If you believe the most recent polling in the crowded mayor's race, and I usually do, state senator Ed Murray is in third place. Mayor Mike McGinn holds the lead, while former Seattle City Council member Peter Steinbrueck is in second, according to the May SurveyUSA poll. But by November, I think Murray will prevail.
The reason voters will gravitate to Murray was summarized fairly succinctly last Wednesday at a press conference to promote Murray's endorsement from Ron Sims, the former King County executive. Sims argued that McGinn has been an obstructionist who's taking Seattle on a path toward destitution. Unlike the current mayor, Sims said, Murray can succeed at inspiring established civic leaders, juicing up a leaden economy, breaking through transportation logjams, and buoying Seattle schools.
"He is the mayor who can bring together a staff that will make you excited," Sims told a room full of young Murray volunteers and political consultants. Running off last fall's victory for same-sex marriage (based on a bill Murray sponsored), grassroots enthusiasm to make Murray Seattle's first gay mayor will be unparalleled. Under Murray, Sims said, Seattle will be a "rock-'em, sock-'em city that makes people go 'Wow!'"
But if voters stick with McGinn, Sims intoned, Seattle will "retire like Gary, Indiana." Since McGinn took office, Seattle has "lost its flash."
Contributing to Murray's momentum this past week: Council Member Tim Burgess and City Attorney Pete Holmes endorsed him, too, and the Municipal League of King County awarded Murray its top rating of "outstanding," better than anyone else in the race.
Burgess added that Murray is "the only candidate in this race who can get bold things done with regional state partners."
But there's just one problem: These arguments from Murray, Sims, and Burgess crumble under scrutiny.
Outside the window of that press conference, several cranes were building new construction projects—which shows anything but an atrophying city. Under McGinn, Seattle's unemployment rate is down to 4.7 percent, more than two points below the state average. A levy to augment school funding doubled (to $231 million), and the planning to build light rail to Ballard has been accelerated. All of that required McGinn to collaborate with other politicians.
As for Murray, his team that will purportedly "make you excited" overwhelmingly comprises the same figures who backed Greg Nickels (including Tim Ceis, Sandeep Kaushik, and Christian Sinderman), the guy we threw out of the mayor's office four years ago. Those transportation projects that Murray backed, such as the deep-bore tunnel and new 520 bridge, remain partly underfunded and leave major unresolved questions about traffic mitigation. As budget chair, Murray oversaw the deals that left K–12 schools underfunded (by at least a billion dollars a year), according to the state supreme court. And with Murray leading senate Democrats this year, we still couldn't salvage a bill that would allow King County to prevent a 17 percent cut to Metro bus service. That record belies the campaign's flashy talking points.
However, it seems unlikely that most voters will press past the campaign rhetoric and compare each candidate's actual track record. It seems more likely that the Murray campaign's messages will reinforce McGinn's negative reputation (McGinn has only 37 percent job-approval rating, according to the latest SurveyUSA poll) and let Murray pick up voters in time for the August primary election.
To be fair, Murray has real victories on his record (passing gay marriage, holding back the GOP's attempts to gut social services in Olympia), and McGinn has failed on several fronts (failing to get light rail on the ballot, clumsy handling of the police department). I still don't know who I'll vote for—and anyone trying to read an endorsement into this article should stop trying. But the argument that Murray has been a paragon of legislative success while McGinn has let the city's economy and education languish is, in fact, backward.