Carl tags… I’d buy some of those!

I suppose I could hurl invective at Carl while revoking his posting privileges for daring to contradict me on the front page of my own blog, but… conflict makes for better reading, and I have always given my co-bloggers explicit instructions to write whatever they want. And, apart from the headline, he didn’t really contradict me all that much.

So I thought I’d just take this opportunity to explore the possibility of a Murray for Mayor write-in campaign a little further, while laying out my own take on the candidates and the current state of the campaign.

First of all, my main problem with Mallahan is not really Mallahan himself, but the fact that I’m kinda offended by the very premise of his campaign. No, I don’t think being a corporate executive should disqualify one from office, even here in granola-crunching Seattle, and in fact I do think that his years as a T-Mobile exec make for an impressive bullet point on his resume… but not in and of itself.

This is a man with no recent record of public service, who from his public comments appears not very knowledgeable about the majority of issues facing Seattle, and who has clearly not put much thought into the challenges of running city government, at least not prior to throwing his hat into the ring. Hell, he hasn’t even voted consistently in recent years. Running government more like a business may make for good campaign rhetoric in the post-Reagan era, but government is not a business. Folks can tease Tim Burgess all they want after the fact about passing up what might have been an easy path into the mayor’s office, but at least he seemed to realize that he needed a little more seasoning on the council before taking on the task. Mallahan apparently lacks this sort of self-awareness, in that “hey, I’m a successful wealthy guy, I can do anything” mode that seems to afflict so many of our region’s nouveaux riche.

I don’t doubt Mallahan is a smart, capable guy, and I don’t question his motives. But I don’t know that he has the skills or the management philosophy necessary to be an effective mayor, and he’s said and done nothing to assure me that he does. And that’s where pumping his own money into his campaign really works against him in my book.  Had he come out of nowhere to raise the money and profile necessary to knock an incumbent mayor out in the primary, I would have been impressed by his political prowess. But he didn’t. He bought himself into frontrunner status, which is not a knock in itself, but which shows me absolutely nothing about his political skill and determination.

McGinn on the other hand has proven himself everything that Mallahan has not. He’s a lifelong activist with a couple of big victories to his credit, who ran a surprisingly successful, grassroots sleeper of a primary campaign that certainly shows his political chops. It also doesn’t hurt in my book that I agree with him on most major issues (his proposal to take over the school district is painfully stupid on so many levels, but, well, you can’t have everything), and unlike Mallahan, I have absolutely no question about where McGinn stacks up in terms of values.

But… and this is a huge but… I have very real concerns about McGinn’s ability to work and play well with others.

Back in June when I wrote about the surprising lack of support for McGinn and his fellow Sierra Clubee Mike O’Brien from their colleagues in the region’s broader environmental coalition, I got a lot of public and private push-back from the community assuring me that no, they really do like and support Mike… O’Brien. But McGinn, not so much. And on primary election night when news flashed about McGinn’s unexpected standing at the top of the polls, the sentiment I heard from many of his fellow environmental leaders was more along the line of “oh well, I guess we kinda have to endorse him,” rather than the outright enthusiasm one might have expected.

It’s not that his colleagues dislike him (well, some of them do); from all accounts McGinn is a great guy. It’s just that they don’t particularly like working with him.

It is ironic then, that after kicking out a mayor largely because voters couldn’t stand his allegedly abrasive, unilateral style, we might replace him with man with a reputation for having an equally abrasive and unilateral style. Combine that with McGinn’s total absence of any significant executive experience managing large enterprises… not even running a department at a wireless phone company, for whatever that is worth… and, well, I’m understandably wary. And, like Mallahan, McGinn’s lack of legislative experience doesn’t bode well for his ability to wade through the process oriented pool of molasses that is our city council.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the notion of citizen legislators. But a citizen executive with little real government experience under his belt is a much more troublesome concept.

That brings us to Ed Murray.

I personally like Ed, and think he’s been one of our most effective state legislators, but I’m certainly no fan boy. If this were a race to succeed US Rep. Jim McDermott, a seat Murray clearly covets, I doubt I’d be in his camp, as I’d prefer being represented by someone with a less cautious and run-of-the-mill political style. (For example, I’m a huge Barney Frank fan.)

But exactly the same qualities that turn me off in terms of Murray’s congressional aspirations help make him perhaps the most qualified politician on the local scene today to serve as mayor. Mayor Nickels, as much as I like and respect him, hasn’t exactly had a rapport with either the council or Olympia, and unlike McGinn and Mallahan, Murray has the skills, experience and personal relationships to help turn this around, and fast. And while there are certainly issues on which I disagree with Murray, and others on which I desperately wish he’d take a leadership role, there’s no question that his values fit squarely with those of a majority of Seattle voters.

So in my mind, in a three-way race between Murray, Mallahan and McGinn (hey… what a great name for an Irish law firm), it’s a no brainer. And if Murray’s name was actually on the ballot, I’m pretty damn confident that money, endorsements and votes would flow his way.

But of course, Murray’s name won’t be on the ballot, so… should he run a write-in campaign?

If Murray truly believes that neither Mallahan nor McGinn is qualified to be mayor, and can make a compelling case in that regard, and he believes he can raise enough money to be competitive, and he’s willing to put in the time and effort necessary to make this a serious challenge, and in doing so he’s willing to put his reputation and credibility on the line… why the hell not? Even if he’ll likely lose, which, considering the daunting challenge of mounting a write-in campaign, he probably will.

Some have suggested that running as write-in would make Murray some kind of spoiler or poor sport, but that’s a load of crap. Our system envisions and allows for write-in campaigns, while making them exceedingly difficult, as they should be. So there’s nothing unfair or anti-democratic about it. And if either McGinn or Mallahan (or both) can’t draw more votes than a goddamn write-in, then they certainly don’t deserve to be mayor.

And as for whether such a potential folly might hurt Murray’s future aspirations, if he runs a good, compelling, honest campaign, I don’t see how it could. If anything, it would only enhance his visibility and name ID across WA-07 in advance of a future congressional campaign, perhaps even setting him up as the frontrunner I’ve always assumed he imagines himself to be. And if the same labor and business sources who funded that recent poll are willing to put up the money to help Murray do that, more power to him. (Perhaps quite literally.)

Politics is a tough, tough business, and if Mallahan and McGinn choose to whine about Murray launching a nearly-Quixotic write-in challenge, well that would only prove to me my suspicions that they’re not up to the task.


  1. 1

    Cato the Younger Younger spews:

    Murray has this opening in large part because the other two M’s (god, could we have found another letter to go with this year?!?) have not defined themselves. They were simply not Nickels.

    And that is what bothers me; you can dig around on both Mallahan and McGinn and find some stands on actual issues but not many people on the street are going to do that. They need to present themselves with the vision for Seattle “thing” and a casual Seattle voter doesn’t see that.

    Another point, the debates that were announced this week: If one of the two primary winners wanted to be taken seriously, why didn’t they say something to the tune of “and if any viable write in candidates want to participate in the debates they are welcome to participate”. That would show the voters that either McGinn or Mallahan have the stomach for what could turn into a surprisingly strange political season.

    Finally, then I’ll shut up, I like the fact that Murray is thinking about running as a write in. (Oh and politicians who get elected ARE opportunists, ALL OF THEM. So can we get off the “opportunist” and “ego” label on Murray?) We constantly complain that Democrats are too spineless and avoid fights. Murray is out there feeling out for a fight: and this is something that is good in a politician and sadly lacking with the Democrats. Frankly, we don’t have ENOUGH write in candidates (who are viable) to shake up the system. And you know what? We just may have one who has the b*lls to do it and win.

  2. 2

    Now you see it spews:

    What always bothers me with folks like Mallahan, who don’t have a background in public service, is why would you WANT this kind of job? It doesn’t pay that much, you do NOT have sweeping powers to do whatever you want, but are working within a big complicated bureaucracy with lots of entrenched interests.

    Maybe it just sounds ‘glamorous’ or powerful, maybe a big ego boost, but it’s a very odd type of job and just being a good business man isn’t necessarily any better qualifications for being mayor than being a good biologist is good qualification for the Tour De France…it doesn’t disqualify you, but it really doesn’t apply that much. The government is a “service of all” institution, not a for-profit sell to who you feel like business.

    I see more institutional management skills in McGinn or Murray.

  3. 3

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    In 1998, Charlotte Burks ran as a write-in candidate for a Tennessee state senate seat and won with 96% of the vote.

  4. 4

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    “Running government more like a business may make for good campaign rhetoric” but doesn’t work in the real world, which is why successful businessmen almost always make lousy politicians.

    There are many reasons for this. For example, business people are accustomed to running enterprises with a top-down command-type management style, but that doesn’t work when you’re dealing with legislators and constituents.

    Too, businesses are always trying to cut costs, but in government you’re given a budget and your management objective is to spend it in a way that maximizes services to the public. Ordinarily, returning unspent money to the treasury is not a goal, because this means you didn’t deliver the level of services that the legislative body decided to fund.

    Process is a significant cost of governing. Studies, community meetings, public hearings, etc., are expensive and therefore a tempting target for a cost cutting-oriented manager, but these things are vital to our democracy. Do you really want a mayor who’s going to decide what to do about the Alaska Way Viaduct without giving citizens any say about it?

    I took graduate school courses in public management and spent almost 30 working years in government; and from that perspective, I’m very wary of the idea of bringing people in from the business sector to run governments or public agencies — especially those who promise businesslike “efficiency.”

    Government is inherently inefficient precisely because of the amount of citizen participation in its decision-making processes; and that participation is not something we should be willing to give up.

  5. 5

    Cato the Younger Younger spews:

    @4, just to chide you a bit; you are talking about representative governmentright? I mean if you look at Hitler’s Germany it really was run with ruthless business like precision.

    But that does further prove your point.

  6. 6

    Sam Adams spews:

    @5 So if Seattle government would, by chance, become more fiscally sound more like a business than the circus it is now……

    It’ll result in a totalitarian regime?

    Who’s playing the Hitler Card now?

  7. 7

    Now you see it spews:

    @6 I say son, it’s a joke.

    The running political science joke is that the most efficient form of government is a benevolent dictator. But history shows us that rarely happens and even if it does, transition of power is usually to criminally insane relatives. So we have Democracy, the worst form of government on earth, except for all the others!

  8. 8

    SJ's Sockpuppet spews:


    Great post.

    I too wopuld support Ed, but onluy if I could be convinced he has a chance. I think McG would be a disaster.

    I also think the idea of a write in at this stage of a campaign is absurd. Not Ed’s fault but what effin idiot wrote the law this way?

    Combine this with a mail in ballot and the potential for mischief is enormous.

  9. 9

    Cato the Younger Younger spews:

    @6, I even said it was a joke. (Please look up the word “chide” in your dictionary) And not only that I even qualified it to say “ruthless” before the business portion to qualify it as something different than Mallahan wants to do.

    Conservatives are so damn quick to freak out and attack others or start wars… JUST LIKE HITLER!!!!

    There, NOW I played the Hitler card! Happy?

  10. 10

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @6 One way you can make city government “more fiscally sound” is by selling the snowplows and making the citizens responsible for plowing their own damn streets.

  11. 11

    Don't you think he looks tired? spews:

    I’m bothered by the tendency of the Seattle political establishment to go to the legislature to reverse decisions of the Seattle voters. Seattle voted against stadiums, so the political establishment went to the legislature to get their stadiums. The citizens voted against a tunnel. The establishment went to the legislature and got their tunnel. Now we’ve had a mayoral primary, and the establishment doesn’t like the outcome, so they go find a popular legislator and run a write in campaign. All of this is quite legal, but it galls me that the will of Seattle voters counts for so little. Why do we even bother to vote? Maybe we should just run the city from Olympia. The folks out east complain that Seattle runs Olympia. I think it’s the other way around, and I see Ed Murray as the candidate of Olympia and the Seattle establishment.

    I like Ed Murray. I’ve voted for him as long as I’ve lived in the 43rd. I think he’d make a great mayor. If he had run in the primary, I might have voted for him. But this last minute, “oh my god, what are we going to do about those crazy voters”, reaction bothers me.

  12. 12

    Jason spews:

    I agree with Caro @ 1 that the biggest issue is both candidates have largely been defined by one or two key facts regarding their careers but very little else. McGinn’s done a slightly better job, but I also think he’s received a bit more favorable press to this point than Mallahan. As Goldy points out, even some of that definition is getting some pushback as mayor is a much more people-pleasing job than gadfly.

    Mallahan’s bio states that he served as a Congressional aide to Al Swift while in college & then on a Congressional sub-committee. Since he otherwise lacks public service experience, why isn’t he playing this up more?! Shouldn’t this be part of a boilerplate message he slips into every interview? Same thing with his community organizing experience in Chicago. I can’t believe his campaign manager has been so inept on something so basic – when people are criticizing you about an issue, offer up legitimate counter-examples. Maybe those examples aren’t enough to convince everyone, but it’s better than silence.

  13. 13

    Elliott spews:


    Regarding “if Mallahan and McGinn choose to whine about Murray…”: I’ll refer you to McGinn’s response on King 5 Tuesday evening.

    McGinn said today, “Seattle voters deserve a great debate about the future of Seattle. We’d welcome Ed to that debate.”

  14. 14

    SJ's Sockpuppet spews:

    Potential for Mischief

    Murray Write-In Campaign: FREE BEER!

    DL to sponsor beer-in for Ed.

    Next Tuesday, anyone who brings their mail in ballot to DL can show it for a free beer.

    Supporters of Sen Murray will be present to write in his name for you, to assure that your vote will be counted. A sealed box will also be available in case you want to mail the ballot in. Goldy will personally dump deliver all the ballots submitted at DL to his local post office.

  15. 15


    I don’t think the environmental community’s endorsements of Nickels had much to do with McGinn’s collegiality or lack thereof.

    The mainstream enviros don’t endorse the candidate with the strongest environmental credentials; they endorse the most-likely-to-win candidate who is strong enough on the environment to be considered “friendly.” Especially if that person is an incumbent, since incumbents rarely lose.

    In the race, that was Nickels.

    I don’t necessarily like this kind of strategic thinking all that much, but I understand where they’re coming from.

  16. 16


    apart from the headline, he didn’t really contradict me all that much.

    Well I already had the post swirling around in my head, so once I read your post, I had a title and the incentive to actually write it up.

  17. 18

    City employee spews:

    As someone who has worked at the city since the end of the Rice admin – I am worried.
    Gov’ is NOT like business & anyone who is not from public sector has at LEAST a 2 year learning curve.
    My dept LOVES to hire private sector managers, directors & the dept head – so I have experience here. My job requires me to work with people in lots of divisions and depts – so I get lots of exposure to the good, bad & ugly at the city.

    Private sector people get caught up in:
    process issues (internal and external), appropriations (what I can’t spend money that I saved elsewhere?),
    Buying stuff ( it’s the voter $$ and there are rules),
    Labor law included in the city charter, union contracts, city law, state law, Fed law
    Above all the mayor has to LOVE spending time with voters, not the chamber of commerce.

    My issue with Nickels is that he was such a bully, his dept heads are not capable of making decisions without him. His dept heads are afraid to tell him bad news or why some of the Mayors initiatives were bad ideas.
    As a neighborhood person he ticked me off by taking credit for multi-year projects completed 3 weeks after his election. I also disagreed with the firing of Jim Diers, although that certainly reduced DON’s influence.