There's an undeniable difference between Seattle's two candidates for mayor: One is an idiot. Mike McGinn, whose face we put on the cover of The Stranger recently, is not the idiot. McGinn is an attorney who comes to the ballot with a résumé thick with civic accomplishments: chairing the Sierra Club, founding a nonprofit called Great City that has successfully advocated for neighborhood improvements and more affordable housing, heading up a levy to fund neighborhood parks, and fighting to increase transit service and improve sidewalks. This is the sort of civic engagement you would expect from someone running for mayor.
While McGinn has been engaged in the life of the city, T-Mobile executive Joe Mallahan (who plunked down $200,000 of his own money to launch his campaign) has disregarded it. For example, while McGinn was running a campaign in the fall of 2007 to defeat a "roads and transit" ballot measure (he argued it would come back without the roads and with more of the transit, and he was right), Mallahan didn't vote at all, records from King County Elections show. In fact, Mallahan—the man asking for your vote—hasn't voted in 10 elections since 2001. He didn't vote in the primary elections of 2001 or 2005 (when the rest of us were voting for mayor). And in 2003, he didn't vote in the primary or the general election, when voters decided five city council races and four school board races.
"Most people who vote—and especially in off-year elections—pride themselves on being involved in civic life and paying attention and learning about candidates before they vote," says Christian Sinderman, a local political consultant. "If someone hasn't taken the time to study the issues or vote, the dialogue becomes, 'How can you become so angry about these issues if you didn't participate in past issues? Why run for office if you haven't even voted in the past?'"
Despite repeated requests, Mallahan did not return calls for comment. His spokeswoman, Charla Neuman, said she was unsure how many elections he had missed, adding, "He is like 98 percent of Seattle voters who do not have perfect voting records... Do not mistake that as a lack of commitment to democracy."
The rest of Mallahan's record, upon inspection, has more holes than cheese. Four examples:
He doesn't know what makes the city tick. A good candidate for mayor should be obsessed with how decisions are made, who is affected, and what happens next. Asked for any examples of Mallahan's civic leadership, Neuman replied, "Can I give you private sector and civic leadership?" She repeated a story Mallahan told in his TV ads about T-Mobile helping victims of Hurricane Gustav continue using their cell phones. "Most people underestimate the technological difficulties in trying to turn on [wireless] services or add service for people who would otherwise be without," she said. And civic service? "Can I have someone else who is more directly involved call you?" Neuman said. No one from the Mallahan campaign called back. His website says that Mallahan is one of the organizers of the Wallingford Wurst Festival, a sausage fair. But there's nothing related to neighborhood organizing and nothing resembling political involvement.
He hasn't done his homework. Mallahan distributed campaign fliers claiming that Mayor Greg Nickels had disbanded the gang unit when, in fact, the gang unit shrank to six officers but remained intact. In an endorsement meeting with The Stranger, Mallahan was unfamiliar with the 2007 bar crackdown Operation Sobering Thought—involving the mayor's office, the Seattle Police Department, and the City Attorney's Office—which was reported extensively by every newspaper in the city for nearly a year. The Seattle Times reported in July that Mallahan, while attending a forum at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, couldn't name a single neighborhood organization in the Central District or Capitol Hill. And when Mallahan met with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in May, he was asked, "What's your position on KeyArena and the stadium taxes?" Mallahan said he wants to find a tenant for KeyArena, but added, "I'm not familiar with the stadium tax, to be honest with you."
His private-sector experience was not at a progressive company. Mallahan is asking voters to measure his qualifications on his career at T-Mobile. But that's not a company that reflects Seattle's values. In July, a memo surfaced from T-Mobile's human-resources division that outlined ways for executives to bust potential labor unions, including reminding staff that T-Mobile rules "prohibit all third parties, including union organizers, from soliciting or distributing materials on T-Mobile premises." (Sinderman, the political consultant, points out, "Seattle has a long history as a union town. And in a struggling economy, more and more people are interested in organized labor.") T-Mobile's record also doesn't jibe with Seattle's general support of gay rights. The Human Rights Campaign gave the Bellevue-based company the lowest ratings in Washington State in its Corporate Equality Index in 2008, and it was the lowest-ranked telecommunications company in the survey nationally. "The fact that T-Mobile is so low on the list will be news to him," spokeswoman Neuman said last month.
He hasn't done anything for the environment (except eat it). During The Stranger's endorsement interview, we asked Mallahan if he's done anything—just one thing—for the environment. Mallahan answered that he went fishing as a kid. "My mom and dad used to plan our vacations around the tides. And that's so that they could feed their nine children from the bounty of the Puget Sound," he said. That was the only thing he could think of.
Any single example of Mallahan's lack of qualifications would seem like a reasonable mistake, a gap of knowledge, or an indicator that Mallahan is an ordinary guy who has focused on some issues but not on others. But collectively, this is a portrait of someone who didn't give a damn about the city until he saw a top vacancy at City Hall, then essentially paid his way into the general election. We'd have to be idiots to think that Seattle's next mayor should be someone who has demonstrated no interest in how the city runs—and Mallahan would have to be an idiot to think we wouldn't figure that out.