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Arena support could influence the outcome of the 2013 Seattle Mayor's race

As the August primary draws near we will be observing the leading candidates for mayor of Seattle.

Peter Steinbrueck
Peter Steinbrueck

On Saturday, Seattle Times Reporter Jim Brunner provided a pretty good analysis of how the race to be mayor of Seattle is shaping up. There are 6 people, including incumbent Mike McGinn, that have filed and will run in the primary election. Washington state has a top 2 primary. On August 6th, the number of candidates will be reduced. Brunner points out that in the latest poll the race is lead by 4 people.

Judged by recent polling and endorsements, McGinn’s top opponents are state Sen. Ed Murray, City Council member Bruce Harrell and former Council member Peter Steinbrueck. With just seven weeks to go until ballots are mailed, none of the candidates has seized front-runner status in a race that has so far centered more on critiques of McGinn’s leadership style than major policy disagreements.
In a recent KING-TV poll of 522 likely voters, McGinn led with 22 percent support. Steinbrueck placed second with 17 percent, closely followed by Murray at 15 percent and Harrell at 12 percent. The biggest group of voters — 23 percent — remains undecided. None of the other five candidates received more than 4 percent.

The four leaders also came away with a split score card in a round of Democratic legislative-district endorsements over the past few weeks — another traditional early test for Seattle candidates. “Saying this race is anything but gelatinous at this point would be an overstatement,” said Michael Grossman, a Seattle-based political consultant, who called the support for McGinn’s rivals “soft.” . . .

Throughout the early campaign, McGinn’s opponents have spent much of their time portraying him as a combative and divisive figure who is holding Seattle back. But differences on major issues are harder to spot. “It seems like we are all in violent agreement” on most subjects, Harrell said to members of the 36th District Democrats at Seattle’s Labor Temple last week. But each candidate has tried to flavor his appeal in subtly different ways to attract the 25 to 30 percent of votes that will likely be needed to advance past the primary.
Read the rest here, Seattle mayoral race a contest between 3 rivals and incumbent Mike McGinn

This is, more or less, true. The top candidates agree that they are very similar except one, Peter Steinbrueck.

Steinbrueck, the former city-council member, disagrees with his rivals that there is no significant difference among them on issues in the mayoral contest. “I don’t think we agree on the future of the city,” he said.
An architect and civic activist before serving three terms on the council, Steinbrueck is staking out a position as a defender of neighborhoods against unfettered development.
He argues that McGinn and the City Council were irresponsible in the recent approval of dramatically taller buildings in South Lake Union without demanding enough affordable housing and other concessions in return.

Steinbrueck also earned the ire of NBA fans, but the support of maritime unions, by loudly opposing plans to build a new arena in the Sodo neighborhood.

Peter Steinbrueck is working two points pretty hard in his campaign, more neighborhood control, and the Sonics arena location. On the first point, every candidate says that they are for more neighborhood control. It's like being for sunshine on a rainy day, or ice cream, and/or pie.
So, Steinbrueck will flog his hairsplitting opposition to the arena. That's a pretty remarkable for somebody that was a Seattle City Councilman for ten years, 1997 though 2007.
Apparently, he has no major initiative or accomplishment as a city councilman worth promoting as a campaign point.

Why is Steinbrueck splitting a hair between saying that he wants the Sonics back while opposing the SoDo location? Well, it's a loser position in general, and he was on the Port of Seattle public payroll opposing the location as a lobbyist/consultant.

A KING-TV survey back on March 4th asked about arena support, as well as who voters are supporting in the Seattle mayor's race.
At the time the survey was taken former King County Executive Ron Sims had not yet announced that he wouldn't run. Sims had 15% of the poll at that time.

There is some small advantage to a candidate for mayor supporting the construction of a basketball arena for an NBA team. 33% of registered voters say that a candidate who supports an arena is more likley to get their vote, compared to 28% who say an arena-backer is less likely to get their vote.
Turned around the other way, further confirmation: 36% say they are less likely to vote for a candidate who opposes an arena, compared to 25% who say they are more likely to vote for an arena-opposer.

Not included in the summary were the majority of respondents that say that it makes "No Difference" in their voting preference.

The first question was this: "If a candidate supports building a basketball arena for an NBA team in Seattle, would that make you more likely to vote for that candidate? Less likely to vote for that candidate? Or does it make no difference?"

More Likely 33%
Less Likely 28%
No Difference 36%
Not Sure 2%

The second question, turning it around as they say in the summary, went like this: If a candidate opposes building a basketball arena for an NBA team in Seattle, would that make you more likely to vote for that candidate? Less likely to vote for that candidate? Or does it make no difference?

More Likely 25%
Less Likely 36%
No Difference 37%
Not Sure 2%

The public opinion is in favor of bringing the Sonics back, and constructing a new arena. In fact, it's a bit if a loser in the general election for a candidate to oppose it.

Still, if Steinbrueck can corner the market on obstructionists (aka lesser Seattle) then he might be able to make it out of the primary.

What could work against Steinbrueck is Mike McGinn, more precisely, how the rest of candidates are differentiating themselves from McGinn.

McGinn has a reputation as having a sometimes combative relationship with different groups, including the city council. All of the candidates running against McGinn highlight their ability to play well with others.

It will be tough for Steinbrueck to oppose different developments around the city while claiming to have a better relationships than McGinn does with different groups that are in favor of those developments.

There hasn't been too much movement from the March poll to the poll taken on May 20th that points toward any one candidate being a front runner.

Below are the results for the potential candidates from March 4th, at that point Undecided was leading the way, too.
Former King County Executive Ron Sims never entered the race. Seattle City Councilman Tim Burgess dropped out of the race on the last day to file paperwork to run.

Burgess 10%
Harrell 5%
Martin 3%
McGinn 15%
Murray 9%
Sims 15%
Staadecker 1%
Steinbrueck 7%
Undecided 34%

You can see the full survey results here: performed by Survey USA 3/14/2013

All of the candidates will go after McGinn on the sorry state of the Police Department, as well as his friction filled relationship with the city council and City Attorney Pete Holmes. It could be somewhat difficult for McGinn to overcome a combative reputation.

Steinbrueck will not have enough messaging time in the crowded primary to engage in too much of this. He will ride the arena opposition even through its a bit of a loser in the general election, but he might attract enough support to make it though the primary.

Here are the full poll results that included the candidates that actually filed paperwork by the May 17th deadline to run for mayor.

Harrell 12%
Kate Martin 4%
Mary Martin 3%
McGinn 22%
Murray 15%
Staadecker 1%
Steinbrueck 17%
Undecided 23%

See the KING-TV results at here, SurveyUSA Election Poll #20551, mayoral race, 5/20/2013

There are much bigger issues for the candidates to debate than the Sonics arena, like resolving transportation issues, and outstanding issues with the Police Department.

State Senator Ed Murray appears to be challenging McGinn on the transportation issue, and playing well with others. Murray is also picking up endorsements.

This is from Jim Brunner's Seattle Times story:

But McGinn struggled in the recent set of Democratic district-endorsement meetings, landing just one: a shared endorsement with Harrell from the 37th District Democrats of Southeast Seattle. Murray, the state Senate Democratic leader who has represented Seattle’s 43rd District for more than a decade, plays up his experience working in the ideologically diverse environment of the Legislature.
Citing squabbling among Seattle leaders, Murray said, “We’re a group of liberals who agree basically on what we want to do, but can’t seem to get together on it.”
He said his skills in Olympia, chairing budget and transportation committees and working with Republicans and Democrats, would give him an edge in working cooperatively with other regional leaders.

Seattle City Councilman Bruce Harrell is selling his personal bio as a reason to vote for him, and that playing well with others.

McGinn appears to be countering those arguments by stating that his conflicts are him standing up for Seattle. He also appears to be claiming Seattle's improved economic position during the slow global economic improvement. Unfortunately, a mayor does remarkably little without the participation of the city council. So, Harrell can share in many of the successes McGinn promotes.

As far as the arena goes, McGinn and Harrell are both for it, Murray would not stand in the way, and Steinbrueck is opposed.

A win by Steinbrueck would mostly be symbolic opposition to the proposed arena.No candidate could stop the arena on their own. The city council still possesses a 7-2 supermajority in favor of the arena plan.

Steinbrueck is also opposed to more than just the arena, in fact, he is hired as a lobbyist to oppose many things.

"He wants to make it 1976 forever," says Brian Robinson, leader of the group Save Our Sonics [Sonics Rising]. "Peter Steinbrueck is an obstructionist candidate who hopes to use theatrics, fear of change, and an anti-development platform to get through a crowded mayoral primary. Sonics fans in the region will never allow him to be mayor of this city."

Another hurdle for Steinbrueck is being branded with the "L" word—not a lesbian, but a lobbyist. He contends that his lobbying positions are consistent with his personal convictions. "I do some lobbying, but it's a tiny part of what I do," he explains. Steinbrueck has done work recently on behalf of the Port of Seattle to oppose the arena in Sodo.

In addition, Steinbrueck has recently taken work with the Washington State Department of Transportation (as a historic architect for settlement issues along the deep-bore tunnel alignment), the Pike Place Market Preservation & Development Authority (for waterfront design), a University District group (advocating that the future light rail station have a park atop of it instead of a building), and Virginia Mason Medical Center (helping with its land-use planning). And finally, he's working on behalf of the South Lake Union Community Coalition, which is lobbying the city to restrict a proposal for 400-foot towers in South Lake Union.
The Stranger, Peter Steinbrueck Is Running for Mayor, December 19, 2012.

Peter Steinbrueck needs a NASCAR jacket.

In my opinion, Mike McGinn is what you see, a guy that can rub people the wrong way to an extreme. He can play the "I've learned" card.

Bruce Harrell is a city councilman, part of a council holding up the other end of the mayor vs council battles. He can okay the "I already know better" card.

Ed Murray is a state legislator that has to play that as the sweet smell of having success while working with others, while not coating himself too much in the stink of Olympia's current political environment. He can play the "I've done it already in a harsher environment" card.

Lastly, Peter Steinbrueck is an obstructionist shill claiming to be a neighborhood activist, and nothing more. If Seattle votes for that then they deserve the results, or lack of results. He can play the "remember, my dad was well loved by your parents, assuming you were born here" card.