McGinn’s flip didn’t flop in mayoral race

Of all the tidbits from last’s night’s post-mayoral-election consultancy tell-all, the conversation about McGinn’s tunnel “flip-flop” was the one I was looking forward to the most:

Just two weeks before the Nov. 3 election, McGinn shocked many by saying he would no longer oppose the controversial, $4.2 billion tunnel replacement. McGinn made his announcement immediately after a City Council vote to move forward with the project.

McGinn campaign guru Bill Broadhead said his candidate made his statement after what he said was a surprise council vote, and McGinn wanted to emphasize he [would] “honor agreements.”

“He didn’t flip,” Broadhead said.

McGinn did flip, and he flipped his way into the mayor’s office, Neuman said.

“It was a brilliant move, genius,” said Neuman, who added she initially thought McGinn’s “flip/flop” would hurt him. “For the first five minutes, I thought, ‘yep, this is my Christmas present.’ Five minutes later, I thought, ‘oh, fill in the blank with your favorite four-letter word.’ This could really work for him. Flip-flopping is an inside baseball game. And Mike McGinn is no John Kerry, he can articulate things very well.”


And what did I write at the time?

McGinn’s admission that a 9-0 council vote (not to mention the pro-tunnel stance of the governor and the legislature) is not something a mayor is likely to overcome shows a pragmatic side that I wasn’t sure he had coming into this campaign, and should help assuage the concerns of some who feared a vote for McGinn would be a vote for gridlock, both figuratively and literally.

I’d previously argued that McGinn had “overestimated the breadth and depth of popular opposition to the tunnel,” and that if he ended up losing, this was the issue that might have done him in. So I’m feeling kinda smart right about now.

I think the tunnel has always been a much more nuanced issue than it is usually made out to be. And in the end, voters turned out to be pretty damn nuanced as well. Who’d a thunk?


  1. 1

    rhp6033 spews:

    One of the problems in this region is that if you give voters several options, they will become wedded to their first choice among those options, to the point that none of them achieves a majority consensus and therefore nothing is ever resolved.

    This “my way or nothing” approach has so far put off replacement of the Alaska Way Viaduct for most of this past decade, despite the urgency revealed by the Nisqually Earthquake. A more damning gridlock has developed over the 520 bridge replacement, which has been debated off and on ever since I moved to this area over thirty years ago.

    Perhaps voters are beginning to be more pragmatic? Perhaps Seattle voters don’t want to go through another four years or so of gridlock on the issue, as the council and the mayor block each other’s moves so nothing gets done? Perhaps they think that a tunnel, even if it isn’t their preferred alternative, is better than waiting another four years or more and praying that the Viaduct doesn’t come down on our heads in the meantime?

    By the way, is it possible the release of the WDOT animation of the viaduct and seawall collapsing in a future earthquake might have played a role in this pragmatism?

  2. 2


    I know you nailed my exact feelings about the race with “some who feared a vote for McGinn would be a vote for gridlock, both figuratively and literally”.

    I was a Mallahan supporter, Not because I felt that he would be god’s gift to Seattle. But because people with a business background are more likely to pull the trigger. McGinn seemed to me like the same old tired type of no action lots of talk type liberal this city has had to endure for years.

    I’m just so tired of the, so call, Seattle process I could slit my wrists. Pols in the city have a well known propensity to talk a good game and not really move the ball forward. It’s just too much intellectual exercise and not enough bricks and mortar with the central Seattle’s wunderkind.

    The other argument is that the tunnel issue is reached its shelve life. It not a perfect plan but it’s certainly a good plan and the hidden benefit is it will be a massive jobs program in a time when we need one. It will reduce disruptions as compared to the surface only option. Plus it also satisfies the desires of working class people who want to drive to work from places like West Seattle and Vashon on a daily basis. They are not going to be convinced that they should be riding a bus or walking. So please stop the elitist whining about that please. Maybe you can work on the next generation and get them all on bicycles.

    In the end, will see if McGinn is a talker or a doer. I still have my doubts that he’s not just another Seattle process obsessed poser.

  3. 3

    40-year Voter spews:

    The deep-bore tunnel is not a “massive jobs program” @2. The contractor will import most of his highly-specialized boring machine crew, which will number in the dozens, not hundreds.

    Beyond jobs, note that the only people who will use the tunnel are those connecting from Aurora Ave. to SODO, south of downtown, not your average commuter from West Seattle or Vashon — there’s still no connection to Interbay/Ballard (no Elliott or Western Ave. ramps) nor to central downtown (no Seneca or Columbia St. ramps).

    It’s strictly a through route that will accommodate only about half of current viaduct traffic.

  4. 4

    Wells spews:

    Don’t conclude the fight against the Deep-bore tunnel fiasco is over. Maybe some oh so authoritative media resource could do a better job informing readers about the critically important advantages offered by the 4-lane cut/cover, WSDOT’s Scenario ‘G’ or ‘Tunnelite’ as it was known in its embryonic stage in March 2007.

    Will anti-abortion of unborn waterfront tunnel advocates repent? Do they realize how much stronger Seattle’s Seawall and more stable Alaskan Way will be with the cut/cover? Do they understand how a ‘segmented’ bore tunnel is weak at every joint? Do they realize how the Deep-bore tunnel will dump 40,000 vehicles daily onto the new Alaskan Way and Mercer Street west through Lower Queen Anne to Elliott Ave? Is there a better time than now for sack cloth and ashes?

  5. 5

    prefer transparent verfiable elections spews:

    I am always amused by these people, like #2, who seem to think that 20 years from now people will still be able to drive their cars like they do today. Driving cars on freeways and as an everyday mode of transportation will be obsolete, not because of elitists who think they know what is best, but because we just won’t have a choice. Peak oil is here. There ain’t going to be enough oil for cars or much else.

  6. 7


    I liked McGinn but I was terribly bothered by his opposition to the tunnel. My feeling was that it was the best option and I was happy that the Governor and the Mayor and others finally bit the bullet and decided to go with it.

    In the meantime I kept waiting to find out who Mallahan was. I even answered an email from Tina Podlowski complaining about McGinn’s robocalls. I asked her to please give me one positive thing I should know about Mallahan that would give me a reason to vote for him. She never responded and the Mallahan campaign never did tell me anything about Mallahan. I still don’t know who he is.

    So after McGinn came out with his supposed flip/flop I was very happy to be able to vote for the best candidate.

  7. 8

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    The “nuance” is that downtown commercial property interests will get enhanced views and property values and homeowners will get stuck with higher taxes for the inevitable cost overruns.

    I knew from the get-go this was how it would turn out in the end. It always does, because those with money and power always get what they want at the expense of everyone else. It’s been that way from the beginning of time, and will stay that way to the end of time, no matter how many McGinns you elect. Money talks; the rest of us walk.

    The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  8. 9

    slingshot spews:

    Whomever ‘pulled the trigger’ on construction of the viaduct should have the trigger pulled on them. What an absolute blight on humanity and piece of shit. The universe will smile the day the last vestiges of that fucker falls.

  9. 10

    Puddybud is shocked SHOCKED spews:

    Funniest line in the thread head…

    And Mike McGinn is no John Kerry, he can articulate things very well.”

    Guess where the emphasis should go?

    How do we know how many peeps will be hired by the tunnel?

  10. 11

    Matthew spews:

    Except McGinn didn’t flip at all. He opposed the tunnel. He remains opposed to the tunnel.

    Then circumstances changed. So he explained how he would respond to the changed circumstances. He still opposed the tunnel, but also believed it is important to work with the city council.

    And besides, with a unanimous council against his position, there is less chance of success in opposing the tunnel. So he decided to respect the council’s decision.

    Which means he actually accepted defeat (at least for now). Few politicians (hell, few people) are willing and able to do that.

    McGinn was thoughtful, nuanced, and gracious. But 99% of local political commentators don’t know what those words mean. In fairness, they don’t experience those things very often, from politicians or each other.

    And because McGinn was also politically savvy (far more so than he gets credit for), those commentators are left with thumbs-up-asses, in search of a convenient and simplistic (and incorrect) narrative as to how McGinn won despite being such a damn flip-flopper.

  11. 12

    ArtFart spews:

    I wonder whether McGinn’s going to keep the promise he made to Tim Harris of Real Change to kill off the new jail.

  12. 13

    I do not like AIG spews:

    the tunnel will kill itself; tolls, cost increases, based on an illegal law, do you really think some subset of seattle voters will vote to be on the hook for the cost overuns?

    we can’t evendo the 17 foot bore tunnel for brightwater. this one is 54 feet.

    it’s a black hole of risk.

    and for what, half the capacity of the viaduct, and no exists downtown?

    we just might be at the era where in cities we don’t have room for auto highways if they cost so much and have so much risk. Really, all for the 60,000 trips a day ….why not just allow 12 story zoning in the parts of Seattle that have 6 story, or near light rail stations.

    DC doesn’t seem so oppressive with density, it has 12 story zoning.

    Indeed, why not allo 40 story zoning in Roosevelt near light rail.

    we are spending the $4 bill for that and it’s much cheaper to allow people the housing to locate near the light rail we’re already paying for than building a costsly tunnel under downtown that mainly serves the burbs.

    it’s our money. let’s spend it on something useful, like saving basic health. it seems like we have this gusher of gas tax so we come up with costly highway projects just to make sure we spend all the money.

  13. 14

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @2 “But because people with a business background are more likely to pull the trigger.”

    Sure, because they’re adept at structuring transactions so they get the profits and other people get the risks and costs. It’s easy to spend other people’s money for your own profit, and they don’t hesitate to do that. That’s why I don’t trust business people with political matters, and you shouldn’t trust them either. Their proposals usually are the worst alternative for the ordinary citizen, because it’s always about lining their own pockets.

  14. 15

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @5 The weakness of your argument is there’s still a vast amount of fossil fuel in the ground that can be converted to (albeit high-priced) motor fuel.

    The world’s tar sands, which have been barely touched, contain 3 times as much oil as the planet’s original petroleum reserves. Add shale oil, natural gas, and the fact coal can be converted to gasoline and diesel, and you’ve got enough fossil fuel in the ground for hundreds of years at today’s consumption rates.

    The real problem is not peak oil but, as a scientist quoted by National Geographic magazine said a few years ago, that we’re “going to run out of atmosphere before we run out of fossil fuel.”

  15. 16

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @9 The viaduct isn’t all bad. For 55 years now, it has given Seattle motorists a spectacular view of the waterfront and harbor for the price of a half gallon of gas that otherwise would only be available to occupants of view offices in the state’s priciest office spaces. The real tragedy of the viaduct’s demise is that view will be lost no matter which of the alternatives is selected.

  16. 17

    tpn spews:

    RE Viaduct/Tunnel: blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah .

  17. 18

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    @13 “we have this gusher of gas tax”

    No we don’t, gas tax revenues are declining because of more fuel-efficient cars and less driving due to the recession. The gas tax was raised a few years ago just to stay even with basic roadway maintenance needs. When electric cars come on the market, what will the state do for transportation revenue? Gas taxes are on the way out; they should be replaced by mileage fees on vehicle owners.

  18. 20

    Don spews:

    Criticizing the building of the viaduct now for decisions 60 years ago is misguided. Back then, trains still ran along the waterfront. So the powers that be did what everyone does with railroad tracks, built a road over them.

  19. 21

    eric spews:

    I’m always amused by the people like @5 who proclaim that some day very very soon we’ll wake up and there won’t be any oil, and therefore all the cars and trucks will grind to a halt. We’ll if you’re older than 30, you’ve heard this before, many many times before. In fact I have a National Geographic magazine that I picked up in a thrift store that had an extensive article on the imminent demise of our oil reserves. The magazine is from the 1920’s, long before our major global oil reserves were discovered.
    Don’t get me wrong, change is inevitable, but the sky is falling warnings about peak oil have been sounding for nearly a century, and here we are, still primarily driving cars and trucks propelled by fossil fuels. As fossil fuels become increasingly more expensive due to limited supply and increasing demand, we find alternatives. But the successful alternatives, such as hybrid cars, function almost exactly like the cars of the past. So even when the time comes that we run out of or fossil fuel becomes prohibitively expensive, the alternatives will look, function, and in almost every way be very similar to the vehicles of today, and the ones we drove in the 60’s. All the post apocalyptic films that show us riding horses because there’s no fuel might make for good entertainment, but it’s about as likely as a world where we have to run from zombies.
    Now, should we move away from burning fossil fuels because of their detrimental effect on our environment? Yes, but that move will be toward cleaner alternatives that function pretty much like their dirtier predecessors.

  20. 22

    slingshot spews:

    “The viaduct isn’t all bad.”

    “Criticizing the building of the viaduct now for decisions 60 years ago is misguided.”

    Aha! Connoisseurs of the Soviet era aesthetic, I see. I knew some of them still existed.

    Sorry. Throughout mankinds history enlightened cultures have succeded in the melding of function and form with grandiose finesse. The viaduct is the polar result of that talent.

  21. 23

    Walkable Greenwood spews:

    I don’t think there’s any reason for the infrastructure of any mode of transportation to by anything but beautiful. I like grade separations or spatial separations of modes for a lot of reasons. Some grade separated artful curve of a structure heading south and connecting to West Seattle would make me perfectly happy. Elevated can be so sculptural. I’m happy for sewers to be below grade, but I don’t mind elevated transportation of any kind so long as it’s sustainable, relevant and artful.

  22. 24

    Chris Stefan spews:

    No we won’t wake up and find we’re out of oil, but the increased costs of alternatives will lead to a reduction in vehicle miles traveled and increased transit use. Look at what a small spike in gas prices did to transit ridership in the Summer of 2008.

    Beyond that there are many other costs to cars that would be present even if they ran on unicorn farts. All of the land devoted to roads and parking; the runoff from the same; and the carnage in the streets as cars hit other cars, bikes, pedestrians, rabbits, armadillos, etc.