Originally published Wednesday, August 24, 2011 at 4:10 PM

Joni Balter / Seattle Times editorial columnist

Politically wounded Mayor McGinn should get back to basics

What's next for the badly wounded Seattle mayor, Mike McGinn? He received a shellacking at the polls in the August primary regarding his signature issue: opposition to the downtown tunnel. The mayor has two-plus years remaining in office.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

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The surprisingly robust vote for the downtown tunnel rumbled through the seventh floor of Seattle City Hall, where Mayor Mike McGinn is still absorbing his huge political comeuppance.

The irony, of course, is McGinn, through the force and single-mindedness of his own personality, created the very election that would send him such a blunt, you-lost message.

If he possibly can, McGinn now must put a bookend to the first, and, perhaps, defining phase of his term. The burning question becomes: What's next for a badly wounded mayor?

He has to make new plans for his remaining two and a half years in office. Read those last words again. McGinn will be in office another 858 days, a long time.

Few Seattleites merely want to tread water, waiting for him to go away. The city needs sturdy leadership, forward momentum, jobs, a public face and presence.

Political consultant Blair Butterworth believes it doesn't matter what McGinn does with the upcoming days, weeks and months: "He's a dead man walking," he said, adding, "You only have one chance to make a first impression and he made it with the tunnel."

Butterworth compared tunnel shenanigans to former Mayor Greg Nickels' poor handling of the 2008 snowstorm, which sank him at the next election.

All this talk about Seattle voters being forgiving of their leaders is not so true anymore — if indeed it ever was.

Seattleites adored Mayor Norm Rice, who delivered on his signature issues of education and saving and revitalizing downtown. They liked Charles Royer so much they elected him three times, more than any mayor in modern times.

But voters refused to excuse Paul Schell for the WTO fiasco, making him a one-termer. They kicked Nickels out after two terms because his transportation department's management of the snowstorm made city streets, during the height of the Christmas season, resemble the Wild West.

I think voters are only forgiving when a politician makes himself somewhat lovable in the first place. McGinn endearing? Um, no.

Yet I sincerely hope the mayor resurrects himself and finds his mojo. He needs to be mayor for a constituency that reaches beyond the Sierra Club and the cyclists.

By the by, the Sierra Club should get back to activities it is better known for: preserving public lands and fighting for clean air and clean water. This particular partisan foray into urban design was an unqualified bust.

McGinn needs to ensure the Families and Education Levy passes. At least supporting schools and students are things most Seattleites can get their arms around. He also should focus on basics. Nothing riles a citizen of this attractive city more than the sense that streets are not safe or well kept.

Longtime consultant Bob Gogerty, who was deputy mayor years ago and occasionally advises McGinn, doesn't believe it is over for the mayor. But he does think it's time to get back to basics: "The first job of a mayor is public safety. ... You can't tell me we can't make Third Avenue safer."

Amen to that.

For example, McGinn could return more cops to the street. Budget woes stopped a five-year police hiring program, but any mayor can fund his priorities. He can and he should.

Complaints continue to flood into city offices from the International District, Pioneer Square and Belltown about open drug dealing, street disorder, car prowls, you name it.

Serious crime is, in fact, down overall. But other crimes such as drug dealing, petty thefts and simple assaults affect quality of life and perception of public safety or the lack of it.

McGinn supports the proposed $60 increased vehicle-license fee on the November ballot, which would provide more money for basic street maintenance, streetcars, plus a certain amount for his beloved bicycle and pedestrian projects. The city should have held back on this, considering the county is also raising the vehicle license fee and the city did so earlier.

McGinn most likely will be a one-term mayor. But two and a half years is a long time in the life of a city. Seattle cannot abide a mayor distracted by a single issue any longer. It really is time for McGinn to find a new signature issue or two and become a leader for the whole city. He may not be capable of it. But there's the challenge.

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


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