SEATTLE – Mayor Mike McGinn has just a few weeks left in office. His time in office was marked by some high profile accomplishments and some high profile fights.
He’s clearly proud of the pushing three big levies during term — for libraries, for education, and for the seawall – and he also points to the SODO arena deal, which may still get built if investor Chris Hansen can land an NBA team.
McGinn talked to C.R. Douglas to discuss his legacy, his accomplishments, and his future in politics.
McGinn: “We did give voice to people that never had power. More people got into this office and spoke to us. Whether it was police reform or education or human services, you can go speak to the leaders of those communities and they will say they’ve never had access to the inner circles of power in the mayor’s office that they had with us. Whether that is a legacy is up to the next Mayor.”
McGinn: “We left the place better than we found it, and, you know, the new Mayor comes in with a big rainy day fund and a strong economy and new programs that he can choose to accelerate even more as we get more dollars in the door. So, I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do.”
Department of Justice/Police Reform
McGinn says one big regret was taking too long at the outset to learn some of the complexities of the job and acknowledges some rookie mistakes on style. He also admits his public battle with the DOJ over police reform hurt him politically.
McGinn: “You know what other politicians did, including the ones who ran for office, was grandstand. Oh, the Mayor’s fighting reform. I mean, give me a break. I got support, you’ll see in the election, the communities of color, the objects of police misconduct, most often, gave me more support than they ever did. They knew who was fighting for them. But the white liberal politicians were embarrassed by the Department of Justice report and wanted to make it go away. The political thing to do to make it go away is sign the report and get rid of it.”
Douglas: “Was the DOJ fight ultimately a killer for you politically?”
McGinn: “It hurt, it hurt, because what we had was the city councilmembers and our own city attorney criticizing me for having the temerity to negotiate with the Department of Justice about how do we include our community, how do we make sure we don’t waste money when we are in a tight budget.
McGinn also found himself in a public fight over his policies of bikes lanes and alternatives to the car.
Douglas: “Did you go too far on promoting bikes?”
McGinn: “Who knows, C.R. If your question is, did I go too far and did it hurt me in the election, I’m sure. I know there were lots of people that wouldn’t vote for me because of bike lanes.”
McGinn: “But the reality is more and more people are biking in this city and, again, that’s a question of doing what’s right. Do I respond to somebody that is upset about a biker being on the street, or do I care about the fact that we have people dying on our streets every year and do we make the streets. People tell me the primary job of the mayor is public safety. I agree with that. After four years I really got that. Well, traffic deaths are public safety.”
Douglas: “How big a blow was it that the NBA voted to not relocate to Seattle after you had spent all that time getting this big arena deal with this big investor?”
McGinn: “You know, it was interesting cause we had a chance to pull of something really amazing. I mean none of us expected that we might get an NBA team so quickly when we were working on the arena deal. So, that would have been a big boost, but it wasn’t something that we were expecting to happen either.”
Douglas: “Had it happened, had there been an NBA team here this fall playing in Key Arena, all that energy, would that have helped you win?”
McGinn: “You know, probably. But we can play that what if game on a lot of things. Look, I won my first race with 51% of the vote and this one 47.5%. It’s a thin line between victory and defeat here, and I think we can probably point to a lot of things that might have made a difference, and I’m a competitive guy so I’m playing through all those in my own brain.”
Douglas: “Was there something to the fact that you have a problem getting along with people, that you don’t collaborate well? What are you here to say as you leave about your style?”
McGinn: “There’s a whole list of accomplishments I can point to that negate the idea that wouldn’t couldn’t get things done. We got a lot done. But here’s what I did, I raised the question to the public, like on the tunnel, like with the DOJ, what’s the best path for reform, who’s going to pay for the tunnel.
McGinn: “The fact of the matter is, I was an outsider, C.R., and four years later I’m still an outsider.”
McGinn: “Of course they were going to create a narrative that I was difficult to get along with. You notice they never argued with my ideas, C.R., they only argued with my personality.”
Douglas: “You’re a lawyer, you’re a litigator, you have strong opinions, did that come back to bite you?”
McGinn: “I believe in things, and I didn’t believe that we should allow Seattle process or concern about politicians getting their noses out of joint on some things to stop us from dealing with tough questions. So, did it come back to bite me? Sure, there were a lot of comfortable city council incumbents who didn’t want questions raised about were they making right decisions about the future. Of course it came back to bite me.”
Douglas: “What are you going to do next?”
McGinn: “Am I going to go back into private practice? I doubt it. No I don’t think so. I could see working in the non-profit world in some way shape or form. I could see working some other places as well.”
Douglas: “Are you going to run for office again?”
McGinn: “I’m not ruling it out, but I would also say it wasn’t like I spent my professional career trying to figure out how to run for office. And I ended up being Mayor.
McGinn: “If the opportunity to run again presents itself I’d be open to it, but I’m not going to plan on it.”