At a candid post-election forum, campaign strategists for Joe Mallahan admitted last night that they hid Joe Mallahan from the press and public to prevent him from damaging his own campaign. In contrast to Mayor-elect Mike McGinn, who accepted press interviews on his cell phone and spoke at 25 town halls, Mallahan was largely inaccessible to reporters and made few public appearances.
“If you think, watching Joe out there, that more access [to media] would have been a good thing for the campaign,” said Mallahan strategist Jason Bennett, “you have to ask if that is the best strategy.”
Charla Neuman, Mallahan’s campaign spokeswoman, acknowledged, “It’s tough to get Joe to talk in a sound bite.”
When Mallahan did speak publicly in the four televised debates—when he appeared to stick with sound bites, repeating vacuous corporate jargon like “driving efficiencies”—he was still a loose cannon. For example, Mallahan hammered on McGinn at debates for outright opposition to the deep-bore tunnel, even after McGinn reversed his position, which Bennett indicated wasn't what the campaign wanted him to do. "Charla and I can't be held responsible for what Joe said in the debates," Bennett said at the forum, which was sponsored by PubliCola at Del Rey in Belltown.
But the campaigns disputed whether McGinn’s unexpected willingness to allow a $4.2 billion deep-bore tunnel, a week after ballots dropped, was a flip-flop. Bill Broadhead, principal of the Mercury Group, the consultancy firm working on the McGinn campaign, insisted, “He didn’t flip on the tunnel.” Ironically, Neuman thought the change in position by her opposing candidate was “Genius.” She said, “Anyone who was hesitating, this gave them permission” to vote for McGinn.
Both camps acknowledged that McGinn won largely by running a calculated grassroots campaign, reaching voters in South Seattle, and framing the discussions around his own talking points. Mallahan, despite having raised three the times the money and sweeping almost every establishment endorsement, didn’t deliver a concise message or seem personable.
Broadhead conceded that McGinn’s campaign had its flaws, including a flood of robo-calls that attacked Mallahan for opposing Mayor Greg Nickels’s gun ban in parks. “The tone in the robo-calls was not a good idea,” he said.
Broadhead also acknowledged that McGinn was also a bit of a loose cannon. For instance, McGinn insisted on wearing crumpled shirts and sporting a shaggy beard. “It was going to work with him being himself or he was going to lose,” said Broadhead. “Authenticity is the stock in trade of politics right now.”