Energy & Environment

Mike McGinn

In picking Mike McGinn as their next mayor, Seattle voters selected a little-known environmental activist over the incumbent and then over a wealthy and well-connected...
by | November 30, 2009

In picking Mike McGinn as their next mayor, Seattle voters selected a little-known environmental activist over the incumbent and then over a wealthy and well-connected telecommunications executive. McGinn's upset win on November 3 was astonishing, but it didn't settle one thing: What he plans to do in office.

McGinn started as a candidate defined by a single issue: his opposition to a tunnel replacement for the city's Alaskan Way Viaduct. Replacing the road, which was damaged in a 2001 earthquake, has been a political hot potato for years. McGinn called for more transit and bike lanes, not a $4 billion tunnel. "Automobiles are like in-laws," he said in September. "You want to have good relations with them, but you don't want them to run your lives."

It was support for the tunnel that helped doom the campaign of Greg Nickels, who was seeking a third term as Seattle's mayor. McGinn's strong stand against it lifted him into a runoff against Joe Mallahan, an executive with T-Mobile. But Mallahan was favored in the runoff. He had the support of business and labor--both of which supported the Viaduct replacement. McGinn's enthusiasts came from the green grassroots.

Then, a funny thing happened: McGinn waffled on the tunnel. After the city council voted unanimously in October to move forward with the project, he said he wouldn't block it. That disappointed some of his original backers, but it probably helped him at the polls. The question now is whether Seattle has elected an environmental crusader or a budding political pragmatist.

Photo: Jeff Romeo

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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