If Mike McGinn wins his race for Seattle mayor, he will no doubt credit much of his success to his firm stance against the Big Bore tunnel, and the latest Survey USA poll shows McGinn may be picking up momentum. But if he ends up losing the race to T-Mobile exec Joe Mallahan, I think it may be fair to argue that that is exactly the issue that did McGinn in.
It’s no secret that since the primary Mallahan has enjoyed broad, if somewhat tepid endorsements from business, labor and other organizations firmly grounded in the mainstream of the Seattle establishment, as well as many of Mayor Greg Nickels’ former supporters. If there was a Democratic political machine in Seattle (and there most definitely isn’t), the sound you’d be hearing right now would be its rusty old gears grinding into place behind Mallahan.
Why? Well, although the political insiders I’ve talked to all lament Mallahan’s lackluster and uninspiring campaign, and openly question whether he’s really prepared to be an effective mayor, they all point to the tunnel as the single issue driving them into the Mallahan camp. Oh, they don’t all love the tunnel, and most are quick to criticize its financing, but the establishment consensus is “enough is enough” on our near decade-long thumb-sucking over replacing the Alaska Way Viaduct. As much as they fear Mallahan may prove an ineffective mayor, they equally fear that McGinn may prove quite competent, if only in his promise to block the tunnel project.
Of course it’s not as simple as that. Many business types argue that the tunnel is in fact the best and least disruptive choice for both maintaining mobility through the downtown and redeveloping the waterfront, while some of the labor-types view the tunnel purely in terms of jobs, jobs, jobs. But if McGinn wanted to make the tunnel the number one issue in this race, he’s certainly succeeded… at least with the bulk of Mallahan supporters.
Despite his lack of political experience (or even, you know, voting), Mallahan has now clearly been cast as the establishment candidate, while McGinn is making the most of his role as the populist outsider. And while being a populist isn’t a bad thing to be in a Seattle election, I wonder if McGinn may have overestimated the breadth and depth of popular opposition to the tunnel, while underestimating the obstacle establishment money and endorsements could prove to his mayoral ambitions?