Write a post that puts the mayoral aspirations of Jan Drago or Joe Mallahan in a less than flattering light, and I hear crickets chirping in the comment threads; maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong, nobody seems to really care. But dare to critique Mike McGinn and his campaign, or even just diss his electoral prospects, and man, it’s Katie bar the door, my threads and email overflowing with lengthy defenses of the environmental and community activist cum politician, along with an occasional attack on my own credibility and/or motives.
You gotta appreciate the passion. From the public and private polls I’ve seen thus far, McGinn doesn’t appear to enjoy broad support, but unlike the rest of the field, what support he has sure does run deep. Compare that to Mayor Greg Nickels, whose campaign slogan at the moment appears to be “I’m Not So Bad!”
This passionate support for McGinn—and in a similar vein, City Council candidate and fellow Sierra clubby Mike O’Brien—is on display in the thread from last Friday, a post in which I suggested the two Mikes were having trouble garnishing sole endorsements from environmental groups and leaders due to lingering resentment over Sierra Club’s failure to work and play well with others.
Plenty of folks took issue with both my analysis and my facts, and you can read their complaints for yourself. (That, by the way, is what these comment threads are really for, believe it or not… not the usual poop-flinging that tends characterize HA.) But I also heard directly from the two Mikes themselves, and there’s no doubt their personal passion more than matches that of their supporters.
O’Brien called me at home Saturday morning, and we had a long, pleasant, chatty and occasionally tangential conversation (I tend to be chatty and tangential, so no surprise there) on a wide ranging number of issues. Mostly O’Brien called to staunchly defend the Sierra Club and its reputation in the broader environmental community… so much so, that at some point I paused to remind him that as a candidate for office, he should probably spend some time actually promoting himself. (He also used the best excuse ever for getting off the phone with me: ”I gotta go, my neighbor’s house is on fire.”)
O’Brien wanted to set the record straight that Sierra Club opposed the Roads & Transit measure all the way, never made any promises to support it, and wasn’t alone in their opposition. He also touted Sierra Club’s hard work and determination to get a transit-only measure on the 2008 ballot, and ultimately passed, and pointed to their close cooperation with other environmental organizations as evidence of Sierra’s good working relationship.
All that may be true, but, as I pointed out, there were many in the broader environmental coalition who voiced a sense of betrayal at the time, and there are lingering recriminations today. These hard feelings may or may not be deserved, but they exist nonetheless, and that was really all that post was about.
For his part, McGinn defended himself, his campaign and the Sierra Club in a rather lengthy and pointed email. He too took umbrage at the notion that Sierra Club broke any promises on Roads & Transit, and defended its standing in the broader coalition. But he seemed most irritated by a prior post in which I admittedly cast aspersions on his dedication to campaigning. I wrote:
Successfully running for office, especially against an entrenched incumbent, is a near full time job, yet the last couple times I saw McGinn, he was just out riding his bike. Not doorbelling, not fundraising, not working the crowd, just out enjoying the sunshine and riding his bike. Good for him, I suppose. It’s a healthy passtime. But with that kinda political work ethic, I don’t think that’s a buzz you hear coming from his campaign, Craig, but rather the hiss of the air slowly escaping from McGinn’s political tires.
And McGinn responds:
The second factual error related to the statement I am “just out riding my bike” as proof that I don’t have a political work ethic. The one day you actually referenced that you saw me I was not “just our riding my bike.” I was biking back from the West Seattle Water Taxi to my house. I had spent the day at the Alki Summer Streets with four volunteers handing out campaign materials and talking to voters, as well as talking to folks on the Water Ferry on the ride out and back. My daughter had a scheduled soccer game at the Interbay field, which I was hoping to catch the end of. I did not see her play, her game was already over. Which was too bad, since the long days of campaigning and weekend events have cut my time with my kids down to very little. Maybe you should ask them how many hours I am working. They tease me about the short amount of time between getting home and then getting on the computer or phone.
In either case, a quick phone call to me would have prevented those errors, or at least gave you more info for your column to compare to “the scuttlebutt” other people are telling you. Other things you state are opinion, but opinions usually come after looking at the facts. And if you ever want to learn about what my campaign is doing, feel free to give me a call. I am happy to take a few minutes from campaign work if it helps provide some context and depth for your reporting.
Ouch. To be honest, I really only used the anecdote of McGinn on his bike as an opportunity to set up my buzz versus hiss quip. Ah well, sometimes I guess I let my snark get the best of me, so… um… sorry.
McGinn goes on to talk about issues and endorsements and issues—mostly his opposition to the deep bore tunnel, a position we both share—and again, passionately so. Which brings me back to my main point.
I love passionate politics; it’s something we don’t see enough of around here, and it’s something the two Mike’s clearly share. And if they can translate their own passion, and that of their core supporters into a broader campaign, then they’ll both stand a good chance at winning in November.
I haven’t paid enough attention to the city council races to know if O’Brien is anywhere near that point, but I just don’t see it happening for McGinn. Part of it his anemic fundraising; money isn’t everything in politics, but it is the primary means of getting your message out to the broader electorate in a citywide race, and McGinn doesn’t have nearly enough of it. And part of it is certainly the inherent challenge of an environmentalist going up against an incumbent who is perceived to be strong on environmental issues.
But even those two weaknesses aside, I just haven’t seen an effective message coming from McGinn (or for that matter, any of the mayoral challengers). Passion yes, message no. And that doesn’t make for a winning campaign.