Election 2009, Seattle Mayor candidate closeup: Mike McGinn

checkbox.jpgThis morning, 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 (Wednesday), 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 this morning. (Editor’s note, 9:31 am – The Mallahan interview that also was published early this morning has disappeared from our database but will be republished by afternoon.).

By Jack Mayne
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

One big issue has just taken a new turn in the race for Seattle Mayor: Mike McGinn had made a big deal out of his deep objection to a deep-bored tunnel to replace the Central Waterfront section of the Alaskan Way Viaduct – until Monday – when the City Council unanimously voted to authorize Mayor Greg Nickels to sign an agreement with the state committing Seattle to the tunnel plan.

“I disagree with the decision. I disagree with the timing,” McGinn wrote. “But the reality is, Mayor Nickels and the Council have entered into an agreement, and the city is now committed to the tunnel plan.”

He says that if he is elected, it will be his job to “uphold and execute this agreement” and not his job to “withhold the cooperation of city government in executing this agreement.” He makes it clear he will not quietly go along on the project. He says he will ask the “tough questions” because the city still does not know how much the project will cost.

Another big question he shares with several City Council veterans is who pays for any cost overruns. There is a state mandate that the city pays, but the city wants that renegotiated.

“Where will the money come from, and who will bear the burden?” McGinn asks. “Will we have to cut police, fire, library, or services for the poor?”

He says he will not stop asking the tough questions even though he claims “my opponent has refused to ask any hard questions about the tunnel.”

McGinn clams that when asked about the Legislature approval of the amendment passing overrun costs to the city, Mallahan said, “If I were mayor, rather than taking potshots at Democratic leadership who put that (amendment) on, I’d express disappointment and say, “OK, we can live with this.”

Earlier, McGinn was adamant against the tunnel and seemed implacable on the subject.

“The question of the tunnel and is it a done deal? Yes, the governor, the mayor and the Council say they support it,” he told West Seattle Blog in an interview. “But they actually have to raise the money for it. The monorail was a done deal for a long time.” “The reason the monorail fell apart was on the financing. The difference with the monorail was that it has really significant public support. The tunnel does not have significant public support. Instead of a tunnel, he said a short time ago, he has a plan to bring light rail to the western part of the city.

“I have made a commitment to put in front of voters a plan within two years to extend light rail to neighborhoods that are not currently served, like West Seattle and Ballard.”

He says the city can do this as a Seattle measure, keeping costs down by using city rights of way. It would not be a “Cadillac system” but a more local system using local taxing authority and still transit ways separated from traffic “as much as possible.”

“If we do it that way, we are not going to have to wait 20 or 30 years for Sound Transit to bring light rail in the west side.” But he was until this week adamant about stopping the tunnel. “Let’s look at the financing for a minute. They are going to have to raise almost a billion from the City of Seattle.” Some of the money would come from property tax increases and local improvement districts. It is going to cost an increase in the parking tax, he says.

“Maybe the Council will do it on their own or put out a bond proposal, but even then it is going to cost an increase in utility rates. “It is one thing for the Council to say today that we’ve agreed, but they haven’t taken the tax vote yet nor have they given the public the bill for a local improvement district. All of this for people to take a 1.7-mile ride (past downtown).”

In addition, McGinn says there is a requirement from the state to raise $400 million from tolls, which will divert traffic to other city streets and I-5. He says the irony is that the city will not be investing in transit and I-5 improvements that would help deal with redeployed traffic.

Besides city money, the Port has to come up with $300 million – and the county is supposed to come up with $100 million, though it is in dire financial straits.

“So (the tunnel) is not funded, nor do we know what the ultimate cost will be because the engineering is not complete,” he says. “And, what if there are cost overruns? The state says the city must pay all cost overruns.”

McGinn says contractors will want to know specifically where the money for overruns will come from.

“All of this means the Legislature is going to have to reopen that provision if the project is going to proceed,” he says. “The Legislature says it is giving $2.4 billion and no more.”

So what happens in the Legislature when that issue gets opened up? “When we look at all of these things, the funding isn’t in place, the cost is unknown nor do we have any understanding of how we will deal with risk if there are overruns.

“If you were a business person handed all of this would you say, ‘hey, let’s green light it’? No, of course you wouldn’t. You would want to be sure you had all those things dealt with.” McGinn says, “Much like the monorail” city leaders are not being practical on the issue.

“The practical thing is to find something that will fit inside the city, county, port and state budgets and that actually meets our transportation needs,” he says.

But the candidate says he does not say to reject the tunnel means we have to start from scratch to replace the viaduct.

“We know how to get things done in the city,” he says. “We have built parks, we have repaired school building and fire stations, we have approved a Bridging the Gap levy,” he says. “We did get to a vote on light rail.

“Where we get in trouble is where you do not align public investments with public expectations. When it came to the Roads and Transit ballot measure, the elected officials thought you could not get light rail without roads. But the public wasn’t there,” he says. “So we came back with light rail and the public agreed.”

On the subject of the city’s besieged transportation department, McGinn was cautious.

“You have to get in there and get your hands on it to determine what needs to be done,” he says. “I think that SDOT (Seattle Department of Transportation) has been pretty progressive in a number of areas, including implementing the Bicycle Master Plan, the Pedestrian Master Plan, looking at options for better bus service.”

He says streetcar service will be folded into his proposal for additional light rail on the west side of the city, not just continuing to add streetcars. “I am for the First Hill streetcar line because the voters have approved it and we have the funding and ‘let’s get ‘er done’,” he says, but his emphasis would be on extending light rail.

He rates as “very poor” SDOT’s handling of the snowstorm last winter. That is a management issue, he says, that the mayor will have to go into, to find out what is going on.

Finding a new police chief is a “very big issue” to McGinn. He supports financing the department to allow community policing, which means roughly a patrol force of 605 officers. “The choice of police chief is critical because you will want someone respected by the (officers) on the force and by the public,” McGinn says. “The person (the chief) will have to also be able to work well with the rest of city government.”

McGinn deflected a question that some have raised about the lack of focus of mayoral candidates on issues of racial tensions in the city. “There are some neighborhoods that have a lot of distress with the police department and the absence of trust (makes it) hard to get police to be effective,” he says.

He noted that some programs dedicated to youth intervention have been changed or dropped leading to what he says is an increase in gang violence.

“There are lots of things we can do to support children, families and to support education,” he says.

After noting the reality of budget difficulties, McGinn said there were “efficiencies” that can be found, such as decreasing the number of political appointees in the mayor’s office, or multiple city departments that have their own public relations and technology staffs. “But if we don’t see an upturn in the economy, we will have to have more cuts that will have to be made,” he says. “I do not support repealing the head tax,” he says, a proposal by opponent Joe Mallahan.

“I think we will do more for the city’s finances by having that $5.2 million to help provide essential services,” he says.

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

19 Replies to "Election 2009, Seattle Mayor candidate closeup: Mike McGinn"

  • Meghan October 21, 2009 (7:29 am)

    If there weren’t so much riding on this election, McGinn’s sudden ‘flip flop’ would be hilarious. After running one of the sleaziest, most dishonest campaigns in Seattle history (including 2 push polls chock full of lies about guns and the tunnel project), McGinn uses a non-binding city council vote as an excuse to suddeny reverse himself on the main issue he was running on — going from a ONE ISSUE candidate to a NO ISSUE candidate — just as ballots are arriving and he’s falling behind in the polls. McGinn has known for months that the city council (along with the governor, current mayor, state legislature, port commissioner, and county govt) were all in unanimous agreement that the tunnel project was moving forward. What a cynical, self-serving move. If he flip-flops so suddenly on his biggest campaign issue, how could we ever know what his real positions are on anything now??? He owes a personal apology to anyone who’s already voted for him and sent in their ballot specifically because of his opposition to the tunnel.

  • wseye October 21, 2009 (8:12 am)

    Sadly, Mike McGinn does not understand our situation in West Seattle in regard to transportation. How could he believe that all of the cars that use the viaduct can be squeezed onto a few surface streets in SODO? That shows a disconnect from reality, and we can’t have our city run by a person who bases his policies on belief.

  • cjboffoli October 21, 2009 (9:40 am)

    “Speak what you think today in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today.”
    — Ralph Waldo Emerson (Self-Reliance)
    Isn’t it plausible that Mr. McGinn realized that the tunnel project is a fait accompli at this point and that there is no value in continuing to talk about working against it? Why is it that we hold our politicians up to this standard that they can never change their thinking on something, even when new information has emerged? And then there’s the game of politics in which Mr. Mallahan, rather than continuing to simply focus on the positive aspects of why we should vote for him, goes for the jugular and starts running slick commercials about flip-flopping.
    In my mind, I’m completely fine with a politician changing their mind on something as long as they can explain their thinking. I’d hate for someone to continue to support platform, made unwieldy by developing events, simply out of consistency or a fear that their opponent would jump on them for flip-flopping.
    Though I haven’t decided which candidate for Mayor to support yet, I think it is completely reasonable for Mr. McGinn to have concerns about the significant expense of the deep bore tunnel that is planned. Further, I think the disconnect from reality is the assumption that our overuse of private passenger cars (which pollute the environment, cost us billions in infrastructure, force us to fight foreign wars or to support nations hostile to the US) is a transportation system that has much of a future.

  • KBear October 21, 2009 (10:11 am)

    I’m glad McGinn has finally aligned himself with correct thinking. Hopefully he won’t try to prevent Mayor Mallahan from getting the tunnel built.

  • Beren October 21, 2009 (10:55 am)

    McGinn is out of touch and a little too much on the hysterical/crazy side for my tastes. I voted Mallahan without any regrets or cares about McGinn’s flip-flop.

  • Mark October 21, 2009 (11:52 am)

    A lot of open ended ideas and barbs thrown out there with little substance. Mike McGinn is more in touch with our neighborhoods than many of our current elected city officials. His civic life began at the neighborhood level.
    And if that’s your reason for voting for Joe, then you’ve not recognized the fact that Joe’s civic resume is shockingly short for a person running for mayor. Don’t just take my word for it either, go check it out.
    Regarding the viaduct… has everyone forgotten what has transpired over the last year? A bunch of options were studied last year and two leading options were recommended: a new viaduct and a surface street/transit/I-5 improvement option. There was even a public vote that said “No” to a new viaduct and “No” to a tunnel. But our esteemed state, county and city leaders came back earlier this year with the bored tunnel, which was previously taken off the table because of high costs. You can go do your homework with Google.
    And don’t think that our current tunnel option is going to “solve” everything. 60% of the trips on the current viaduct are to and from the downtown core, so you’re still going to have to work through the SODO off and on ramps, because there aren’t any other downtown exits, unless you’re headed to SLU or the other side of town. That’ll be a tough situation, since we’re focusing the big dollars on the bored tunnel and not spreading it out to transit and I-5 improvements or changes.

  • LE October 21, 2009 (12:26 pm)

    I agree with Mark.

    And it turns out that if you read carefully, McGinn has NOT flip-flopped. McGinn is running for Mayor – which is an executive position, legally bound to support (“execute”) the council’s decisions. All he has really said is that he will be doing what any mayor would be legally bound to do – accept that the city council has had a vote, and that the city council’s vote has a legal, official standing.

    He hasn’t flip-flopped. He has simply confirmed that he is indeed running for Mayor, not dictator, and he has some understanding of what responsibilities go with that elected office.

    It doesn’t mean that he cannot continue, or has relinquished, his ongoing view that we need a better, voter-approved, plan. It simply means that he will follow the law. Duh.

    BUT, it takes a lot more than a city council vote to get a tunnel (billions and billions more), and it will take more that this 10-billion dollar two-lane toll road to Ballard to provide reasonable transportation access to downtown.

  • BillB October 21, 2009 (12:50 pm)

    Council has previously voted on MOA elements related to tunnel. Why didn’t Mr. Principled McGinn decide to back them earlier.

    The MOA by the way is not a legal or contractual agreement, only a process statement.

    McGinn riled up his base by selling the dream that cars are bad, the tunnel is a bad investment.

    He will now support the tunnel to try to attract votes and to lose his naysayer image.

    How sure now is anyone that he will stick to his promise for a west side rail vote?

  • wseye October 21, 2009 (12:54 pm)

    McGinn believes that you can squeeze all 110,000 cars that use the viaduct daily onto the few city streets that run through SODO – the stadiums, the port, all the other industrial uses. Sorry, but that borders on science fiction.

  • Mark October 21, 2009 (1:17 pm)

    Mr. McGinn believes, along with lots of people, that there is a better way.
    And the “everybody” and “all” comments are just so tiring. You must realize that there are many facets to this situation. Even the guy who rides his bike to work 365 days a year realizes that there are some people who must drive their cars to work. Or take the bus. Or whatever.
    Science fiction is the thought that there’s a great, big, easy solution to all of this that won’t require each of us to sacrifice anything. Science fiction is not recognizing the fact that the 50 people on the bus AREN’T the 50 people in traffic in their cars. Science fiction is not recognizing that people riding their bikes to downtown are part of the solution, not an annoying part of the problem.

  • Ex-Westwood Resident October 21, 2009 (2:52 pm)

    And when bus ridership and bike riders both exceed 30% then the time would be right to look at those solutions.
    But to think that the 30% level is going to be reached any time soon or that you can force people into one of those transportation methods is PURE Sci-Fi AND pure Socialism.

  • zgh2676 October 21, 2009 (5:36 pm)

    McGinn’s timing is unfortunate, but realistic. He had to acknowledge at some time this tunnel is going to be a reality. Better before the election than after it (when he would end up looking like an actual liar).

    The fact is he is the most qualified of the two candidates to be mayor. The rest is just politics.

    Let’s hope he can actually get a vote in 2011 for expanded light-rail to the west sides of the city. Too big a population in these areas to ignore it’s needs.

  • Johnson October 21, 2009 (5:51 pm)

    Vote McGinn! Free the W. Seattle Bridge for Bike & Pedestrian traffice ONLY!

  • Kate Martin October 21, 2009 (6:35 pm)

    Mike is a chameleon. In Greenwood, he was less than productive and that’s one of his big claims to fame. He’s a meeting junkie without the discipline to follow through with commitee work and work plans, goals, etc. He gets turned on by a fight just as you’d expect a litigator to do and then oh well, that’s over, onto the next one. Even refused a mission statement for the community council. No mission, no problem in his eyes I guess.

    “I think that SDOT (Seattle Department of Transportation) has been pretty progressive in a number of areas, including implementing the Bicycle Master Plan, the Pedestrian Master Plan, looking at options for better bus service.”

    SDOT is a disaster. If he doesn’t get that, forget it.

  • (required) October 21, 2009 (9:37 pm)

    I apologize, but I have completely run out of patience for anti-tunnel views. Heard ’em all. Repeatedly. And they still don’t make sense. Even some of the commenters here that have politely discussed their reasons for disliking the tunnel merely present the same tired, irrational views. Ultimately, either you’re for it or against it. And obviously, I’m for the tunnel. You should be too, but we’ve heard it all many times before. Enough. Mr. McGinn is committed to nothing, apparently, if he now says — right on the eve of the election — that contrary to his emotional anti-tunnel spoutings, he’s “come to jesus” and will NOW, finally, will now support the tunnel, IF he’s elected mayor. Seriously. Does he think anyone is gong to buy that? All along he’s said he’ll kill it if he can. in no uncertain terms. But now that the election is upon us, he’s suddenly going to change his tune 180 degrees? GMABBFB. Who does he think he’s kidding? Look, I admire his environmental passion. A lot. That matters. That’s a great quality. But to me, he’s simply just another irrational anti-tunnel type, and the tunnel in Seattle is the main issue. It is a litmus test, really. Mr. McGinn’s opponent isn’t anti-environment. He isn’t a bad guy. it’s not like one is good and one is evil. In fact, they’re both nice guys, but one is just one of these typical anti-tunnel irratonal types. And McGinn is demonstrably willing to compromise his views COMPLETELY. No way he could just “bite the bullet.” ‘m sorry, but I’ve had enough, and I can’t be fooled by his bald attempt to sway pro-tunnel votersin the 11th hour. The tunnel is the issue. The tunnel gives the people of Seattle open waterfront space downtown. Forever. And solves traffic while eliminating a dilapidated, dangerous viaduct. That matters. This tunnel has been decided for, and McGinn could jeopardize it. No matter what he says now, he really would prefer tokill it any way he could get away with. Although, he’ll sa anything now, just to try to get votes. So vote for McGinn’s opponent, if only because he isn’t offering empty platitudes like McGinn is. After seeing Seattle debate whether to have a monorail for forty — FORTY FORTY FORTY FRICKIN’ FORTY — years, and waste 40 years watchin the cost of transportation improvements skyrocket, and watching every developer and his dog own up all the space that has a great view of the water downtown, a tunnel is a great solution. So enough. Time to vote anti-McGinn, not anti-tunnel. Done with the babble and yakfest. Time for intelligent urban planning. No mealy-mothed Mallahan, please.

  • (required) October 21, 2009 (9:39 pm)

    KBear at 10:11, I love your comment. You rock mightily.

  • mar3c October 22, 2009 (7:52 am)

    ex-westwood, required, etc. – where did you read that mcginn supports the tunnel? he still opposes it. so do i.
    i’ve never understood what’s wrong with the cut-and-cover tunnel through downtown. same results. less cost.
    regarding light rail: no one is trying to replace cars, and i’m tired of anti-rail folks stuffing that straw man. we could have 10 lanes into and out of downtown and it would still get backed up when it hits the city grid. and it’s a fact that any good municipal transportation system has redundancy that gives people multiple options, including driving solo, regardless of road conditions or time of day.

  • nuni October 22, 2009 (10:57 am)

    If they could build a tunnel with DT exits that would be GREAT.

  • Mickymse October 23, 2009 (1:18 pm)

    Wseye is simply wrong. Period.
    1) McGinn and other surface/transit/I-5 proposal supporters are not proposing to put 110,000 vehicles onto city streets.
    2) The currently proposed tunnel, as Mark points out, will put as many as 60,000 vehicles onto city streets — without spending the money to expand capacity on I-5 or to make significant improvements to city streets.
    3) The tunnel will increase your property taxes and your utility taxes, leaving little authority for improving schools, parks, Seattle Center, emergency services, or anything else over the next decade.
    4) The increased parking taxes will drive business away from Downtown, and limit pedestrian and bicycle improvements.
    The financing plan for this tunnel is worse than the monorail. The monorail’s problems was the need to pay off bonds over such a long period of time. The tunnel has the same problem PLUS it will tie up all of our other taxing authority as the cost overruns occur.

Sorry, comment time is over.