Mayor Mike McGinn was carrying his bicycle helmet when he arrived at our office last week. That image may seem like a caricature of the man who campaigned with the slogan "Mike Bikes," or something out of a Portlandia sketch, but he proudly confirmed with a nod, "I did bike here." He'd ridden from City Hall to discuss his reelection campaign, which he will formally announce this week. As McGinn sees it, he'll ride a raft of successes from his first three years in office—funding transit, helping at-risk students, striking a deal for the Sonics arena, and laying the groundwork for high-speed citywide broadband among them—to victory this November.
But as mayor, McGinn's two-wheeled transport and raw style have often upstaged those substantive accomplishments. His supposed "war on cars" is a favorite theme of the Seattle Times editorial page, which hilariously declared that, thanks to McGinn, "cars are being shoved aside" for a "Motor-Less City." That's ludicrous, of course, but it's typical of the attacks launched from the sore-losing business lobbies and opinion writers who opposed him when he ran in 2009. Still, those criticisms and some of the mayor's ham-fisted antics have contributed to his reputation as a vulnerable political target: His approval rating last year dropped to 33 percent, according to a poll of Seattle residents by SurveyUSA.
Setting down his helmet on our conference table, the 53-year-old mayor began eating two free-range hard-boiled eggs.
Seeing as how cycling has become a wedge issue, I started, is carrying around that helmet a liability for his campaign? He said that most voters don't care how he commutes. "I bike to work most days and ride home when I can."
"I am also in better shape now," he added, popping another egg.
If this makes McGinn sound too folksy to be a typical politician, well, that suits him just fine.
"According to the conventional wisdom, former mayor Greg Nickels couldn't be beat in 2009, because he had all of the endorsements, the institutional support, and the fundraising," said McGinn, who entered the race as a Greenwood neighborhood activist with the lone endorsement of the local Sierra Club and relatively little power to raise money. "The questions they asked about me in 2009 are the same questions they ask about me today."