Working and playing well with others

It is hard to question the environmental credentials of Mike McGinn and Mike O’Brien, both having served as strong, vocal leaders in the Cascade Chapter of the Sierra Club. So why are these two passionately green candidates having so much trouble picking up sole endorsements from the broader environmental community in their respective races for mayor and city council?

Well it could have something to do with the Sierra Club’s well-earned reputation under the two Mikes’ leadership, for not working and playing well with others.

Talk to folks active with other environmental organizations and you’ll find that there’s still a lot of residual bitterness left over from the way the Sierra Club broke rank (and promises) during 2007’s failed Roads & Transit ballot measure campaign. And Sierra Club only rubbed salt in these festering wounds with their early endorsement of Dow Constantine in the King County Executive race, just a week before next Tuesday’s heavily promoted Green Choice Debate at Town Hall, sparking a flood of angry emails within the coalition of environmental organizations sponsoring the event.

“This was supposed to be an impartial forum,” one environmental leader complained to me. “Now, thanks to Sierra Club, Dow gets to come in there with the upper hand.”

Apparently, Sierra Club never promised to hold off on their endorsement until after the forum, which is why they’re not listed as part of the sponsoring coalition, but still… they couldn’t wait one week? No, that’s just not their style.

Now, after years of snubbing their noses at the broader environmental coalition, McGinn and O’Brien are asking these same organizations to hold their noses and endorse their respective candidacies. Yeah, well, good luck with that.


  1. 2

    ivan spews:

    This is an interesting sidelight, Goldy, but that’s all it is. The real story is out there among voters at large, who are finding that McGinn and O’Brien are both way over their heads when it comes to discussing anything but their own pet issues.

  2. 3

    DeepGreen spews:

    Maybe this has more to do with the fact that a number of these so-called “environmental organizations” aren’t very environmental at all. What good does building 183 miles of freeway do for our environment? What’s good for our environment about spending $4.2 billion on a tunnel that does nothing to: reduce our impact on or improve our adaptability to climate change, reduce our oil dependency, or improve the health of Puget Sound? The environmental community comes in many shades of green and the recent endorsement of McGinn by Alex Steffen of World Changing (while the WEC endorsed Nickels) clearly illustrates this fact. One final point, isn’t it Nickels who has the reputation for not playing well with others?

  3. 4

    liberal turnoff spews:

    i think people may have some resentment of the two mikes because they actually say what they mean. these guys are not cow-towing to power, rather they believe that we’re on the wrong course, with the wrong leadership and they are trying to change it. at least they are making the election actually be about something. these are grave choices we face and the media, by and large, seems to be treating it as a popularity contest.

  4. 5

    Michael spews:

    On second thought maybe I shouldn’t deleted my comment. It was fairly inline with what #’s 3&4 said.

  5. 6

    Michael spews:

    Hey Goldy,

    If everyone else was jumping off the Aurora Bridge would you jump too? You know, to get along and all…

    The Sierra Club was the only Seattle organization to show any sort of leadership and true ‘green’ position on the original Prop. 1. Could it be that other organizations are mad about having egg on their face over the second Prop. 1- which they said wouldn’t even happen- which passed?

    I’m pretty glad that they didn’t play well with others and shot prop 1 down.

  6. 7

    J.R. spews:

    Goldy, can you give me that again? Why should the Sierra Club wait to issue their endorsement in the KC Exec’s race until after some debate that they aren’t sponsoring or organizing? Did anyone ask them to?

  7. 8

    Gary spews:


    Your point about endorsements is false. O’Brien received the sole endorsements of the Sierra Club AND the King County Conservation Voters. And McGinn has been endorsed by many environmental leaders (Worldchanging founder Alex Steffen, Muni League award recipient Brice Maryman, etc), in addition to the Sierra Club’s endorsement.

    Also, you’re right, it’s important that leaders be able to work well with others. Contrary to your claims, however, the evidence suggests that McGinn is very good at that.

    Consider that Michael founded the Seattle Great City Initiative, an organization that brings together a broad range of people groups (neighborhood groups, design professionals, developers) to address housing, transportation, and green infrastructure issues.

    As director of Great City, Michael helped forge together the Green Legacy Coalition, comprising 25 different community groups, which led the charge for the Parks and Green Spaces program. See

    He was also the President of the Greenwood Community Council, where he was instrumental in working with his neighbors to get sidewalks built.

    So I’m just not seeing any facts to back up your claims.

    O’Brien and McGinn took a principled stand against Roads and Transit, and they were right. And both have a track record of getting things done.

  8. 9


    Gary @8,

    O’Brien did not receive a sole endorsement from the King County Conservation voters, and it would have been surprising had he not received one from his own organization. Besides, I said they were having trouble picking up sole endorsements, not that they wouldn’t get any.

    As to the “principled stand” O’Brien and McGinn took on Roads & Transit, true, it was principled, and the gamble paid off in the end. But it was a huge gamble, and no sure thing that the powers that be would allow a transit only measure on the ballot in 2008. We could have just as likely gotten governance reform that would have redirected the Eastside subarea’s $billion-plus reserve toward roads.

    The point is, there was a ton of work that went into that compromise measure on the part of a broad environmental coalition, and when Sierra Club didn’t get their own way they broke ranks. So they shouldn’t expect much love in return from the coalition they’ve repeatedly spurned.

  9. 10

    AnnieBSEA spews:

    I am a bit surprised that SC chose to endorse Dow. (I don’t care when they did it though.) As for other “green” endorsements – I have to give the SC credit for going against the fray and endorsing McGinn. I think the “easy” but dangerous choice in this race has to be Nickels – all that $ (yes, most from city employees and pacs) and incumbency. Yes, I will cross my fingers for an upset – the mayor’s office has become too much of a machine for me. I’d like my Mayor to ride past on his bike and maybe even say hello.

  10. 11


    This commentary does not ring true with my experience.

    As chief executive of two non-profit organizations focused on transportation issues, Mike McGinn and Mike O’Brien were effective and inclusive team players in my years interacting with them. I’m an acute observer of inter-organizational politics, and these leaders score high marks for integrity.

    I suspect that the author of this piece was fed false information by someone who actually deserves this critique.

  11. 12

    scotto spews:

    @7, I can confirm that nobody asked.

    I can also confirm that McGinn and O’Brien had nothing to do with this endorsement — they’ve recused themselves while running for office.

  12. 13

    AnnieBSEA spews:

    And Goldy – a “principled… gamble that paid off in the end”, sounds pretty positive to me. If my elected officials always went for the principled gamble I’d be a happy citizen.

  13. 14

    joel connelly spews:

    Will you finally deign to show up for a debate when greens quiz King County Executive candidates next Tuesday?

  14. 15

    Michael spews:

    But it was a huge gamble, and no sure thing that the powers that be would allow a transit only measure on the ballot in 2008.

    Wow, leadership actually willing to lead by taking a principled gamble. Nah, we can’t have that…

    WSDOT’s own data said that RTID needed to piggy back on transit to pass.

    Somehow, I don’t see ‘the powers to be’ just letting transportation in the Puget Sound basin to go by the wayside. The poling numbers, population trends, growth trends and laws all pointed to transit as the way forward.

    Transit was going to happen one way or another, RTID was the road builders last-gasp hail mary.

  15. 16

    scotto spews:

    Goldy, I’d agree that the SC took a principled stand but I don’t agree that it was much of a gamble. The data were clear to someone willing to look.

  16. 17

    Puddybud is shocked SHOCKED spews:

    Joel, meeting with Darcy Moonbat! at Drinking Libtardos outweighs any other Tuesday night political activity.

    Wake up and drink the kook-aid dude!

  17. 18

    Puddybud is shocked SHOCKED spews:

    “This was supposed to be an impartial forum,” one environmental leader complained to me. “Now, thanks to Sierra Club, Dow gets to come in there with the upper hand.”


  18. 19


    I’m sorry but I have to agree with Goldy on this one. In order to climb out of this ecological hole we’ve dug, it’s going to take all sections of society – business, activist, government and citizen. Organizations will have to be strong but flexible to accomplish the tasks needed to get effective legislation passed. You only need to draw a line in the sand when you have a bigger cadre of supporters behind you than your opposition. It gets kinda lonely when you’re the only one standing behind your big words and ego.

    I chose not to renew my 15 year membership of the Sierra Club for some of the reasons Goldy mentioned about the Mikes. We need to bring people together, not force them apart. Sounds lofty, I know but you don’t build a foundation with a sledgehammer.

    By endorsing Constantine before the forum, the Cascade Sierra Club once again proved that they are much more concerned with the political aspirations of their inner circle than the good works they used to accomplish. Their personal politics have taken the lion’s share of the limited resources and the deflated activities of the group.

    This is why a number of members have left for greener pastures. Why support a movement that serves to protect the political progress of its leaders rather than the issues concerning the environment?

  19. 20

    m spews:

    Didn’t the Sierra club work with permanent offense to defeat that original transportation ballot measure? As in, like, both supplying volunteers to phone bank side by side with each other? Maybe these two clowns could get permanent offense to endorse. I sure wish there was someone who cared about workers and/or neighborhoods running for mayor.

  20. 21

    Huh? spews:

    @12, your information is incorrect. Sierra Club was in fact approached about he debate, but declined.

  21. 22

    scotto spews:

    @19: As I said, the Mikes had nothing to do with this endorsement.

    @21: That’s news to me, and I would have known…

  22. 23

    Gary spews:

    Goldy @9,

    You’re right, Mike O’Brien was one of two candidates to receive the KCCV’s endorsement for Position 8. But I’m having trouble understanding how a dual endorsement is an indictment of someone’s ability to work well with others. By that logic, Dow Constantine and Larry Phillips—both of whom have been consistently dual endorsed by local Democratic organizations—are not able to work well with Democrats. Doesn’t make sense.

    Re the Roads and Transit campaign, it’s dispiriting to me that you and the environmentalists who supported Roads and Transit are still fighting that fight. Can we please talk about the future? Can environmentalists please recognize where we have common interests moving forward and collaborate? “Breaking ranks” is not an unforgivable sin. In fact, as you have repeatedly argued on this blog, political dissent is an essential component of democracy, and no one should be begrudged for it.

  23. 24


    Gary @23,

    I’m not still fighting Roads & Transit (I already publicly ate crow on that), and I’m not attacking Mike & Mike on this one way or the other. I’m just stating some facts. Given their backgrounds, the Mikes should be overwhelming favorites in the environmental community, but they’re not. And they’re not, I’m positing, due to resentment about the way Sierra Club has failed to work with the rest of the environmental coalition.

  24. 25


    scotto @16,

    It was never an issue about whether a transit only measure could pass voters, it was an issue about whether we could get a transit only measure on the ballot. That was the gamble.

    The bird in the hand camp was a very reasonable place to be back in 2007, considering the anti-rail forces seemed positioned to use the failure of the first Prop 1 to push governance reform that would destroyed any chance at future rail expansion.

  25. 27

    Craig Engelking spews:

    Hi Goldy, I’m Craig Engelking, the Sierra Club lobbyist in Olympia. I feel the need to correct your post regarding our work on RTID.

    The Club never broke any promises regarding RTID. We opposed the final version of the bill that created the joint ballot proposal.I personally communicated to several members of the Gov’s senior staff, legislative leaders and other stakeholders that it was “not safe to assume the Sierra Club would support Sound Transit on the ballot if it was connected to a roads package we opposed.”

    Subsequently, as the roads portion of the package was being put together, we repeatedly communicated our concerns in written comments and in person with various stakeholders and officials. Then, in the final weeks of negotiations on the package, the proponents chose to not meet with us, even though we reached out directly and indirectly. And it goes without saying that they didn’t address our concerns with the roads portion of the package.

    At no point did we ever even signal our support, let alone promise it. If fact, just the opposite. We were clear and consistent with out concerns from the beginning of the process all the way through to the end.

  26. 28

    Silvery spews:

    Your story is about the Sierra Club’s willingness to take a principled stance on environmental issues. Sierra Club’s mandate is to tell its membership who the best candidate will be on environmental issues. They are doing their job and they are doing it well.

    I don’t think that very many people are still angry that the Sierra Club stopped RTID from passing. Because of the principled and successful stand they took, we don’t have to accept the building of gas guzzling projects like the Cross Base Sprawl Highway in order to get light rail.

    And we are getting light rail sooner as well.

  27. 29

    Becky Stanley spews:

    I can back up what Craig Engelking says. I was chair of the Sierra Club’s WA Conservation Committee at the time and we were perfectly clear in our position all along.

    The highway projects were too egregiously bad for us to be able to go to our members and say that the RTID package was a good deal for the planet.

  28. 30

    Michael spews:


    It was never an issue about whether a transit only measure could pass voters, it was an issue about whether we could get a transit only measure on the ballot. That was the gamble.

    There was zero gamble.

  29. 31

    scotto spews:

    Goldy@25: I am talking about the big picture, not only the first Prop 1 election. It was obvious from the data that highway building was a long term losing cause, and that transit would move forward by itself.

    But that’s all history.

    Right now, it is obvious that you are attacking the Mikes with an argument based on two false premises:

    1.) That the Mike’s are responsible for the Constantine endorsement. They are not.

    2.) That the Constantine endorsement is somehow an example of not playing well with others. It is not.

    Finally, you didn’t even mention the merits of endorsing Constantine.

    A little substance, please?

  30. 32

    Silvery spews:

    @31 I agree – I’d like to see more substance. I would like to know what the candidates will do for Seattle. We already have a pretty clear picture of Seattle with Greg Nickels. What would be different if we had a different mayor?

    What are our hopes and dreams for the Emerald City? Should we keep paving the yellow brick road and put it in a tunnel? If we do, how will we pay for it? What programs will we have to cut if it goes over budget?

  31. 33

    Bill LaBorde spews:

    As someone who has worked for over 10 years in the environmental community on transportation, energy and climate issues, I agree with David Levinger @ 11. The two Mikes are, in fact, team players. Yes, on the first Prop. 1, they were on the opposite side of most of the rest of us who supported the measure. I stand by my support of the 2007 Prop. 1, but I’m also happy in hindsight that Sierra Club opposed it. It was a huge gamble that at the time seemed like it was going to stop light rail right in its tracks, but it worked and we got most of the transit funding without blowing all that tax capacity on some big ticket road projects that would only exacerbate sprawl and climate pollution.

    After Prop. 1 failed in 2007, all of us rolled up our sleeves and worked together get a transit only measure on the ballot and pass it by an overwhelming margin in 2008. Yes, there were sore feelings and bruised egos but neither of the Mikes ever gloated and Mike O’Brien worked his ass off in tandem with Rob Johnson, Mayor Nickels and others to make sure we got a measure on the 2008 on the ballot to this region on a path to the kind of transit future that had defied us since the late 60s.

    Beyond Prop. 1, the two Mikes were also key players, working with the NW Energy Coalition and others, to pass I-937, the Clean Energy Initiative and other climate change policies at the local, regional and state level.

    I think Mike O’Brien will make a fabulous city council member. And with his leadership on forming the Great City Initiative and on funding for parks and other quality of life issues I also think Mike McGinn would make a fabulous council member too (but, unfortunately, in my view he’s running against an incumbent mayor with a solid track-record on transit, climate change, reducing waste and other environmental issues).

    The Sierra Club can be a bit of an unruly group driven by a volunteer activist agenda that causes them to not always be the most strategic player in the room. But what they lack in strategic thinking, they make up for in activist passion. Mike O’Brien has spent the last several years leading that passionate, unruly bunch in a way that has allowed them some big wins and big successes. Sounds like the makings of a great council member to me.

  32. 34

    sir hoary spews:

    @24 Goldy,

    I already posted the other McGinn entry the reason the other environmental groups don’t want to endorse the Mike’s is because if they are elected, they will enact pro-environ policies regardless.

    Why incite the ire of McCheese by snubbing him now when endorsing him is win/win?

    Not really rocket-surgery on their part, but I will call them pussies all the same.

  33. 36


    scotto @31,

    No, you miss the point entirely. I never said the Mikes were responsible for Dow’s endorsement, and I never said that anybody was pissed that Sierra endorsed Dow as opposed to somebody else. The issue is the timing of the endorsements, one week before a forum sponsored by a coalition of environmental groups.

    Sierra Club knew very well that the other environmental PACs were waiting until after the forum, and would have preferred Sierra wait as well. But they endorsed early anyway. That may seem like a petty nit to pick, but it’s just one of many.

    Let’s be clear, while I obviously sympathize on the issues, I’m not active in any political organization, environmental or otherwise. I’m just reporting the scuttlebutt I’m hearing, and giving folks my own take on it. Folks can argue all they want about whether the Mikes are team players or not, but I’ve heard enough complaints from enough folks active in the broader environmental community to know that there is some lasting resentment there toward Sierra Club.

  34. 37

    scotto spews:

    Goldy, as I’ve already said, nobody contacted the Sierra Club about either the forum or about holding up an endorsement. Your argument is baseless.

  35. 39

    scotto spews:

    Actually, Goldy, you and Bill aren’t on the same page.

    He supports O’Brien and he justified it with facts.

    You, on the other hand, are trying to tear him down with rumor mongering.

  36. 40

    Rujax! spews:

    It’s so great to have folks in the discussion who actually have experience and know what they’re talking about.

    Much more thought provoking and informative. Thanks, all.

    (with ONE notable exception…LOL)

  37. 41

    Silvery spews:

    Now imagine Rujax, if we could have a thought provoking an informative discussion about what the candidates would actually do if they got elected. What do we really want for Seattle and who are the best people to get us there?

    That would really be worthwhile.

  38. 42

    Silvery spews:

    Wow Goldy! I just learned that Cascade Bicycle Club also already endorsed Dow for King County Exec. Will you also be falsely accusing them of not playing well with others? What did you base this story? Somebody must have fed you some bull.

    In our city there are only 3 enviro groups that do endorsements. 2 of those three have endorsed. The only group not done yet is WCV. This whole conversation was a waste.

  39. 43

    Saratoga spews:

    Well – there may be only three environmental groups that do formal endorsements, but there are a number of individual high profile environmental leaders who are endorsing Nickels – as they should.

    Nickels surprised us all – he came into office without any environmental agenda but listened and learned and made it nearly his signature issue. C’mon Sierra Club – what’s not to like about Nickels? Strong on density, trees, climate, bicycles, pedestrians, transit, waste reduction, air quality, energy efficiency – oh yeah, a tunnel. According to McGinn, because a tunnel is going to replace the viaduct, that proves that Nickels isn’t really committed to reducing climate pollution. So, we environmental advocates should vote for McGinn because . . . the tunnel is going to be built anyway.? Does he really think that the governor and the legislature are going to slap their foreheads and say oops! New mayor! Let’s start all over again! ?

    I think the Cascade Chapter risks marginalizing itself with McGinn is their candidate – it says to everyone else that Nickels didn’t do enough for them. And I think that supports Goldy’s point exactly – they’re not playing well with others.

  40. 44

    Quinn spews:

    Saratoga, it’s a pretty common misconception that the tunnel is a “done deal.” The fact is that the big 4.2 billion dollars that Nickels has committed hasn’t been found yet. That 4.2 is almost the total annual budget of the city. So while the governor may have agreed to the tunnel, the taxpayers haven’t and it’s our money they’re talking about spending. It’s not over yet.