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Originally published Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at 3:59 PM

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Joni Balter / Seattle Times editorial columnist

Seattle 2013: a humdinger of a mayor's race

Zooming in on the Seattle 2013 mayoral election. Sure it's early, but the planchette on Joni Balter's Ouija Board is already gliding across names of potential candidates.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

It's summer 2013: The southern half of the Alaskan Way Viaduct came down 10 months ago, creating dust, noise and predictable simmering feuds. But at least the project advanced before a feared earthquake. At Seattle City Hall, the ground rumbles in another way.

A humdinger of a mayor's race is taking place, pitting the biggest foe of the tunnel, Mayor Mike McGinn, against City Councilmember Tim Burgess and state Sen. Ed Murray, two project supporters. As the city keeps growing, the public is comfortable that a tunnel is being built to keep traffic moving.

In fairness, McGinn, after almost four years in office, has settled down a bit. He was recently spotted at a Mariners game seated next to two local businessmen. Two actual profit-motivated capitalists. And get this. They both drove cars to the game and the mayor didn't flinch. Middle age, a dash of political seasoning and a lingering poor economy will do that.

Burgess skated to re-election to his council seat in 2011 and has been a leader on the viaduct, parking, education, police accountability, the sea wall. Voters lapped up that Families and Education levy he and the mayor worked on in 2011.

Burgess appeals because he has been a cop, chaired the Seattle Ethics and Election Commission and is passionate about issues lurking beneath the surface. For example, he rounded up funds for a residential recovery program for girls forced into prostitution. The tough guy with a heart.

Unless he makes a dramatic change, McGinn has just a few months until he becomes a one-term wonder.

Rewind to the present, February 2011. Murray hasn't said he is running, but he is thinking about it, which is really all anyone should do two-plus years in advance.

Remember, Murray considered a write-in mayoral candidacy after voters bounced Greg Nickels in the 2009 primary, leaving neophytes Joe Mallahan and McGinn in the race. Unless you are Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, write-in candidacies are next to impossible. Murray had the sense to recognize that.

The state senator from Capitol Hill walks a careful line. He has been a warrior for gay rights. He sponsored the tunnel legislation, which appealed to business, and he chairs the powerful Senate Ways and Means Committee. All cuts all the time aggravate many constituents.

Like all mayoral races, the 2013 contest will be a battle for the soul of this dazzling city. McGinn represents the environmental-activist agenda but has not expanded his base to be a mayor for all the city's parts and neighborhoods. Three years from now, he surely will learn how not to pick a fight with everybody. He will be — cover the children's ears — mellow.

By 2013 there will be talk of overruns on the tunnel, enough to prove McGinn right in some ways. But many people also will blame him for not persuading his pal, House Speaker Frank Chopp, to eliminate that obnoxious clause in state legislation that attempts to unload overruns on Seattle-area property owners who benefit from the project.

Handicapping the contest so far in advance is risky, but I will give it a try anyway: McGinn is the lefty: Burgess, the moderate, Murray, in between, or harder to categorize. He supports the idea of reducing capital debt in good times to create more capacity for projects in bad times. He supported former Seattle City Attorney Mark Sidran, the law-and-order mayoral candidate in 2001 against Nickels.

Some people are already calling the 2013 race the longest in city history, because it is beginning in people's minds so early.

Other possible contenders include Councilmembers Richard Conlin, Bruce Harrell and Sally Clark, but the whole council can't run.

Here's a wild idea. How about a woman candidate, a political outsider from business, who breaks up the middle-aged male party? The city hasn't had a female mayor since Bertha Knight Landes in the 1920s. After all the machinations of the current administration, Silent Seattleites might yearn for a sensible female, a Sally Jewell of REI or someone like her.

Two years and nine months could be eternity. But this race will start earlier than you would imagine because the current mayor forces the mind to time travel.

Joni Balter's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is

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