As the decision for the nation’s future leader looms near, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce will scrutinize the issue on a local scale this fall. Headed by community leaders, the chamber will facilitate a series of breakout sessions at the Regional Leadership Conference to create a profile that exemplifies what Seattleites need in a great political leader.
Representatives from 250 local organizations — ranging in focus from business labor, to multicultural nonprofits, to government groups to environmental education — will attend the conference, which will take place Oct. 17 through 19.
“This is a topic that really needs focus in our community,” said chamber executive director Maud Daudon. The resulting profile will be used to evaluate potential political candidates for next year’s mayoral election.
Daudon said the chamber will support candidates who will best represent this profile in future political races. The chamber has already outlined some preliminary criteria it will use as a basis for the discussions this fall.
“Currently, we feel a mayor must have a progressive vision for the region,” Daudon said. “We need someone that will keep Seattle competitive locally and globally. They must utilize the communities’ abundance of talents, be confident and have strong managerial skills.”
The chamber will back candidates who can use their strong leadership skills to unify the city instead of divide it, Daudon said. The chamber wants to find leadership that will prevent the challenges facing the nation on a federal level from permeating further locally. Long-term, she said, she hopes the discussions can restore some faith in the political process.
The mayor’s job requires a mixed set of skills, said Seattle City Council president Sally Clark: The mayor is the CEO and the ambassador for the city. He or she needs to love walking the city’s streets and talking about major economic issues.
Clark’s name has been bandied about as potential candidate. She said she has been too focused on the city budget right now to be make any official decisions.
While experts say we are out of the recession, parts of Seattle are still struggling, Clark said. College graduation rates are still down, road improvements didn’t go as far as predicted with the last levy and people are still just getting by in part-time and full-time jobs.
A conservative mayor?
With the city focused on future economic viability, Clark said she wouldn’t be surprised if the next elected mayor was more financially conservative, compared to Seattle’s traditionally liberal stance in the past. In this economic climate, she predicts, voters may not be turned off by something that looks more right-wing.
“No one’s put off by people being more efficient,” she said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily conservative. It’s just part of running government well.”
Socially, Seattle has always been a left-leaning base, said Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce executive director Michael Wells. He predicts next year’s candidates will stay focused on issues historically addressed by Seattle’s political leadership, such as environmentalism and sustainability.
Seattle is a complicated city, Wells said: Retail spending is still down, and transportation is its own intricate conversation. There are many pieces in play with light rail, the streetcar, buses and heavy traffic.
Current issues facing the next mayor include development, transportation, economic viability, sustainability and the arts, Wells said. He believes the best candidate will be able to approach the city’s future tasks with fresh eyes, while embodying Seattle’s core values.
While Seattle voters generally look at the social and political platforms of mayoral candidates, Wells cautions that tangential issues can also affect the outcome of the race.
He cites the city’s response to the 2009 snowstorm that resulted in Mayor Greg Nickels never making it past the primary election for a third term. Voters were so unhappy with how the city responded, they sent a very strong message to the incumbent early on in the election, he said.
Wells said once names are official, the Capitol Hill chamber will speak with candidates it believes can really look at the issues that are Capitol Hill-specific, such as what affects nonprofits, small businesses, hospitals and universities.
In need of a ‘tough hide’
While names have been circulating, no one but commercial real estate agent Charlie Staadecker has officially announced his or her candidacy yet. Potential candidates include former Seattle City Councilemember Peter Steinbrueck, current City Councilmember Tim Burgess and Rep. Ed Murray, said campaign consultant Cathy Allen, president and owner of The Connections Group. She has worked on campaigns from mayor to U.S. Senate. At one point, six of her nine clients held seats on the Seattle City Council.
No one else will announce anything until after the presidential election, Allen said, and by the end of the year, most names will be announced. Official filing will take place in May.
Mayor Mike McGinn will surely run for reelection as well, although he has not officially announced it yet, Allen said. He had a controversial first-half of his term, with his stance against an Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel, among others, but he scored big wins lately with the Seattle City Council-approved agreement for an NBA arena in SODO and with the state of the city economy improving.
However, Seattle voters are historically tough on first-term mayors, Allen said.
If a mayor isn’t producing to the level voters desire, they won’t make it past the primaries, Allen said, reiterating Wells’ point. After the 1999 World Trade Organization protests and the violent Mardi Gras celebration in 2001, Paul Schell was sent the same message by voters as his successor, Nickels.
Currently, McGinn has about a 30-percent approval rating, Allen said. The incumbent will likely be up against at least seven other candidates. These numbers are what will indicate his strength in the next race, she said, but right now it is too early to know what his chances are at reelection.
For a good chance at the mayoral race, candidates must have enough money to run a campaign, between a quarter- to half-million dollars, Allen said.
This year, she is looking for people who can bring a new excitement to the position, but not for controversy.
“Seattle has among the most educated, engaged elected officials in the country,” she said, adding that it’s difficult to get projects done because of the “Seattle process.” Seattleites “are a group of strong-willed people. A good candidate needs a tough hide in this city.”
Allen said understanding the region’s diversity is also key. The Seattle region is home to 79 different ethnicities and countless emerging projects, such as maintaining major infrastructures and the future waterfront-park development.
“The next mayor needs to be someone who can find that common denominator, who can move the people and progress the city,” she said.