Friday, June 26, 2009

"City challengers gain ground on incumbents"

Joel Connelly:
The mayoral campaign of T-Mobile Vice President Joe Mallahan has caught an early summer breeze, picking up so much momentum that a competing outsider, Sierra Clubber Mike McGinn, is trying to torpedo him.
Mallahan has twice made mincemeat of incumbent Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, besting him by a wide margin when 46th District Democrats voted on an endorsement, and capturing a clear majority when King County Democrats convened on Tuesday night.

While falling short of the two-thirds vote needed for formal support, Mallahan has gained much more this week by way of backhanded compliments. The political neophyte is a target for copycats and brickbats.

The first was a hasty statement by Nickels coming out for repeal of the head tax that Nickels' street-repair package slapped on "the act or privilege of engaging in business activities within the city."

Mallahan has hammered at the head tax, enacted in 2006, as a wet blanket over business, and described the gold-plated rebuild of Mercer Street as an extravagance the city cannot afford.

The encore came Wednesday: The negative, somewhat nasty McGinn campaign embarked on class warfare, with a copycat of Sen. John Edwards' "two Americas" themes from the 2004 and 2008 presidential campaigns.

"There are two Seattles. One for the business elites and politicians they support and one where the rest of us live," McGinn declared. "Nickels and Mallahan picked which Seattle they prefer. When the business elites says (sic) get rid of a business tax, Nickels and Mallahan listen."

The blast shows signs of desperation. The other guy is catching on. What else would explain McGinn's screechy tone, and his bad grammar?

Summer used to be our season to set aside politics and concentrate on enjoying a gorgeous corner of the country. With a late August primary, however, it's being forced on us. An early reading of tea leaves:

Spring training star: The guy's first name sounds like a dangerous sea creature lurking in the Great Barrier Reef. But Dorsol Plants is making heads perk up at bleary candidate forums.

He's in his mid-20s, an Iraq combat veteran who works in a homeless shelter. He surfaced leading opposition to a proposed jail in the Highland neighborhood.

"I have rarely seen a guy catch on to organizing so fast," said Ivan Weiss, union man and former chairman of the 34th District Democrats.

Plants is seeking the Seattle City Council seat being vacated by Jan Drago. It was supposed to be a race between the well-funded Sally Bagshaw, a recently retired prosecutor, and liberal former Church Council of Greater Seattle activist David Bloom.

Candidly, an alternative to establishment endorsements and tedious far-left Church Council political orthodoxy is most welcome. Plants is raising very little money, but he is blossoming on the campaign trail.

A slow start: Jordan Royer entered the contest for the other Council vacancy as one Greg Nickels aide who is privately good-mouthed. He served as troubleshooter on such projects as rescuing Freeway Park, showing tenacity and resourcefulness.

But Royer has not yet projected clear themes of what he would do if he wins. He is the son of ex-Mayor Charley Royer, whose verbal skills buried four City Council members in his first election.

David Miller, a Wedgwood community activist, has moved up. Miller has done well in the Democratic endorsement game and is boosted by the town's most prominent Green, Bullitt Foundation President Denis Hayes.

Perplexing guys: Two Sierra Club activists, McGinn in the mayor's race and Mike O'Brien seeking a council seat, have created a not-always-favorable impression. Every blog on Mallahan has brought anonymous McGinn soundoffs, running down Mallahan's record of civic activism.

O'Brien recently sat down with editors of the Web site Crosscut. Afterward, one participant reflected: "I felt that if I were to call this guy and complain about a pothole in front of my house, I would get a lecture on evils of the automobile."

Cats in a bag: Dow Constantine and Larry Phillips, two King County councilmen, are running for county executive, and competing for the same urban liberal base. Eastside Democratic legislators Fred Jarrett and Ross Hunter have dared to suggest pruning the county bureaucracy, so forget Democratic district endorsements.

A KING/5 poll suggests that Constantine is moving ahead, although far behind Republican donor and former KIRO/7 anchor Susan Hutchison.

Phillips is palpably anxious on the stump. He talks too fast and goes over time limits. Would-be donors feel pursued: One local lawyer received five calls, three from Phillips family members, hawking the campaign kickoff.

Curiously, the mellow Fred Jarrett, a Boeing manager and former Mercer Island mayor, gets widespread praise even from supporters of his opponents.

"I like him: He's a manager, not a politician," state Rep. Maralyn Chase said as King County Democrats were voting on a dual Constantine-Phillips endorsement.

Awful trend: Withholding information on endorsements has become a game for campaigns. In cases where a dual endorsement or recommendation has been made, candidates' e-mails have often left out the other guy.

A classic example was the Facebook exclusivity of the Phillips and Constantine campaigns after King County Democrats decided to bless them both.

One final word: It's refreshing to see talented newcomers. The Seattle School Board received a welcome transfusion of new talent two years ago.

Mallahan and Plants may well lose in the primary. In that case, anonymous e-mails will arrive -- one sure to bear signs of the bitter loser of a recent Council race -- with the message: "Ha! Ha. Ha. Your candidates didn't do too well."

Well, the past four American presidents have lost an election early in their careers. They learned, and returned.

Besides, given the staleness of local government, what's wrong with people promising to throw open the windows of City Hall and the courthouse?
Howie P.S.: Could "change" finally be on its way to Seattle government?

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