Opinion

Tale of two non-partisan offices in King County | Bob Roegner

Last November, the voters selected Dow Constantine as the new non-partisan King County Executive and Mike McGinn as the new mayor of Seattle. Mayor of Seattle is also non-partisan, but the number of Republicans within the city limits can be counted on one hand. Both were somewhat surprise victors and have steered a different course since their election.

Constantine, a Democrat, replaced interim Executive Kurt Triplett, following longtime Executive Ron Sims’ departure for Washington, D.C. Constantine, in a crowded and competitive field, was able to meld together enough support from younger voters, labor and others to advance to the general election — where the Democratic-leaning county voters assured his election.

McGinn came from the ranks of community activists focused on environmental, waterfront and transit issues. Incumbent Greg Nickels lost in the primary, as voters still seemed to be upset at his handling of the previous winter’s storm. McGinn is friendly, outgoing and the least well known candidate. But he benefited by his identification with the “common man,” which gave him an almost Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” persona.

Over the past few months, a contrast in styles has emerged. And what a contrast it is!

Constantine is lawyerly and methodical, and most of his executive appointments to high-ranking positions have received rave reviews. Faced with a growing budget deficit, he cut staff positions and reduced salaries for many others, including himself. When a major capital project fell behind schedule, he quickly replaced the contractor to get the work back on track. He worked with the King County Council to establish new labor policies, and has gotten a major union to agree to hold the line on wages for 2011.

Most of Mayor McGinn’s appointments have been met with “who’s that?” — although budget and transportation were notable exceptions. One of the leading candidates for Seattle police chief pulled out at the last minute, leaving a diminished selection pool and placing the newly appointed chief on the defensive where he remains today. McGinn has isolated himself from other major political leaders on the viaduct as he continues to push for his preferred option and reopen a debate that after many years had finally achieved agreement.

Additionally, the Seattle City Council has expressed concern about his lack of keeping them informed on issues, and a political rift seems to be forming. While Constantine has reached out to groups and individuals including many who didn’t support him, City Hall observers complain that McGinn seems to still be in campaign mode and is not reaching out to gain the cooperation of those who might be able to guide and advise him.

Insiders don’t believe that everything Constantine has done is right, or that everything McGinn has done is wrong. They caution that neither has served a full year in office yet. But they also note the establishment reaction to the two leaders’ potential political future. When it was learned that Gov. Christine Gregoire might be under consideration for a federal appointment, Constantine was on the list of possible future candidates. In contrast, rumors have been swirling about the possibility of McGinn being a one-term mayor. and which former and current city council members might run against him in three years. Getting off to a good start in 2011 will be very important to both men.

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