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Posts tagged as “Seattle mayor”

Chunnel

From early on, the Alaskan Way viaduct - or rather, whatever will replace it - has seemed to be at the core of the Seattle mayoral race. Now there doesn't seem much doubt.

Headlines last week seemed to raise the image of incumbent and outgoing Mayor Greg Nickels poised to push the tunnel project - backed by one mayoral runoff candidate, Joe Mallahan, and opposed by the other, Mike McGinn - as far as he could, maybe to a point of no return, before he leaves office. Nickels has held off on some other things in favor of his successor, but this . . . this would be a big one.

And McGinn is pouncing. He points out that the city's share of the tunnel cost is $930 million, and he's very pointedly asking Mallahan where the money will come from.

In this, there's some positioning. Both McGinn and Mallahan are Democrats with ties to various parts of the city's Democratic infrastructure. So check out McGinn's current front page on his web site: The lead item is about the "Battle for Seattle," a fundraiser, and goes on: "The Battle for Seattle (and King County). A joint benefit for Mike McGinn, Dow Constantine, and Pete Holmes. With music from The Presidents of the United States of America featuring Krist Novoselic." Constantine, recall, is running for (the nonpartisan office of) King County executive; he is a Democrat, and his opponent is widely perceived (or often described at any rate) as a relatively conservative Republican.

Getting the picture of how the framework is intended to be set up?

Primary, first run

Nickels

Greg Nickels

The first-run King County results are up (released at 8:15; the next round is supposed to come at 10) and they follow a certain pattern: Most races are unsurprising, but there's usually a joker somewhere. About 16.6% of the ballots are counted, but some points can be clearly made.

The Seattle bag tax was expected to fail, and the early results look definitive enough to say: It will. Other west-coast entities considering similar measures (as quite a few have), take note.

The King County executive race is so far running about the way it was widely expected to, with former TV news anchor Susan Hutchison running decisively in the lead with 37.4%, and County Council member Dow Constantine in a clear far ahead of the six other contenders with 22.4%. (Third place is legislator Fred Jarrett at 12%.) Barring some strange trend in the ballots remaining, the fall contest looks like Hutchison-Constantine.

Initial take is that, for the general, Constantine starts with the edge. Among the major candidates, Hutchison was considered the more conservative Republican in the race - the only one - while Constantine was running as one of four moderate/liberal Democrats (all veteran local elected officials) who split up that portion of the vote. If a revote were held instantly, Hutchison might add somewhat to her 37.4%, but Constantine logically should pull most of the support from voters for Jarrett, Ross Hunter (10.9%) and Larry Phillips (11.7%) - a total of 57%. Hutchison needed a vote much closer to the 50% mark to put her in a front-runner position.

That's a starting-gate estimate, of course; the campaign has yet to be run, and much can change. And we have get to see how the percentages shift as more ballots come in.

Most interest - and this is the surprise in the group - is Seattle mayor, in which incumbent Greg Nickels, who because of his incumbency logically should be running a clear first in this primary just because the opposition is split among seven others including a veteran council member . . . well, isn't running first, or second either. At the moment three candidates are all running very close for first place: Nickels (25.1%), Mike McGinn (26.6%) and Joe Mallahan (25.8%). In present counting, fewer than a thousand votes separate third-place Nickels from first-place McGinn, so this contest is way too close to call, and probably will be for several days out.

But there is a takeaway, and it is this: Even if Nickels survives the primary, his chances in the general are, as the lawyers would say, de minimis. An incumbent in a primary like this should get, or at least approach, half of the total vote if his position is decently strong at all. An incumbent getting a quarter of the vote in a field of modest candidates (no insult intended, but the group isn't a collection of established local political superstars) is extraordinarily weak. In the primary, the anti-incumbent vote was splintered among a bunch of candidates; the mayor won't have that luxury next time. Nickels will need either an amazing campaign or astounding luck to survive the next contest in November. If he gets there.

Update after 10 . . .

Spider to fly

Jan Drago

Jan Drago

You sorta get the feeling that the Greg Nickels forces have been preparing for this. In Crosscut, the headline was, "The Mayor 'welcomes' Jan Drago to the campaign," and you get the sense of a puzzle piece calculatedly falling into place. Even though this means he now actually has not a possible serious opponent, but a real one.

The Seattle mayor should, by rights, be in trouble. His polling borders on horrendous; the Seattle Times reported a couple of weeks ago that Drago is positioned to win by 21 points. Drago is no unknown; she's been on the council since she was first elected in 1993, longer than anyone else now on it.

And there are some structural reasons for thinking Drago might pull it off, including a primary contest which may favor her kind supporters.

But there's also no sense here that Nickles, twice elected (and the first time after two close and tough contests) is on the run. From Crosscut: "It's clear that Mayor Greg Nickels' political Swat team is trying to cut Drago down early in the campaign, before she can get much momentum. There's a press release a day touting Nickels' achievements in his most vulnerable areas: getting stimulus funds, getting favors from Olympia, the pesky snowstorm. The media is peppered with pointed questions to ask Drago: about her absenteeism (code for getting too old), her Nickels-like voting record. Nickels is playing a tough Hillary to Drago's Obama-like message of consensus. It's meant to rattle her (she is eminently rattleable) and to freeze Nickels' supporters from any thought of defection."

A challenger to a veteran incumbent ordinarily has to play one of two cards: Either make the case that a very different policy direction is needed (not useful here, because Nickels and Drago aren't far apart) or hammer the incumbent as too bad to keep in place (which would upend the consensus style Drago likes and which has helped her in the past). She has strategic options available, but they're apt to be unpalatable, and Nickles' people seem to have assessed as much.

Her problem, in other words, seems to be strategic more than anything else. It may be solvable. Should be fascinating to see how she tries to do it.