Election 2009, Seattle Mayor candidate closeup: Joe Mallahan

checkbox.jpgToday, we continue our city-candidate closeups; we took a look at them all before the primary election, and this week, with the general election nearing, we’re checking back in with the finalists in five city races – mayor and council – one race (two candidates) per day. Since tonight, the Seattle Times (WSB partner) co-sponsors the next live TV debate in the mayor’s race – 7 pm, KING5 – we’re publishing our mayoral candidate interviews today. (Editor’s note – This was originally published early this morning along with the Mike McGinn interview, but our database ate it before most saw it.).

By Jack Mayne
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

Mayoral candidate Joe Mallahan wants a tunnel to replace the Central Waterfront section of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, thinks the city budget can be trimmed to avoid new taxes and add 100 more police officers, and vows to be accountable to the voters for his stewardship of the city for the next four years.

What he did not say in an interview but was revealed in a financial filing last week was his campaign is in the hole by $95,000 and has outspent opponent Mike McGinn by over five-to-one.

Mallahan is a vice president for T-Mobile. “As a young man, I always planned on entering public service,” he says.

His undergraduate degree was in American politics, and he worked for former Congressman Al Swift, D-Bellingham, as well as Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash. He says he first thought of going to law school because of his public service interest but he says a man who worked for Swift told him there were many lawyers in politics and that if he wanted to get ahead in that field, he should go “prove yourself” in business. He got an MBA and then 20 years in business.

As the politics bug reasserted itself, he says he considered running for a legislative seat, but his wife reminded him that he was more used to running things and wasn’t cut out to be in a legislative role.

“I was cut out for an executive role,” he says.“The reason I got into this race was I felt that City Hall had become so inefficient and so ineffective in delivering the basic services, that we were risking going backwards.”

Since running a city may not be analogous to running a private business, Mallahan admits he needs to learn a lot more about running a city. “People all the time are asking me what I am going to do about X or Y, and I have to learn more. I have a few key things that I strongly believe in,” he says. “I strongly believe that we have moved backwards when it comes to public safety. I believe that is because of bad decisions we made in the last budget crunch (in 2002). We disbanded the gang unit, which was very effective and, for budgetary reasons, the city started (using) the Families and Education levy where there was money available.” That means some youth were no longer covered because of age or because some funds were eliminated.

The community policing plan calls slated to go into effect next year calls for 605 police officers, but there are only 500 now. “I plan to add more police officers,” Mallahan says, noting a current plan proposed by outgoing Mayor Nickels and adopted by the City Council would add only 20 officers per year.

“It will cost $12 million to get to 605 officers, and $12 million is a lot of money, but $12 million is between 1 percent and 2 percent of the general fund,” Mallahan says; he believes cuts can be found.

Mallahan says he will use his technology management experience to also find ways to improve the way the department operates. For example, he says if high-tech equipment could be provided to better allow officers to do their work better and thus remain in the field more, the city should invest in it. “There may be operational efficiencies but my feeling now is 100 more officers are needed, we need to fully staff the gang unit and go back to the outreach model we had in 2002,” he says.

A small dust-up recently developed with his opponent over the search for a new police chief to fill the vacancy created when former Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske left to become President Obama’s drug czar. Current Mayor Greg Nickels asked Mallahan and Joe McGinn if they approved of a 24-member search committee to get on with its work. McGinn said yes, Mallahan said no, that he did not want the police chief search to become involved in politics.

But Mallahan thinks the new chief must be pragmatic and someone on the front line and who makes himself available to the community, particularly wherever crime is a growing problem. “People don’t want a chief who is in the ivory tower; they want a chief who supports them and is behind them,” he says. “I am known as an open and accountable leader – I hold myself accountable and I drive a culture of accountability in the organizations I lead.”

He is reserved but somewhat approving of Nickels’ last budget offering. He took “some steps in the right direction,” Mallahan said.

“One of the things I was happy to see was he didn’t propose funding to start the First Avenue streetcar. I have opposed it (because) it seems quite redundant to the Metro buses. The answer comes back that some people don’t like to ride the bus so you need choices,” Mallahan says. “We need to focus on the people – which people do we need to serve first? First you need to focus on working class people who can’t afford a car. If we are not delivering that basic service, it is not time to think about getting professionals to leave their cars at home and ride the streetcar.”

He says the advent of a new mayor and a new King County executive makes it possible to reconsider the way the county-run transit system works, particularly, the way the areas outside of Seattle get 80 percent of the new bus allocations while the city gets only 20 percent. “I will be working with the executive and others to get things into a more favorable balance for the city,” he says.

The cuts that he says he will make will be sustainable, and not unsustainable like furloughing employees. “For the foreseeable future, our revenues are not going to be what they used to be, so we have to look toward sustainable cuts. I was asked recently what is the problem with the libraries being closed for a week? Why not just do a 6 percent across the board cut? The problem with that is those cuts are not strategic. When a family has to tighten a budget, they don’t make a 6 percent cut across the board, make priority decisions. My experience in business, in large corporate business . . . it is easy to add activities and initiatives. It is harder to stand back and ask what is not adding value.”

He says he will review programs and cut those no longer needed. Regarding the contention that the current mayor had discouraged city departments from working with councilmembers: “That is not the approach I would take,” he says. “You have to be collaborative and you have to be open. The legislative branch has to provide oversight. I think a strong leader who has an ethic of accountability, is ok with that. I don’t mean to minimize the difficulty to nine different individuals, all serving at-large, putting their fingers into day-to-day operations. But you can tell department heads that the committee chairperson that oversee your department should have access to you. (Department heads and the mayor) must tell (the Council) where we disagree – to have that dialogue. A strong leader with strong department heads should have no qualms about interacting with the Council. I also believe that genius in not found in an individual. I think there (will be) opportunities to collaborate. I think the next Council will be a very strong Council with diverse skills and perspectives. It will be a great opportunity to move forward.”

One decision he has already made is the future of the director of the Seattle Department of Transportation. “I stated publicly that I think that Grace Crunican needs to resign,” he said. “I think Grace Crunican is a very smart person, but some of the leadership failures in a public organization have been great enough and there has not been accountability expressed. I have to imagine that all the stuff we hear about in the Seattle Department of Transportation shows deep, underlying problems that need to be addressed. That is a department that I will personally be focused on early. We will put in new management,” he says and will look directly at “historical reasons for the inefficiencies in this department.”

The snow fiasco last winter showed him a “complete failure of leadership – someone was penny-wise and pound foolish.”

On the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement, Mallahan says he is as frustrated as anyone that it has taken eight years to come up with a solution for replacement of the viaduct. “It took us this long to get the mayor and the governor and the Legislature and the Council and the (King County) executive to all be on the same page,” he says. “It is time to move forward. That investment is working family jobs and it also is securing the mobility of freight and people that will protect the working family jobs we have.”

He says he also opposes the financing of Mercer Avenue redevelopment – not the project itself.

He does not like the fact $70 million of the money would come from the Bridging the Gap levy, which was intended to relieve community transportation problems and finance maintenance. In addition, the project is $60 million short of the cost to complete it. Taking the money from the Bridging the Gap money would mean other problems would not be addressed. “Pot holes, sidewalks and bike lanes will be at risk,” he says.

Mallahan says no new taxes are needed.

“I believe there are efficiencies that can be driven in the operations of the city’s general fund so that we do not need to increase taxes to do the basics of delivering public service,” he says.

At the same time, he opposes the latest Tim Eyman initiative that is on this fall’s ballot. Initiative 1033 would limit revenue increases for governments, including Seattle, to the rate of inflation and population growth. Additional money above the limit would be used to reduce property taxes.

Mallahan says we need to be “honest with ourselves about all the restrictions that the Eymans of the world have put on government and government leaders should be true leaders.”

He says the city has a great credit rating, so he believes if bond issues must be used to finance major projects, that is acceptable, but no tax increase is needed to finance normal city operations.

Joe Mallahan’s page in the online city Voters’ Guide (text and video) is here. His campaign website is here.

7 Replies to "Election 2009, Seattle Mayor candidate closeup: Joe Mallahan"

  • I. Ponder October 21, 2009 (8:30 pm)

    One thing that really bugs me about Mallahan is that he has rarely ever voted in elections. So much for involvement. Just a wealthy business guy trying to buy his way in.

    I actually don’t care much for McGinn either, but will likely be giving him my vote.

    For better or worse, we have to choose between these two amateurs, who’ve never held office before.

    I suppose it’s too late to draft Licata.

  • (required) October 21, 2009 (9:50 pm)

    “I. Ponder,” Mallahan is just “a wealthy business guy trying to buy his way in”? I disagree. That’s just way too thin an oversimplistic gloss-over of a guy who seems to have a lot of great ideas, like (1) fiscal responsibility, and honoring Seattle’s good credit, (2) building a tunnel is a good idea, (3) improving public and law enforcement safety by increasing police, (4) no tax raises, (5) cutting costs, (6) he’s got the proper perspective on Tim Eyman, (7) snow happens, and with it leadership and planning are required — i.e., no more Michael Bilandic-type mayors!, (8) don’t treat earmarked maintenance money as a slush fund, and (9) did I say he’s pro-tunnel? (Yes.) Mallahan’s the better choice for Seattle.

  • bj October 21, 2009 (10:18 pm)

    I was undecided until I watched the debate. I agree that we have two amateurs and not real excited about either candidate. However, I think McGinn did a far better job tonight. Mallahan was arrogant, often couldn’t find an answer to the questions and his voting record does not set a good example. I do believe that he is a puppet and will do/say whatever the people that are pulling his strings want. I wish that there was a candidate that would be for a retrofit of the viaduct. The tunnel is for the property holders along the waterfront and the likes of Paul Allen. Tearing it down and not replacing it with something is ridiculous! We can’t flood our surface streets with all those cars.
    So, I guess we are faced with a choice of the lesser of two evils. I guess McGinn gets my vote.

  • I. Ponder October 21, 2009 (10:24 pm)

    Yes, any comment short of a full length essay is an over-simplification. That doesn’t mean it’s not a fair judgment. I am not promoting or campaigning for either of these guys. Just making an observation that he has rarely ever voted in elections. I do not see you commenting on that.

    I see that as a sad fact for someone running for major political office. In the past, voting has not been important to him, yet as Mayor he would be rallying people to vote and participate.”Do as I say, not as I do.” I think he said he’d been “busy”.

    Judging by the “press release” nature of your comments, and lack of an author name on your post, it appears you work for the campaign and are not merely expressing candid opinions.

  • Rob October 22, 2009 (6:57 am)

    Mallahan is not the better of two evils. Vote him in and you’ll go back to the days of Paul Schell.

  • Kayleigh October 22, 2009 (8:06 am)

    I honestly do not know who to vote for (this is rare for me) and I find this depressing.

  • Meghan October 22, 2009 (11:04 am)

    Mallahan may be rich now, but that’s only because he worked his way from a working class family in Everett to a successful executive. That shows he can work hard and has resolve. He is very progressive (was an Obama delegate) and is genuinely a very nice guy (according to several mutual friends and a few brief conversations at events). According to the people who have worked for him, he was a good listener and always open to other peoples’ ideas and opinions. This is the type of mayor this city needs. McGinn is running as a populist, but he’s run a very dishonest, sleazy campaign (including 2 very dishonest push polls). And now he has suddenly flip-flopped on his one big issue (the tunnel), saying it was because of a (non-binding) city council vote. Anyone paying attention knows that he flip-flopped based on the latest polls (showing support for the tunnel and him falling behind in the race), NOT this one vote. (He knows well that the City Council suported the tunnel before this week!!!). That is just the type of mayor we don’t need.

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