Seattle voters turn out third mayor in a row

November 6, 2013

Seattle mayor-elect Ed Murray, right, and husband Michael Shiosaki at Murray’s election-night victory party (AP/Elaine Thompson)

Washington state Sen. Ed Murray (D), a long-time fixture in state politics, defeated first-term incumbent Seattle Mayor Michael McGinn on Tuesday, promising a return to the so-called “Seattle way” after four years in which city government was riven by very public feuds.

With all of the city’s 952 precincts reporting, Murray claimed 56 percent of the vote, while McGinn lagged with 43 percent. Murray claimed victory, though McGinn had not formally conceded, the Seattle Times reported.

McGinn is the third consecutive Seattle mayor to lose a re-election bid. Four years ago, he defeated Mayor Greg Nickels, whose poor handling of a snow storm and a homeless encampment in South Seattle led to high disapproval numbers. Nickels himself defeated Paul Schell in 2001, a one-term mayor who was criticized for mishandling civil disturbances surrounding meetings of the World Trade Organization in 1999.

Murray, the Democratic leader in a divided state Senate, represented a district in the state legislature that included many of the wealthier areas of Seattle, including Capitol Hill and downtown. He led the Aug. 5 primary campaign with nearly 30 percent of the vote, ahead of McGinn, who scored 28.6 percent, and a field of seven other candidates that included a current and former city council member.

McGinn, an environmental activist known for riding his bicycle to City Hall, was never popular with the city’s political establishment. His signature drive as mayor, an effort to block a tunnel to replace the aged Highway 99 viaduct that fronts Seattle’s skyline, lost badly at the polls in 2011.

Seattle mayoral elections have in the past come down to contests between the perceived candidate of downtown and the candidate of the city’s neighborhoods; in a twist, it was McGinn, the incumbent, who cast himself as the neighborhood candidate, with Murray defending his progressive bona fides. Both candidates pledged to raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Most business interests, including the city’s Chamber of Commerce, backed Murray. The two candidates split the city’s labor community almost evenly.

Polls both public and private showed Murray winning by wide margins. But in the final days of the race, the polls narrowed after a Washington Post report that several large telecom firms had begun donating to Murray as McGinn pushed for more access to high-speed Internet throughout Seattle. A top Murray strategist told GovBeat that the report, which received significant attention in local media, helped narrow the contest.

Murray said he would bring a new, more conciliatory tone to city government, which progressives dominate. The city’s political establishment has long been proud of what it dubs the “Seattle way,” which emphasizes collaboration over confrontation. McGinn had feuded with the more traditionally political city council.

Murray will become the 53rd mayor of Seattle, and the city’s first openly gay chief executive.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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Reid Wilson · November 6, 2013