In Seattle, TV humor show might affect issue-less mayor’s race

206 logoHere in Seattle, which fancies itself America’s most politically progressive large city, there’s an election in two months for mayor. As near as I can tell, the two candidates do not differ substantially on the major issues. Mike McGinn, the incumbent, is a former state Sierra Club chairman who pushes light rail and bicycle-friendly policies. Challenger Ed Murray is a veteran state senator credited with pushing the legislation that allowed voters statewide to legalize gay marriage. (Murray, who just married his long-time partner, is gay, which I would say is irrelevant in any campaign except that Murray himself mentioned it in the first sentence of his TV spots during his primary run.)

A light voter turn-out is expected and the two major print media endorsements are split, The Seattle Times for Murray and The Stranger for McGinn. So the outcome could well turn on ridiculously minor factors like perceived personality traits or which candidate says more stupid things during the run-up to November 5.

Or maybe a fledgling weekly local TV humor show.

“The 206” started airing earlier this year on KING5 after “Saturday Night Live.” (For those reading this blog in Ulan Bator, 206 is the area code for Seattle.) Despite initial publicity that the show would include political humor among its satire, early segments completely lacked that–and much other humor, too. “In my judgment the pokes weren’t funny or barbed enough,” I wrote in May. It didn’t help that the show was taped before a live audience not in the 206, but across Lake Washington in suburban Bellevue, which for the uninformed is in area code 425.

But “The 206,” a revival of a fondly remembered similar local show, “Almost Live,” that aired from 1984 to 1999, is now recorded in Seattle proper. And in my opinion it’s starting to pick up speed, particularly on the political humor front.  As such–and because older segments now can be viewed online–the comedy team of John Keister and Pat and Chris Cashman (father and son) has a pretty good opportunity to influence the fall election.

For instance, last weekend’s segment, which may have been a rerun, continued to develop the theme of Keister running for mayor on a platform of utter vapidity. “Hi, I’m John and I’m asking for your vote because I want to bring about change,” he said in a faux campaign spot that featured him nodding mindlessly at city residents talking to him. “Now we don’t have to nail down exactly what that change is right now. But rest assured if you give me the vote I will find something that needs changing, and I will change it.”

Running admittedly liberal campaigns, McGinn and Murray don’t seem all that different than that. So I wouldn’t be surprised if they alter their messages so they don’t sound too much like a TV comedian.

But the real candidates better be careful what issues they embrace and how they express their support. “Now Seattle has become a mecca for the wealthy,” Keister continued to rant. “Look how our roads are choked with their Benzos and their Beemers. And all in the midst of all this abundance, our school system is crumbling. This is nuts!” The answer for Keister: Close all the private schools and force the “software people” to send their kids to public schools. “And then you watch how quickly our schools become world class.”

Pat Cashman, who declared his own candidacy on the show, declared he was the visionary who first proposed a tunnel replacement to the Alaskan Way Viaduct. “It is the kind of tunnel vision I would bring to the mayor’s office,” he said, Stephen Cobert-style. Cashman proclaimed himself the “modern” candidate as he pulled out an old-fashioned cell phone the size of a brick.

All pretty funny stuff.

So far, no one on “The 206” has tried to do political impersonations of McGinn and Murray. I certainly hope that someone attempts that early and often. Because that’s when the show really might have a influence on the race.

I’m old enough to have voted in the 1976 U.S. presidential election. That’s when Jimmy Carter became the first person in 44 years to defeat a sitting president on Election Day, Gerald Ford. For months on the then-new TV show now known as “Saturday Night Live,” comedian Chevy Chase had been portraying Ford as a awkward man prone to spectacular stumbles and pratfalls.  In fact, Ford had been a college football star and was athletically graceful, although in one well-publicized incident he had tripped coming out of Air Force One in Austria.

However, the cumulative effect of Chase’s continuing impersonation was to create the image of a clumsy, bumbling, incumbent klutz. Such a portrayal actually might have provided the winning edge for Carter in the closest presidential contest in 60 years. It probably wasn’t fair, but it certainly was funny.

(Historical note: Excluding Hawaii, Democrat Carter carried no states in or west of the Rockies–including Washington. Boy, times have changed.)

In this mayor’s race, I don’t have a dog–yet. So I might learn something from interpretations by knowledgeable comics who have been here decades before I became New To Seattle. I have no idea whatsoever about the politics of Keister, Cashman père et fils, or their producers, Erren Gottlieb and James McKenna. But right now I view them all as the best hope to smoke out whatever differences exist between McGinn and Murray. My hope is that finely etched caricatures might get everyday citizens I encounter to talk about what they think is or isn’t true.

I need help. It ain’t easy telling apart these Seattle progressives.

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