Former mayor Mike McGinn speaking with reporters at his home in Greenwood
Former mayor Mike McGinn speaking with reporters at his home in Greenwood Lindsey Wasson

“We all benefit when we keep Seattle,” former Seattle mayor Mike McGinn told reporters gathered in his front yard in Greenwood today. McGinn's press conference was the first insight into what his cryptic new mayoral campaign slogan—Keep Seattle—is supposed to mean and a window into the issues that will define his attempt to return to his old office. “We can’t let this city become San Francisco.”

At the press conference, McGinn's first public appearance since announcing his campaign on Twitter this morning, the former mayor dodged the question of how allegations that Mayor Ed Murray sexually abused children in the 1980s influenced his decision to run. Those allegations surfaced less than two weeks ago. (Murray denies them.)

“Any candidate looks at the lay of land and makes an analysis,” McGinn said. “Of course, I looked at the lay of land and made an analysis.”

McGinn struck a moderate tone, promising more neighborhood process on development issues and fewer property taxes, while also arguing that high earners and big corporations should pay more. He also opposes the construction of a controversial new youth jail—at least as it’s currently designed.

McGinn said his “first priority” would be to “house the homeless,” but he was short on specifics. McGinn said the city should scale up programs that are working and cut others,” which is the same case Murray has made for what his administration is currently doing.

The city should first “thoroughly review our budget” for possible savings. Then, when new revenue is needed to address issues like homelessness, McGinn said he would look to taxes on businesses before sales or property taxes, which also hit individuals.

McGinn also endorsed the idea of a city income tax, which he believes the city council should pass this year as a test case to challenge state tax law. (A group of grassroots activists is already working on this idea, labeled Trump-Proof Seattle. Murray has criticized the state’s lack of an income tax but has been noncommittal on this idea.)

The middle will be an odd position for McGinn, whose political identity during his time as mayor was as a far left political outsider. City politics have changed since McGinn was mayor. Now, he’ll be a moderate, positioned between Seattle’s activist left and the establishment incumbent.

It also raises questions about his environmental and urbanist ideals. While many of the city’s environmental activists see increased density as an environmental good and believe the city should aggressively move forward to encourage development, McGinn indicated an interest in re-litigating development questions with neighborhood groups. In 2015, Murray convened a housing affordability committee, which released recommendations for how the city should allow increased density in single family neighborhoods and require developers to help pay for affordable housing. While he supports some of those recommendations, McGinn said, “my opinion isn’t the only one that counts” and promised a “neighborhood driven planning process.”

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McGinn won an underdog campaign in 2009, unseating former mayor Greg Nickels, who raised more than twice as much cash. In 2013, Murray, a former state legislator, took on McGinn, raised about $795,000 to his $469,000, and won with 51.5 percent of the vote.

In a statement, Murray’s campaign slammed McGinn, saying his “divisive and confrontational style led to years of paralysis, dysfunction, and infighting at City Hall.”

“As mayor, Mike McGinn picked fights with everyone under the sun,” the statement reads. “He attacked our Democratic governor, calling her a liar. He fought the Obama Dept. of Justice on police reform. He fought with our U.S. Attorney. He fought with our City Attorney. He fought with the City Council.”