Everyone, including KING 5, is saying that tonight's debate—taped earlier today—is a brawl. That's not surprising. The ballots have arrived in mailboxes, people are voting every day, and Mike McGinn just seriously altered his position on one of the central issues in the mayor's race: the deep-bore tunnel downtown.

Mallahan immediately attacked him for destroying the voters trust. McGinn responded that he would "continue to ask tough questions" even if he's now willing, as mayor, to execute the agreement to build the tunnel. But the strategic question for McGinn, who's behind in the polls, remains:

What to do when you're sure you're going to be attacked as a flip-flopper or worse?

The answer: Attack first. And that's what it sounds like McGinn did tonight.

Livestream here. And here we go:


7:01 Seattle Times reporter Jim Brunner wins best hair, hands down.

7:03 A bland opening statement by Mallahan about "moving forward"—and, surprisingly, no attacks on McGinn for his new tunnel position.

7:04 McGinn takes the tunnel question head on, says he still opposes it and is still committed to fighting cost overruns. But, now that the city council has unanimously agreed to build it, he will abide by the plan as mayor.

7:05 First question goes to McGinn and it's about... the tunnel. McGinn repeats his new attempt to thread the needle between opposition to the idea and support for "the role of a mayor in a democracy." Mallahan responds: "I just don't understand where Mike is... I simply am confused and don't trust where is today on the tunnel."

7:07 McGinn pounces: "Joe, you don't trust me? Your campaign is funded and run by those who stand to make millions on the tunnel... I don't know how we can trust you to defend Seattle and the people's interest."

7:08 Mallahan replies that he's got plenty of support from trustable insidery insiders. So trust him.

7:10 McGinn stares straight into the camera, locks his fingers in a sort of double fist on the table in front of him, and returns again and again to the idea that he'll defend the people of Seattle against cost overruns while "Joe Mallahan says 'We can live with it.'"

7:12 Mallahan smirks, blinks, fidgets with the papers in front of him and complains about how McGinn is "obfuscating."

7:15 New topic, schools. Zzzzzzz. "The public in Seattle strongly supports schools," McGinn says. He declines to say he'll take over the schools as mayor, calling instead for a "public discussion" about who should be in charge if things don't improve. Mallahan promises to "hold accountable" the school board and superindent, but says he wouldn't take the schools over while McGinn would. "He wants to wage war, not only with Olympia, not only with the city council, he wants to take over the school board," Mallahan says.

7:16 Jean Enerson notes that Mallahan doesn't have anything about education on his web site. Ooops.

7:18 Linda Brill wants to know: "At the end of your four year term, how will you make my life better?" Mallahan starts off by correcting her—he plans to have an eight-year term—and then talks about having an open waterfront, less congestion, more density, and a better economy. While he talks, the split-screen shows McGinn looking down, collecting his thoughts, and... muttering to himself? silently practicing his next hit?

7:20 McGinn's vision for a city that Linda Brill will like better: more light rail, better mass transit in general, and a more affordable, livable urban core.

7:22 Brunner—again, best hair of the night—asks the experience question. McGinn talks about his "years of experience working to create change in our neighborhoods and in our city" and his ability to engage people with an exciting vision for the future. Mallahan says: "Mike just doesn't really get it." The city is too big for a guy like McGinn to handle, he continues. It needs a businessman—like him. And then a bunch of somewhat random talking points from Mallahan: "Mike is about things. I am about people. We have to get this economy back on track. We have to protect working family jobs. And that is my vision for moving Seattle forward."

7:29 They agree on one thing: maroon ties, stark white shirts, and black suits.

7:30 Mallahan, faced with a question about 520, brings it back to the tunnel: "He has one solution, which is tear down the viaduct, flood our streets with cars—it would be an environmental and economic disaster."

7:31 McGinn responds that Mallahan seems to be becoming "a one-issue candidate." Loud laughs from the McGinn supporters in the audience.

7:33 Mallahan declines to take a position on the Ballard link of the Burke Gilman trail, saying it's currently being litigated. McGinn points out that one of the litigants is the city—which means the city has clearly taken a position—and someone who wants to be mayor of the city should therefore be willing to take a position. McGinn, for his part, says he supports the city's vision for the trail.

7:36 Time for them to question each other. Mallahan asks McGinn what experience he has that can assure voters he's ready to run the city. McGinn goes with the idea that the conduct of his campaign shows how he'd run the city—with openness, responsiveness, and vision. Then he attacks Mallahan for his spokesman, his big-money contributors, and his remoteness.

7:38 Mallahan calls that "poppycock."

7:39 McGinn asks Mallahan what he'll do about tunnel cost overruns, and Mallahan replies that he'll try to remove legislative language putting Seattle on the hook for cost overruns.

7:41 Mallahan seems to be laughing at how aggressive McGinn is being toward him—leaning in, pointing fingers, showing frustration—but it's backfiring. The laughter doesn't make Mallahan look above it all. It makes him look aloof, un-serious, not willing to fight for his position and more interested in mouthing those talking points that McGinn says his expensive consultants stuff into him.

7:45 On the second round of panhandling discussion, Mallahan sort of shakes his head and declines to talk anymore. "I think my position's reasonable, and I think Mike's position is reasonable." Comes off as if he doesn't know the subject well enough to talk about it at length. McGinn, clearly the better communicator here, says: "I've said my peace." He waves off the second round with his hand, but gives the impression that he's said thousands of words on it already, could say thousands more, but doesn't want to waste anyone's time.

7:50 Mallahan's internal monologue keeps slipping into his external monologue. "I'm out of time," he interjects, cutting himself off during a discussion of the head tax, but then, oddly, continuing to talk anyway.

7:52 A question on whether they'll spend taxpayer funds to defend in court the new ban on guns in city parks. Mallahan has "reservations" about the ban—and then admits that those reservations have become great fodder for a McGinn robocall and asks McGinn to defend the robocall. "I support the gun ban in parks," McGinn says. "We should defend that in court if necessary." Mallahan feels differently. "And that," McGinn says, "is what my robocall said." Mallahan's caught. He doesn't want to wast time reciting the robocall, never mind repeat its charges for a television audience. So he accuses McGinn of being soft on public safety.

7:54 McGinn destroys him on this. Gets angry that Mallahan has accused him of being soft on public safety ("Uh huh," Mallahan says) and points out that he spent two recent evenings talking about it—one of them at a forum Mallahan skipped, where mothers of victims of gun violence spoke.

7:56 Closing statements. McGinn asks people to listen to their words, sure, but also look at their actions. He seems confident and in control. Mallahan seems to be reeling. He jokes that he hopes people "enjoyed the show tonight," seems to know it will be cast as a brawl—which it was, with him the clear loser—and then rambles about a few examples of his community involvement.

7:58 And we're done.


Anyone who watched this debate saw a tough, articulate man who was willing to defend his positions—and the citizens of Seattle—all the way to the mat if necessary. That man wasn't Joe Mallahan. McGinn killed tonight. Best debate of the season so far, and best campaign performance by McGinn since this whole thing kicked off. The question: How many people were watching, and how many of them changed their minds?