new sidewalks. Be far more attentive to public-safety concerns; people in many parts of the city feel unsafe.”

    Adding sidewalks as well as improving other pedestrian amenities could be a logical priority for the mayor. As you suggested, implementing a big part of the pedestrian master plan would make for a nice project. This would satisfy those that think the mayor should focus on basics as well as those who think he should be more visionary.

    Personally, I think some of the early comments McGinn made about the schools were asinine and ignorant. The Stranger writers (who were huge fans of his) said as much. However, despite this stumble out of the gate, McGinn seemed to get better as time went on. He seemed to be sincerely interested in learning about the city and dealing with its problems. This ability represented, to me, a big difference in the candidates. McGinn seemed to get smarter and more knowledgeable as the campaign wore on, while Mallahan did not.

    Personally, I think the biggest thing the schools need is a better image. I’ve talked to plenty of people who send their kids to private schools while being ridiculously ignorant of the public schools. They base their decision on an outdated image or test scores (which better reflect the incomes of the students then their academic achievement). Very little is mentioned of the extraordinary achievements of many of the schools. For example, Washington Middle School routinely does extremely well in the math competitions.

    *Perhaps it is telling that I can’t find an entire paragraph worth quoting, but only sentences within it. Oh, the Seattle Times has really fallen.

  5. Wells

    If the sea were to rise just 3′ – which Seattle waterfront tunnel replacement for AWV forms the better seawall? No question, it’s 4-lane Cut/cover. It stabilizes soils well behind seawall. McGinn is right. The Deep-bore has that shortcoming. And, West Mercer gets even messier with the proposed ‘connector’ thru-corridor between Elliott and Deep-bore portal. The 4-lane Cut/cover offers advantages that shouldn’t be passed up. In 07 it was in effect, a 6-lane dig, bigger, worse dig than the 08′ 4-lane Cut/cover, and it should be reconsidered. Sodo preliminary work is applicable to 4-lane Cut/cover. That’s my advice you guys keep passing for some ridiculous reason.

  6. Dennis Saxman

    Hi Gordian – I’m baaccckkk!

    Mandate???? With 50.9 percent of the vote? Or to look at it another way, with 26.24 percent of registered Seattle voters. Give me a break.

    All of this election and pro-developer euphoria will soon fade when the people of Washington State realize that the state faces massive fiscal problems, much larger than last year’s problems, has a commercial real estate sector that is in less than salutary condition, and 23% of Washington banks on the watch list of federal regulators. Mark Zandi of Moody’s forecasts nothing near full employment until 2013. Imagine what that will do to the budgets of a State and City that rely on a highly regressive tax structure and giveaways to wealthy developers.

    So tell me, where are you going to find the financing for all the grand schemes of the development and transportation lobbies? Heaven forbid, we might have to start placing impact fees on developers or start treating the concurrency requirements of the GMA as if they mattered. How many citizens are going to want to subsidize more giveaways to South Lake Union when they don’t have the money to feed their families or keep a roof over their head?

    Urban design and planning is strewn with the corpses of great visions. The vision of many urbanists is so narrow that they fail to consider the fiscal context of their proposals.

    I think the only choice that McGinn faces is between retrenchment or maintenance of the status quo.

  7. Gordian

    Well, Dennis – I figured I was 50/50 guessing who would write under that nom de plume. Maybe next time…

    So, let me get this straight. You’re solution for developers not getting enough money to develop is… levy impact fees on them. Hmm, yes. That will definitely stimulate the economy.

    But you’re dead on that the fundamental issues on the table will impede much future development for a few years. If anything, now’s the time we should be seriously looking at overhauling our tax structure. How do move out of the regressive and into the progressive? Income tax? Progressive consumption tax? I’m no expert, but would be interested in hearing others point of view…

  8. JoshMahar

    I agree that McGinn should come out with guns blazing, but for starters, he should stick to the issue he knows, which is transportation.

    I think over the first year, McGinn should really work on his visionary pedestrian and transit issues. He should work with Conlin in developing a number of West Seattle Link connections, both large and small, that are wholly transparent, allowing them to be judged and debated freely in public.

    He should also work with O’Brien and Burgess to find a dedicated Pedestrian/Cycling funding source, or reprioritize SDOT monies. Then really go after the Bike and Pedestrian Master Plans. Personally, I would also develop a Walkable Rainer Valley project that would compliment Link and encourage more and better development in the Valley.

    While he is working on these issues, if the OPM is still around, he should have that working double time to catch him up to speed on Safety and School issues. Highlighting his grassroots and community background, he could even reorganize it to be a kind of outreach department and really get into individual communities and figure out what it is they need and want through town halls, surveys, and more direct communication.

  9. Nate

    You know why I like you, Hugeasscity? You’re likable and smart — and a bit of a hell raiser.

  10. jeff

    Strangely I find myself agreeing with the Times. Almost every big idea is going to cost a lot of money and the city is broke right now. Outline a few lofty goals and choose some small steps towards implementing these. Show you can implement them well. Then in a couple of years when the economy is better and we are making decisions on light rail and 520 he will be in great shape to make the changes we need.

  11. Ross

    I agree with Josh, I think focusing on West Seattle transportation is very important. West Seattle is going to be in trouble when the viaduct is replaced (regardless of what is done). The monorail would have been a great trade-off for the folks there, but we aren’t getting that (which is why, to a large extent, Mayor Nickels is a lame duck). Likewise, the idea of building better walking and bicycle corridors for the south end of town is a great idea. Folks in the north end (where I live) have enjoyed a lot of pedestrian/bicycle niceties (Burke Gilman, Greenlake, etc.).

    I agree with Gordion with regards to tax policy, but that is very tall order. The city and county are hamstrung with regards to a lot of the logical options (just raising taxes, or instituting an income tax). Likewise, changing the gas tax structure (so it could be used for public transit, for example) would require a change in the constitution. Very powerful, well respected men (like Dan Evans) have tried to get us an income tax, only to fail. It is hard to imagine that a guy who barely won the race could get the changes that we need.

    That being said, I think there is a political change occurring now that shouldn’t be underestimated. I don’t want to exaggerate the importance of the McGinn victory, but consider it along with the transit votes over the years plus the Eyman proposals. For transit, we had failed initiative after failed initiative for light rail. Finally, we got a scaled down version of it, only to get an expansion of it a few years later (with big numbers supporting it). Recently, the voters rejected “roads and transit” but voted for “just transit”. Knowing the history of Seattle voting, this was really a shocking occurrence. Likewise, the Eyman initiatives have now failed convincingly. The county and (not just the city) is a lot more progressive now. Perhaps the liberals in town can forge an alliance with Evans, Gates (the dad, not the rich son) and other business types to support a more progressive, more reasonable tax structure. It might even get the support of the Times.

  12. ktstine

    I like to point out when I agree with Mr. Saxman, because I think he has some good points above (can you believe it Dennis?) How ambitious can McGinn be given our current fiscal climate? Whatever he wants to fund (Link to West Seattle – really, can it go over the bridge?, bike and pedestrian improvements, etc.) is basically going to take a Levy. And with a whopping 51% of the vote, McGinn has a lot of work to do to convince people to raise taxes for a whole lot of new stuff when we keep cutting basic services to close our budget gaps. I am not saying it isn’t possible, but I am personally hoping his initial agenda is more pragmatic than visionary, because in my mind the worst thing he could do is lay out an aspirational “pie in the sky agenda” that he cannot realistically follow through on. In my experience out in communities, people are really tired and frustrated by the lack of funding and follow through for things like “planning updates”. We have to make sure that we get these basics things right while we are crafting visionary solutions to larger problems. And lastly, I would personally like to see McGinn hire a second in command who has been in City Hall before, who can keep their eye on these basic agenda items and keep things moving with Council (hopefully in a collaborative and positive way). It scares me to death to think of a Mayor and his Deputy both never having worked in government before. (ps that is not a vote for retaining Ceis).

  13. mike

    why stop @ SDOT and DPD? city light needs to be in that as well, they’re horrendous wrt communicating between city orgs.

    also, can we turn the port into a mega vauban?

  14. Chris Stefan

    Even if the city doesn’t have the money to implement any big ideas in the next couple of years the planning groundwork will need to be laid so everything is ready to go when funding becomes available or for putting to a levy.

    A lot of this won’t be too hard to get through as the council looks like it will be pushing for light rail, streetcars, transit improvements, cycling improvements, and pedestrian improvements as well.

    Citywide broadband is an area where he could come out of the gate rather quickly. Focus on underserved areas of the city like SE Seattle first then take it citywide. The costs would be large but the bonds could be financed with revenue from the broadband utility. The city could use the network for its communications as well, plus lease capacity to other public agencies like King County, WSDOT, Seattle Public Schools, Port of Seattle, etc.

  15. Wells

    A waterfront cut-n-cover tunnel would create an Alaskan Way surface less prone to settling and fracturing of sidewalk and roadway. Solidifying the waterfront soils with a cut-n-cover box is an obvious benefit among many that Seattle’s Lefty’s have long disregarded and as such contributed to controversy, although SDOT and WSDOT are primarily to blame for the AWV fiasco. It’s still a priority issue for Mayor McGinn.

  16. Ross

    McGinn could basically ignore almost of the activities that involve the city spending money (with the obvious exception of the viaduct replacement) and still move a very progressive agenda. When I say progressive, I mean progressive by the standards of this website. For example:

    1) More mother in law apartments.
    2) More backyard cottages.
    3) Encourage skinny houses.
    4) Ease up on the parking requirements.

    The first two could be really popular with home owners, renters and developers. In tough times, home owners will need to make the most out of their property, while renters need a cheap place to stay. This is where McGinn, if he chooses, should attack the “Seattle Way” as being too slow to deal with the problems we face. I’m one who likes to see all sides of a debate, but this one is easy for me (the only drawback is that neighborhood parking is a bit harder — boo hoo).

    The last time we had a boom in skinny houses, a lot of folks didn’t like them. Now that the skinny houses have been here a while and developed their own character (with additions and interesting landscaping) I believe they are a lot more popular. In other words, I think people would rather see a half-dozen skinny houses go up, than see two giant houses. Likewise, even the big, but not enormous, houses you sometimes see (like these ones along NE 125th: http://tinyurl.com/y9qkuyt) are bigger than they need to be.

    The last one is more controversial, as it will, inevitably, lead to more development. There will be more pretty houses torn down, and more apartments (some pretty, some ugly) being built. However, with the parking requirement eased (or eliminated) the developer will more money to put into the design of the building (and landscaping). Again, people will whine about the parking, but as long as the city keeps granting those permits, they don’t have too much to complain about.

    In general, this may be the best time to pursue these changes. The first two suggestions will help homeowners. All of these will help builders. In a down economy, that sounds pretty important to me.

  17. Charles

    Here’s my question: This post calls McGinn’s rabid supporters a possible “mandate” to come out swinging for the fences because that army can be used to make his big ideas happen. But is that true? Now that the election is over, aren’t those people going to go back to real life because, well, after awhile, other things demand our attention. Like paychecks.

    Look what happened with Obama. He came in because he inspired people with his grand ideas and there was a lot of talk at the time about how that army of inspired supporters would make him invincible. He’d built up this amazing base of support via the Internets! A single e-mail and bam! he’d get millions of phone calls supporting his side and all the policy he ever wanted passed. Now, a year after that election and some people (not this guy) who were rabidly for Obama are now “disappointed” because he hasn’t got it all done.

    We have very short attention spans and very little patience.

    I guess I am wary of McGinn counting on all this rabid support he enjoyed continuing because all politics is about compromise. Some of the things his supporters wanted will not happen. Some of his supporters will have to say, “I can help with that, but not that.” And then his record in office will start weighing him down and then it’ll be re-election time again and nothing will happen.

    So can he count on that kind of support? Does he have a mandate because he comes with rabid supporters? I think not.

  18. Cary

    @Charles 17,
    While you’re mostly right about the impossibility of ongoing campaign-level devotion, there is one big difference between national and local politics: how much easier it is to engage electeds directly. Seattle has many many NGOs and advocacy groups that stand for each element of the McGinn platform. Political reality just shifted pretty significantly for all of us — McGinn is going to be much more willing to listen and act toward well-argued good ideas than prior Mayors. He’s not an activist anymore, but he’s pretty clear about his values and openness to bigger more assertive change.

    I hope much of the intelligence and energy of the campaign finds its way to all the organizations poised to make big progress. Sierra Club, Transportation Choices, Futurewise, Cascade Bicycle Club, Feetfirst, Friends of Seattle, PWC, Great City, AIA, Transit Riders Union … we all should immediately a) redefine our scope of work for the next four years and b) figure out how to invite in as many McGinn volunteers as we can.

    “Modernity, whenever it appears, does not occur without a shattering of belief, without a discovery of the lack of reality in reality — a discovery linked to the invention of other realities.”
    Jean-Francois Lyotard.

    Now our job is to help make real the invention of other realities. Whoo whee!

  19. John of Humdinger

    Don’t fret too much over Seattle Times edicts.

    When the guys at the Seattle Times bought the major newspapers in the state of Maine they went full tilt “nothing matters but creating more welfare queens” in a state that was already far far left liberal. Was that a wise decision? Well they lost over half their readership, almost all of their respect, and 200 million dollars. The only asset they were able to sell was the building and, being the geniuses they are, they sold it at the very bottom of the 08-09 real estate bust. (They said they were selling out in Maine so they could concentrate on “quality” news for Seattle!)

  20. Wells

    Thanks for that most excellent word, caree. You know the case I’m making for the 4-lane box longest. Those early points resonated. You’re still standing. The Mercer West drive-thru to accommodate deep-bore is not good and must be rejected. Please work on that one.

    Box Cut/cover better in all important ways. Seawall would be stronger. Rebuilds surface 3 years before deep-bore. Pike Street makes good north portal while Lower Belltown is down for ‘either rebuild’ option (99 Under or Surface Stoplights). Architectural Bridge over RR tracks at Broad Street with Cut/cover should match Sculpture Park nicely. Could cut cost by $1billion. oops… Take care, care… A.

  21. Matt the Engineer

    Can someone move the needle on that Wells record? It seems to be skipping.

  22. Wells

    Matt. You may not consider my work valuable, but your viewpoint to go forward with the Deep-bore is currently the minority view. You should think about what I’m saying before dismissing it. Work on your own problems and let me get back to mine.

  23. Matt the Engineer

    I’m not dismissing your viewpoint at all. I just think it’s strange that you’re carrying on a conversation with yourself. Did anyone else in this thread mention the deep bore?

  24. Wells

    Boo hoo. Poor Matt. Joe lost.


  25. Dean Ruffner

    The cut-and-cover option sounds pretty good. Is there somewhere I can get more information or a pro/con viewpoint?


  26. Wells

    WsDOT Information Request: “Alaskan Way Viaduct & Seawall Replacement Program” “Central Waterfront Scenarios Overview” Scenarios ‘A’ thru ‘H’ – Detailed cross-sectional and aerial drawings of the eight options.

    Scenario ‘G’ is the 4-lane Cut/cover Tunnel or.. (Tunnel-lite)

    It’s important to note that this design was produced AFTER the March 2007 voter rejection. That version was called ‘Tunnel-lite’ but was also a 4-lane cut/cover. Tunnel-lite was introduced ‘too late’ into the public process. Voters/motorists figured it just as disruptive as the much bigger 6-lane cut/cover which WSDOT and SDOT studied for 6 years too long.

  27. dan cortland


    However, with the parking requirement eased (or eliminated) the developer will [have? or spend?] more money to put into the design of the building (and landscaping).

    Wouldn’t bet on “spend”.

  28. mike

    um, the AIA is NOT poised to make big progress…

  29. Ross

    @27: Yes, that should be “have” (my typo).

    They wouldn’t necessarily spend more money on design, but they could. As is stands now, I’m amazed at how good many of the designs are given the restraints that the city puts on them. With fewer restraints, the builders will have more money, the buildings will be cheaper or the buildings will be prettier. Any one of those would be nice (but I would prefer the last one).

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