Let's not be contrarians just for the sake of being contrary. Mayor Mike McGinn was the indisputable loser of the August election. Face-plant. In the mud. Limbs hog-tied and floundering. He's in a far worse place now, even with the toxic tunnel issue off his plate, than ever before.
It wasn't only that voters approved the tunnel on August 16 (a tunnel that McGinn campaigned to stop) by a 16-point margin. And it wasn't just the brute strength of business lobbies that funded the pro-tunnel vote and cast it as a referendum to reject the mayor.
It was also the parade of McGinn's self-created losses that culminated on August 16. That date marked the deadline for McGinn to fulfill promises he made when he ran for office and after he was elected. That is, deadlines that he missed.
For instance, McGinn repeatedly pledged to his progressive, pro-transit base to put rail on the ballot within two years of being elected in November of 2009. But August 16, 2011, was the deadline to put measures on the fall ballot—and it came and went without a rail measure. McGinn also rolled out a plan one week after he took office to put a $241 million seawall replacement on the ballot (without consulting the city council). The council refused the plan last year, and again this year. It turned out this summer that the actual cost for a new seawall would be about $70 million to $150 million more than McGinn anticipated—no wonder the council didn't support him.
Seeing the tunnel approved the same day those deadlines passed stung McGinn. Not because it was a win for the well-heeled pro-tunnel establishment—McGinn is used to losing with the chamber of commerce, in the halls of the legislature, in the governor's office, and amid the city council. Fuck, his platform was based on pissing those people off. No, the tunnel vote was a bitter defeat because the ballot is where McGinn has historically won—where he's pulled out past victories for a parks levy, defeated road-funding, and ultimately won his own election. McGinn lost a home game, with The People. And it casts further doubt on whether he can win again.
Mayor McGinn called my office the day after the election.
Does losing this tunnel vote translate to losing political influence?
"I think that's a question that all the pundits and commentators will talk about," he said. "This is a pundit question."
Hmph. I hate to sully other pundits by associating them with me, but... McGinn has lost influence. He was relentlessly brusque and stubborn with the very people who he, as mayor, needed to win over. Without them, McGinn will have little traction advancing his Youth and Families Initiative, his Walk Bike Ride campaign, or his pursuit of expanding the city's rail network.
It's the combination of losses that leaves McGinn weaker than ever. He's burned nearly every establishment bridge, miscalculated the will of the voters, and failed to come through for the pro-transit, lefty base that elected him.
Take the rail vote.
In fact, the council did send a measure to the ballot for $60 car tabs on August 16, but it allocated funding in a manner that guarantees it can't extend the streetcar network. Why? McGinn's proposal for rail lines was based on an incomplete study that lacked funding and had no routes. Of course it didn't go to the ballot. McGinn never had a real plan.
In the tunnel vote, McGinn again failed to develop a plan—that is, he failed to articulate or develop an alternative to the tunnel.
To be fair, you could say that The Stranger and other folks who supported McGinn's agenda have lost this vote, too. And that's fair. We've agreed with his policy objectives. But McGinn's job is to take the steps from ideas to reality, and he's stumbled.
Losing on his home turf, on his issues, gives McGinn's opponents nothing to fear—no reason to compromise—and for his grassroots base, there's no reason for activists to stick out their necks again. Not when their frontman has a record of losing.