commentary: the urban stage of election day in Seattle


It’s 11th hour politics  in my hometown of Seattle. This year, incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn—who some call the most progressive mayor in America—has faced an election challenge focused more on provocative, pluralist style than the issues themselves.  In general, our mayor’s race has been local in focus, without ample attention to how McGinn reflects, if not leads, the trend lines of changing cities everywhere.

A case-in-point comes from this morning’s Seattle Times editorial, a regional piece about the role of policing and mental health reform in perceptions of street safety downtown.

In the quixotic headline: “Street disorder makes downtown Seattle feel like a mansion with dry rot”. The editorial proceeds in support of the challenger, state Senator Ed Murray, and without full regard to the world-stage idea of what Seattle is.

Seattle’s liberal moniker may actually predicate the iconic New York City mayor’s race, a post-Bloomberg defining moment more closely watched than our own.  At issue there is a model of governance that will predict the voting outcomes for evolving American demographics, as well as a decided tilt toward equity and the new urban populism.

Often, it takes such icons to remind us of who we are.

In a New York Times article, candidate Bill de Bliaso’s wife, Chirlane McCray, pointed to Seattle in the context of her husband’s post-Bloomberg focus, hoping to restore New York’s reputation as what she called “a progressive capital”. She showed concern that New York “has trailed behind cities like San Francisco, Seattle, even Cleveland”.

And, in the last few days, the Washington Post framed another attention-getting national story:  if McGinn loses, the article implied, one of his signature 2009 campaign issues, daylighting dark wire broadband in the City on a widespread basis. might never be realized because of Comcast’s financial support of his opponent (an implication which Murray later denied, criticizing McGinn’s implementation and not the premise itself).

I have made no secret of my belief that Seattle—once a tip-of-the-tongue “livable city”—has growing pains around the undeniable playing fields of urban change— transit, safety, education, climate change, energy sources and broadband, to name but a few.  But I prefer the creative over the Seattle Times‘ quixotic to make my point.  My well-documented focus on the “sit-able city” last month grew as much from our mayoral debates over downtown public safety concerns as it did from overseas photography and inspiration.

In Seattle, the progressive ideals already on the map are not so much at issue.  The mayor’s race has been more about the delivery of those ideals, and the challenger has really not brought new content to related discussions surrounding social justice, education, safe urban places for all or other vanguards that typically fall under the progressive flag.

As noted, it’s late in the game and we are onstage, partly because of the provocative conviction of the mayor we have.   Using sensational words, such as the “dry rot” of downtown in today’s Seattle Times editorial, does nothing to advance admiration of who we already are.


Image composed by the author in Seattle. Click on the image for more detail. © 2009-2013 myurbanistAll Rights Reserved. Do not copy.

For more information on the role of personal experience in understanding the changing city, see Urbanism Without Effortan e-book from Island Press.

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