Here's a bit of contrarian punditry for you: The biggest winner in yesterday's pro-tunnel victory was our anti-tunnel mayor, Mike McGinn.
"Whaaaaa...?" You might be asking yourself. "Is Goldy still drunk on all those free Big-Business/Big-Labor beers?" The answer is "No" (although I do have a bit of headache), and it's not a conclusion to which I've recently come. I expected the tunnel referendum to pass by a double-digit margin, I don't view it as a profoundly anti-McGinn vote, and I'm convinced that the referendum's passage was the best thing that could happen for McGinn's 2013 reelection prospects. And judging from his terse yet graceful response to yesterday's results, I'm guessing the politically savviest of the mayor's people agree with me.
My premise is simple: Politically, the tunnel was a godfuckingawful issue for McGinn that was destroying his relationship with the council, distracting him from the rest of his agenda, and drawing public attention away from his accomplishments; had it dragged on any further it would have surely ended his political career. The tunnel is poison, and it always has been. In fact, apart from galvanizing his groupies, I think the issue even worked against McGinn in 2009, a campaign victory that in addition to his own hard work and neighborhood outreach, largely turned on Greg Nickel's failure to shovel our driveways and Joe Mallahan coming off in the general as a totally disengaged and entitled prick.
Had the tunnel remained an issue, it would have continued to bury McGinn with it, defining the 2013 campaign (his many opponents will still attempt to define it this way, but with less success) and caricaturing the mayor as an obstructionist, single-issue loser. But with the question settled it can only produce political brownie points for McGinn from here on out: Either construction goes smoothly and McGinn, when asked, can calmly explain "I worked to give the public a direct vote on the tunnel"... or things fuck up and McGinn gets to spit I-told-you-sos at his critics. And either is a much better place for the mayor to be than perpetually on the losing side of a political battle he could never win.
McGinn promised to fight the tunnel. He did that. He lost. No disgrace in that. And his anti-tunnel base can't blame him for lack of effort. As for the pro-tunnel camp, if the downtown establishment types think that the average voter holds the same sort of resentment toward McGinn as they do, they've got another think coming. This was not a referendum on the mayor. Hell, I don't even think this was a referendum on the tunnel, per se. This was a referendum on doing something—anything—and getting this whole ordeal over and done with.
This is not to say that Mayor McGinn will have an easy road to 2013. He won't. The smart money is still on McGinn being a one-termer. But the mayor and his advisors now have an opportunity to use yesterday's electoral defeat as a pivot toward a reelection victory. Let the mayor's opponents misread pro-tunnel/anti-McGinn sentiment into yesterday's vote; it will only throw them off-message. Meanwhile, McGinn has two years to redefine himself as a fiscally responsible, administratively competent, visionary mayor who shares Seattle's values on the broadest number of issues, and is intent on moving all of Seattle forward, rather than just a single, multibillion dollar, special-interest-backed tunnel.