Mike McGinn didn't get The Seattle Times' endorsement in 2009 and, assuming he survives his first term (the Recall Mayor McGinn Facebook page has grown from 75 members to 750 in two months), he's unlikely to get it in 2013 either. At least that's what the paper seemed to be subtly hinting at the other day when it called the mayor a liar.
But the mayor hasn't given up and the Times isn't letting up. As the paper editorialized Friday, the mayor "came into office promising not to stand in the way" of the tunnel plan. But "McGinn, for lack of a more politically correct term, lied. He has done everything imaginable to stop the tunnel."
Of course, McGinn is familiar with the charge. He hears the liar accusation frequently from the critics who like to call him Mayor McSchwinn and accuse him of making love to his bicycle. And he makes it easy for his detractors when he tries to parse his own words, telling The New York Times, for one, that "I never said I wouldn't fight the tunnel," then later texting the paper: "To clarify: I always said I would fight paying cost overruns on the tunnel."
McGinn's 11th-hour tunnel flip-flop in the 2009 election gave him the boost to beat Joe Mallahan but, as SeattlePI.com noted yesterday, "McGinn left himself wiggle room in his 2009 remarks. He said he still disliked the tunnel and would continue to question the project's costs and whether Seattle taxpayers could end up paying for overruns. He has done that, with a vengeance. But if McGinn's words about the tunnel make him a liar, he's got plenty of company," the website said, citing "lies" by other government officials.
So the Times says lie, PI.com says it's debatable. But what exactly did McGinn say in his turnabout press release on Oct. 19, 2009? Here it is:
Today, the City Council authorized Mayor Greg Nickels to sign an intergovernmental agreement with the State of Washington committing Seattle to the tunnel plan.
I disagree with the decision. I disagree with the timing.
But the reality is Mayor Nickels and the Council have entered into an agreement, and the City is now committed to the tunnel plan.
If I'm elected Mayor, although I disagree with this decision, it will be my job to uphold and execute this agreement. It is not the Mayor's job to withhold the cooperation of city government in executing this agreement.
I will, however, continue to ask tough questions.
The Times' headline on the story reporting the change read "Mike McGinn says he would uphold the plans for a tunnel if elected, despite opposition." That's the way most other media reported it as well.
He seemed to confirm that in subsequent chats and interviews, saying much the same thing. As he told PubliCola, "My statement is a simple acknowledgment of how the Democratic process works. The mayor is obligated to follow a 9-0 vote of the council. It's not an option for the mayor to just ignore legislation...I acknowledged that it's not the mayor's job to ignore legislation passed by the council."
As mayor, however, he quickly took what appeared to be the opposite position, opposing the council as it moved forward on the project and, the smoking gun, vetoing the council's ordinance to approve a state tunnel pact (later overridden by the council).
It looks like he lied. But he can also make the argument he was misunderstood.
For one thing, the ordinance he vetoed was passed 8-1 by the council. He indicated he wouldn't stand in the way only if it was a 9-0 vote.
For another, he said "a mayor is obligated" to act. But he didn't say he was obligated.
Nor did he say he would act, despite the headlines saying otherwise. He said that was a mayor's job. But he didn't flat-out promise to do it.
It wasn't so much a lie as it was politics. That's where a candidate tells voters and the media what they want to hear or, in this case, what they thought they heard.
If you're confused, don't feel bad. The only guy who knew what he was really saying--I'm not changing my position on the tunnel, period--can't explain it either. And he's your leader.