Meet Mike McGinn
Divisive. Embattled. Ousted.
These are all terms attributed to former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, who lost his bid for a second term in November 2013. Yet, spend more than five minutes with the Sierra Club activist and it’s hard to see where those claims stem from. Serving from 2010-2014, McGinn’s tenure was filled with notable accomplishments. He presided over a period economic growth and urban growth that resulted in a record-low 4 percent municipal unemployment rate, helped add hundreds of new housing units to the city and worked with the city council to pass a education levy that added millions of dollars to Seattle’s public schools.
Yet, McGinn’s terms was not without controversy. As Mayor, McGinn fought hard against a proposed tunnel replacement to the Emerald City’s aging Alaskan Way viaduct. His protracted battle to block the option culminated in a 2011 referendum, in which Seattle Voters overwhelmingly endorsed the subterranean route. McGinn never recovered his political capital after the vote and ultimately lost his bid for reelection in 2013 to a state legislator who had pushed for the tunnel in the state’s capitol, state-Senator Ed Murray.
I sat down with the Mayor McGinn for an interview about his time in office, among other issues. I’ll post the highlights as they are transcribed.
Former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn looks up before leaving the interview. During his tenure as mayor and his reelection campaign, McGinn was accused of being “divisive” by many of his opponents. While he doesn’t agree with that characterization, the Mayor made it clear that he doesn’t believe in shying away from a strong position. “I think a lot of politicians try to figure out ‘where’s the middle of everybody right now, where’s the middle of the issue right now,'” he said, “And that’s okay, you know. We live in a democracy. But I think there is another thing, which is where to we want to be, where do we want to go as a community […] and if the middle of where we are right now as a community isn’t on the path to where we want to be in the future, then I think you need to have a conversation with the public and with other elected officials about that.”
Mayor McGinn smiles for a photograph after our interview. As Mayor, McGinn says that trying to run an open office was the an important part of his job, especially working with communities of color. “I had a lot of people tell me that they had never had this much access before, and that kind of shocked me” McGinn said, referring to his work with minority communities. “I sat down in a room and we would hash out issues and have direct conversations. […] For me, one of the best parts of being mayor was having conversations about race and racism with communities that we affected by them, and them challenging me and me challenging myself to figure out, ‘how do we get at it?'”
Former Mayor Mike McGinn puts his U-lock away as he prepares to depart Agua Verde on bike on Mar. 11, 2014. Prior to his run for Mayor, McGinn was heavily involved in the Seattle Chapter of the Sierra Club. During his tenure, McGinn often commuted to work by bicycle and championed a transportation policy focused on bicycle and public transportation improvements. His critics labeled these efforts as “anti-car,” with some members of the media referring to him as “Mayor McShwinn” (considerably more polite than the term “bike nazis” used by conservative radio host Dori Monson). Despite this, McGinn says his time as in the Sierra Club influenced his outlook on participatory politics. “The Sierra Club is a very participatory, democratically driven organization,” he said. “I just think that there is a lot of strength and wisdom in communities, and if you can tap into that, you can create more change than otherwise.”