Running for president in 1968 as a third-party candidate, George Wallace famously declared, “There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the Republicans and Democrats.” Were he still alive and watching the current mayor’s race in Seattle, he could narrow the political variance to a penny.
There are nine candidates running to be the next mayor of Seattle, including incumbent Mike McGinn. I’ve been trying to figure out how they differ on substantive issues reasonably within the scope of the mayor’s office. So far, I haven’t had any luck. They all seem to be progressive liberals of only mildly varying stripes.
Since it’s a non-partisan race (the mail-ballot-only primary is on August 6; the top two vote-getters then vie in November), there technically are no Democrats or Republicans or anything elses on the ballot. Of course, in the two years since becoming New To Seattle, I have yet to meet a card-carrying Republican, or at least one that admits to that proclivity. I have, however, heard rumors of such sightings in the grandly gated 89-year-old Broadmoor enclave by Madison Park.
Note that I wrote “reasonably within the scope of the mayor’s office.” One candidate, Mary Martin, a popcorn factory employee who belongs to the radical Socialist Workers Party, has called for the elimination of capitalism, while voicing enthusiastic support for Fidel Castro. At the innumerable candidates forums Martin has been highly entertaining; titters race through audiences when she mounts her soapbox. But La Revolución is not likely to start at City Hall on Fourth Avenue in downtown Seattle.
As near as I can tell, all the candidates are in favor of more jobs, better schools, improved mass transit, less crime, some notion of social justice and, for all I know, apple pie. None of the candidates seems to have a compelling vision for accomplishing this. So this election may be decided on factors having little to do with fitness for office.
Ed Murray, a veteran state senator, is running TV spots proclaiming he is gay, showing him sitting next to Barney Frank. Given decades of straight candidates across the U.S. trotting out spouses and kids in campaigns, this actually is sort of refreshing. But really, is there anything about a gay politician that can get potholes filled any better than a straight politician?
Peter Steinbrueck, a former City Council member, seems to be counting at least in part on his family name. His late father, Victor Steinbrueck, an architect and University of Washington professor, was a historic preservationist instrumental in saving Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square, and has a Seattle park named for him. But a profile of Steinbrueck fils by the online news site Crosscut was headlined “A liberal in a sea of liberals.”
Another candidate, lawyer and City Council member Bruce Harrell, advertises his U-Dub college role in “leading the Huskies to a Rose Bowl win” in 1978. The only nonwhite in the race (Japanese-American mother and African-American father), Harrell has carved out something of a role as an advocate for minorities. But in this field that’s not much of a standout factor.
Then there is McGinn, a New York transplant and lawyer whose liberal credentials are impeccable (local Sierra Club chair, neighborhood activist, bicycle enthusiast). Like everyone else in the race. As the incumbent, McGinn has found himself the piñata at many of the debates, but not much over real issues.
The latest poll by KING5 shows Murray and McGinn in a statistical tie–22% versus 21%, with an error margin of 4.5%. If accurate and unchanged, that means the two would compete again in November. It also could be a war of newspaper endorsements–Murray’s plug by The Seattle Times against McGinn’s backing by the influential weekly The Stranger.
Back in 1968, right-wing-but-populist George Wallace managed to draw about 7% of the vote in King County to Hubert Humphrey’s 48% and Richard Nixon’s 45%. (I can’t find quickly a break-out just for Seattle). Voters then at least had a real choice of philosophies. Hell, even Eldridge Cleaver, the ex-con (for rape) and national Black Panther Party spokesman who had just published his searing prison memoir Soul on Ice, pulled 700-plus votes in King County as the Peace and Freedom Party presidential candidate.
Now, it’s really hard to tell ’em apart.
KING5’s local humor show, “The 206,” has started running faux ads with intentionally meaningless platitudes promoting the bogus candidacy of comic co-host John Keister. Politically, he’s probably no Wallace, who was pretty good at stand-up himself. (“There are two four-letter words I bet you folks don’t know,” he told hippie hecklers at a 1968 rally. ” ‘Work’ and “soap’ “.) But in this hard-to-distinguish Seattle field, I wouldn’t be surprised if Keister gets a few real write-in votes.