Mike McGinn, Mayor of Seattle, Washington State, USA

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Mike McGinn
Mayor of Seattle
By Andrew Stevens

29 March 2010: A noted environmental champion and grassroots organiser, Mike McGinn was elected as Seattle’s new mayor following Greg Nickels’ two terms. As with many other city mayors, McGinn trained in law before public office but his stance on the legalisation of marijuana marks him out from the pack. McGinn now faces making good on his campaign promises, most notably around public transportation in the west coast city.

Update November 2013: Mike McGinn was defeated by Ed Murray in the 5 November mayoral elections.

Born in 1959, McGinn grew up not in Seattle but Long Island, New York. He was educated at Massachusetts-based Williams College, a private liberal arts institution, where he received his bachelors in economics, before attending the University of Washington School of Law in Seattle. After law school he joined the city legal firm Stokes Lawrence, practicing company law and eventually rising to become a partner. He left the practice in 2006 to found the Seattle Great City Initiative, a non-profit advocacy campaign which worked around environmental and urban development initiatives in the city, engaged in coalition-building and community organising. McGinn has also served as state chair of the Sierra Club, the venerable environmentalist concern. He has also enthusiastically backed the legalisation and state taxation of marijuana.

Despite having worked closely with the city’s last mayor Greg Nickels during his time as head of the Great City Initiative, McGinn announced his candidacy for mayor in March 2009, pledging to increase schools, internet and public transport provision in the city as the cornerstones of his campaign. The two mayor Nickels, in spite of his national reputation for spearheading efforts to tackle climate change, had experienced a sharp drop in popularity as mayor owing to a number of policy failures during his watch. By the time of the August primary election, Nickels had failed to remain in the running and crashed out in third place, leaving the November general election field to McGinn and his principal challenger Joe Mallahan, a telecommunications executive. In spite of Mallahan’s high spending campaign, he lost to McGinn after a lengthy count, but by a slender margin. The principal issue throughout the campaign was the proposed tunnel replacement for the city’s quake-damaged Alaskan Way Viaduct, which McGinn opposes.

The city’s monorail and Space Needle hold iconic status as legacy features of its 1962 World Fair. A recent project to build a large-scale monorail network for Seattle ground to a halt in 2005 when the city council withheld planning consent, effectively killing off the project, though the vehicle tax levied by the city after voters’ consent in 2002 will continue to be paid to cover its debts. Seattle also shot to global prominence in the early 1990s during the ascendancy of its Grunge scene, which was centred around bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam, reflecting the primacy of culture there also.

Seattle is a charter city, with responsibilities denoted under the city charter, as opposed to other cities in Washington State which operated under the Mayor-Council Manager system. The nine city councillors are elected on at large basis. The city also operates an array of public utilities compared to other US cities which rely on private sector provision. Seattle Public Utilities provides water and refuse collection while Seattle City Light is responsible for electricity supply. Both are agencies of the city. This is perhaps a reflection of the city’s politics, which are firmly left of centre by national standards.

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