Issues under attack

What’s the political fallout from last Saturday’s assault on Mayor Paul Schell?

Let’s borrow a phrase from the alleged assailant, Omari Tahir-Garrett: “People see what they want to see.” For the folks who consider Schell a weak mayor letting his city spin out of control, the incident will confirm their fears; for those who feel Schell has unfairly borne the blame for events outside of his control, the mayor’s stiff-upper-lip attitude shows they were right about the guy’s character.

Tahir-Garrett’s credibility as an activist is obviously diminished—not that he had that far to fall. Given that, moments before the assault, he was using a bullhorn to shout down the mayor, it’s unlikely he had many friends in City Hall to lose. And as for his own mayoral campaign, Tahir-Garrett should keep in mind that assault victims are often granted no-contact orders from their alleged assailants before trial. I hope the guy’s got another bullhorn, because he may spend a lot of campaign events shouting from across the street.

Other participants in this debate have more to lose. Some people embrace the theory that the attack on the mayor will make racial profiling and the Aaron Roberts shooting bigger issues in this fall’s campaign. I disagree. They’ll be talked about more, that’s for sure. But, even as violence draws attention, it marginalizes. I don’t know what percentage of Seattle residents considered the Central District protests the work of a few fringe crazies and malcontents before last Saturday’s attack, but I’m sure the numbers ratcheted up sharply as the news of Schell’s injuries spread.

A more astute political observer than I describes Seattle in 2001 as “a city that is bored because we have nothing to be concerned about.” Mayoral candidates searching for the silver bullet issue in this year’s campaign haven’t yet found anything that gets voters excited in a positive way. Which is why the attack on Schell is so counterproductive: In one moment, Tahir-Garrett took a legitimate issue and turned it into just another controversy.