From the first day of his campaign, mayoral candidate Mike McGinn has been running scared from questions about important public safety issues like Seattle’s long-running gang war, rising crime rate, and understaffing in the police department.
At his campaign kickoff event on March 24th, McGinn focused on three talking points—transportation, schools, and citywide broadband—but seemed caught completely off guard when I asked how he'd handle growing problems youth and gang violence. "That's a really complex problem," McGinn said, before flatly refusing to answer any further questions about the issue. Six months later, after coming out of nowhere to become a viable candidate for mayor, McGinn still appears unready or unwilling to publicly address Seattle’s rising crime rate.
Up to this point in the campaign season, McGinn has been largely silent on gang violence, the city’s various drug intervention and diversion pilot programs, the fight over the need to build a new jail, the rising crime rate, and the city’s continued pursuit and prosecution of people involved in consensual crimes like drugs, gambling, and prostitution.
On September 2nd, a McGinn campaign aide emailed me and requested an interview so McGinn could finally unveil his public safety plan. A meeting was scheduled for September 12th.
In the week before the interview was supposed to take place, I repeatedly requested copies of documents related to McGinn’s public safety policy. The day before the meeting, McGinn’s campaign said they still weren’t available, but wouldn’t say why.
I continued to press the campaign to provide me a draft of McGinn's public safety plan in advance of the interview because—as I told his staff—I didn't want to waste any time going over the basics of his policies, but they refused to provide a draft to me. The next evening, 25 minutes before McGinn was scheduled to meet with me, campaign staff called to say that McGinn was suddenly unavailable for our interview. Instead, an aide said McGinn would be attending a fundraiser. The campaign declined to reschedule the interview and again refused to release a copy of McGinn’s public safety plan. I contacted McGinn to find out what had happened, but he did not return my call.
It would be one thing if McGinn was simply blowing off The Stranger, but McGinn has yet to disclose his public safety policy through any media outlet, and his campaign has not announced a timeline for doing so. The only “issues” listed on his campaign website are education, transportation, and Internet infrastructure.
Seattle Police Department statistics for the first seven months of 2009 say violent crimes in Seattle have climbed 22% over the same period last year, while property crimes have risen 5%. Many South Seattle neighborhoods affected by the steep rise in crime voted overwhelmingly for Nickels during the primary. Now, those votes are up for grabs.
Whichever candidate is able to provide real, tangible solutions to neighbors complaints about open drug dealing, late-night gunshots, and brazen daylight burglaries will undoubtedly take those neighborhoods’ votes by a landslide. Unfortunately, McGinn seems less than ready to tackle these problems.
At a recent debate between McGinn and Mallahan, both candidates were given the opportunity to elaborate on their plans for dealing with crime in Seattle. Mallahan went first, calling for an increase in staffing in SPD’s gang unit, the creation of outreach and mentorship programs for kids, funding for neighborhood groups to prevent crime, and pledged provide crime data to communities. While both gave relatively bullshit answers, Mallahan was at least able to offer up rehearsed platitudes, acknowledging the issue of public safety is important. McGinn, who spat out an even more vague answer about the importance of schools and jobs, seemed unable to do even that.
So what’s holding McGinn back? It could be the fact that McGinn’s all-volunteer campaign staff is unable to fully devote their time to shaping a cohesive public safety policy. It’s also possible McGinn lacks the perspective on public safety as a pressing issue. So far this year, police statistics for McGinn’s neighborhood show there have been half-dozen robberies, a dozen assaults, fewer than 80 burglaries, and no murders or rapes. By comparison the South Seattle neighborhood near Rainier Beach High School—which favored Nickels during the election—had more than 35 robberies, nearly 40 assaults, more than 100 burglaries, and two reported rapes.
Whatever the reason, McGinn has lost out on endorsements from the Seattle Police Officers Guild and firefighters union, who recently threw their support behind McGinn’s opponent, Joe Mallahan.
It seems McGinn is becoming a bit of a one-note candidate, too intensely focused on a war against the waterfront tunnel, rather than issues that affect residents and neighborhoods on a daily basis. While every Seattle resident is affected by the quality of schools and transportation in the city, crime must be addressed with a different sense of urgency, an urgency that, up to this point, has been missing from McGinn’s campaign.
If McGinn wants to be taken seriously as a candidate, he needs to step his game up and deal head-on with policing, crime, and the people who are affected by it. On his campaign website, McGinn lashes out at local politicians, stating, “for too long, Seattle’s leaders have refused to take responsibility for the most pressing issues facing our city.” It’s time for McGinn to live up to his own rhetoric.
Note: The sixth paragraph of this post has been edited to give a more detailed explanation of the events leading up to the cancellation of the meeting.