I like Mike McGinn. Really, I do. The beefy, bearded, bike-riding environmentalist—who's challenging Greg Nickels in his attempt to win a third term as mayor—has values that are near and dear to my heart. In 2007, he helped lead the opposition to the "roads and transit" ballot measure. That same year, he launched the Seattle Great City Initiative, whose major premise is that density and urbanism are compatible with, even necessary to, livable, walkable, affordable neighborhoods.
What I don't identify with—what I think many of McGinn's potential supporters won't identify with—is his mayoral platform, which he laid out in three-point style at his kickoff announcement on March 24.
In short, those three points—announced at Piecora's Pizza, site of the big roads-and-transit win two years ago—were as follows:
1. Demand improvements at Seattle Public Schools. If those improvements don't materialize, take over the schools in two years. If that doesn't work, vote McGinn out of office in four.
2. Implement citywide broadband access.
3. "Banish the phrase 'overcrowded buses' from our vocabulary" by expanding bus service throughout the city.
It's pretty obvious to even a casual observer that two of those goals—improving the schools and expanding the region's bus system—aren't the responsibility of city government. If those truly are his goals, McGinn ought to be running for county executive or school board, not mayor.
King County Metro is facing a $50 million deficit. To counter that shortfall, Metro has two main options: raise fares or scale back service. Unless the state gives the county a major new source of revenue, overcrowded buses are here to stay—and armchair Metro-bashing by a mayoral candidate ain't gonna change that.
And taking the schools over is hardly a panacea. According to a recent report by the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, school district, which is contemplating a mayoral takeover, governance reform doesn't have "sustainable impacts on student achievement" and "requires repeated efforts over several years." Which makes McGinn's two-year timeline for improvements seem wildly optimistic—or wildly cynical.
Finally, broadband? Of all the problems plaguing Seattle right now—a collapsing real-estate market, job losses, massive cuts to health and human services programs on which our most vulnerable citizens depend—universal broadband isn't even in the top 100. It's not that it isn't a great idea; it's that it seems broadly off point at a time when more people are worried about losing their jobs than about universal internet access.
Nickels is going to attack McGinn on the economy, the environment, jobs, and neighborhoods. When that happens, he'll need better answers than the ones he's given so far.