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Originally published November 9, 2009 at 5:09 PM | Page modified November 9, 2009 at 7:16 PM

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The Mike McGinn era begins in Seattle

Here comes the new mayor, Mike McGinn. He would do well to hire competent staff, tend to basics and avoid unnecessary fights on the tunnel.

SEATTLE voters are in a testy mood. They turned down the practical, stay-the-course mayoral candidate, Joe Mallahan, and opted for the anti-establishment, in-your-face change agent, Mike McGinn. He is the new mayor of Seattle.

Some people thought McGinn irreparably harmed his candidacy by changing course on his centerpiece issue — his rabid opposition to the deep-bore tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct became acquiescence. But voters saw him differently.

Yes, they know he opposes the project. But after the City Council's unanimous vote in favor of the tunnel and McGinn's subsequent statement he would not stand in its way, voters read that as more nuanced than an opportunistic flip-flop.

The ramifications of the deep recession, and natural angst about expensive projects in such a climate, made voters feel McGinn will fight hard to protect Seattleites from too much local spending associated with the tunnel.

After many one- or two-term mayoral stints, voters feel more comfortable with the candidate most likely to deliver basic services.

One fact may have resonated more than others: McGinn's campaign had limited professional staff and hundreds of volunteers. He was already showing he could conduct business without a lot of fuss and spending

Besides, Seattleites are naturally drawn to nonconformists.

McGinn is likable and smart — and a bit of a hell raiser. He doesn't align himself with business interests. Some of his closest allies are in the Sierra Club, where he was local chapter leader.

The new mayor has much to do in the months ahead. He needs to assemble a team that can filter some of his overly ambitious ideas. Early in the campaign, for example, he raised the possibility of a takeover of Seattle schools. He has since moderated that position. Perhaps in time the city will assume a larger role, but there is a city to manage first and a steep learning curve ahead.

McGinn must find his way on all kinds of transportation projects in the city, not just resuming the fight over the tunnel.

If McGinn does renew the tunnel battle, he will face a newly energized City Council, which is ready to strut power in a post-Greg Nickels era. Not to mention a looming battle with Olympia.

Like any new mayor, McGinn should start with smaller tasks and show he can manage basic services. Inattention to such detail cost the current mayor his job.

Direct money to pothole filling and new sidewalks. Hire highly competent staff who know more than you do. Be far more attentive to public-safety concerns; people in many parts of the city feel unsafe. Steer clear of annual levy requests to beleaguered taxpayers.

The potential fight with the Legislature and governor over the tunnel — and with schools, should he press a takeover — will arrive soon enough.

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