“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.” - Henry David Thoreau
by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
The Seattle mayoral race took a turn for the seemingly certain last week. Challenger Ed Murray received the endorsement of City Councilmember Jean Godden, the fifth member of the council to back Murray. Murray’s former primary opponents Bruce Harrell and Tim Burgess joined him shortly after ending their own campaigns, while Sally Clark and Tom Rasmussen endorsed Murray in a joint press conference last month. Godden’s endorsement, as well as support from a number of other key entities, makes Ed Murray’s ascension to the mayor’s office seem all but clinched.
Historically speaking, Seattle City Council has rarely backed a challenger for mayor. Those who currently back Murray have colored their endorsements with language suggesting it’s as much about standing against Mayor McGinn as with Murray. Godden used her time to speak at last week’s press conference to complain about not having enough one-on-one meetings with Mayor McGinn, while City Council President Sally Clark took a more diplomatic tone in her endorsement, simply saying that now is a “time for a change in the mayor’s position.”
A majority of the City Council supporting a challenger is a signal of certainty on their part. The relationship between Seattle’s council and its mayor is, at best, politically nuanced and just as often complicated. Seattle, like most big cities in America, has what is known as a “strong-mayor” structure, meaning that the mayor can appoint City Officials without approval or input from the Council, develop a budget and even veto legislation originating in the Council. Strained relationships between the mayor and the council in a strong-mayor structure can result in slower legislative action, budgetary confusion, and disagreements about who sits in key positions such as the Chief of Police.
One of Mayor McGinn’s first actions in office was to veto a City Council bill. In April of 2010, McGinn challenged the infamous “aggressive panhandling” bill introduced by Councilmember Burgess earlier that month. In Seattle, the Council can overturn a mayoral veto only with six of the nine total council votes. When Councilmember Mike O’Brien changed his position on the bill, Mayor McGinn effectively neutralized the nascent law. The next year, McGinn tried again to veto a bill, this time the proposal for a new tunnel at the Alaskan Way Viaduct. City Council overturned his veto 8-1, with O’Brien once again serving as the mayor’s supporter.
Today, O’Brien also stands alone with McGinn as an endorser in the Council. As of the writing of this article, the remaining three Councilmembers, Nick Licata, Sally Bagshaw and Richard Conlin, have yet to back either candidate.
Murray has also received a number of high-profile endorsements in the past month from within the City and from key groups outside of the government. Both the Seattle Firefighters Union and the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild support Murray, as do the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 and the Building & Construction Trades Council. Not all unions are so certain, though. Last month, both candidates missed out on a potentially seismic endorsement from the King County Labor Council. The KCLC debated heatedly on August 20, but failed to build a two-thirds majority vote for either Murray or McGinn.
Mayor McGinn has a variety of notable supporting organizations as well. The American Federation of Teachers Local 1789, the Greater Seattle Area Local of the American Postal Workers Union, and various skilled labor unions threw their support behind McGinn in recent months. He also has a number of backers from the Downtown Seattle Association, the business/government partnership that has been one of McGinn’s preferred project resources throughout his administration.
With just weeks left in the Seattle general election, the race for the mayor’s office is not nearly as tight as it was coming out of the primary. The latest poll from SurveyUSA puts Murray ahead at 52 points to Mayor McGinn’s 30, with a 4.5 percent margin of error. During the primary, Murray and McGinn were effectively tied, hovering between 20 and 22 percent of the vote. While these survey-based polls have been known to be wrong (an oft-cited primary poll from 2009 made incumbent Mayor Greg Nickels appear untouchable), Murray’s lead heading into November coupled with his endorsements in the City Council strongly indicate a change in Seattle’s top executive seat.