One sports a revolutionary’s beard, a feisty personality and a bike habit. The other evidences a Boy Scout mien, a let’s-get-along approach and a well-exercised iPod. Both have nearly one year in office, Mike McGinn as mayor of Seattle and Dow Constantine as King County executive. Each has made his mark—by notably different methods.
First-time officeholder McGinn, 51, the New York transplant and darling of greenies and nonprofits, has proven to be the insurgent as advertised. He is a thorn in the side of the existing power structure, taking on the governor over cost-overrun accountability for the Viaduct replacement, wrestling with the City Council over a tax levy to replace a deteriorating seawall, pushing for inclusion of a light-rail element in the Highway 520 rebuild, and aiding green locomotion with the expansion of bike lanes and bike-accessible travel routes. “A lot of people have an image of what a mayor is supposed to be,” says McGinn, “but my focus is on outcomes. I ran for office because I’m for things. The public should be concerned when their public officials aren’t debating.”
The West Seattle-born Constantine, 49, who followed the more traditional political playbook—serving in the state House and Senate, and on the King County Council—has demonstrated a deft hand when it comes to mining budgets and making smart hires (such as tapping one of his primary-election opponents, Fred Jarrett, to be his deputy executive). He hasn’t hesitated to court controversy, having shut down the decrepit South Park Bridge on the recommendation of county engineers but also quickly focusing on fundraising to replace it. Typical of Constantine’s soft skills: Despite a campaign pledge to the contrary, he cajoled some unions, so far representing 500 county employees, into forgoing cost-of-living raises in 2011, and he froze pay increases for some 150 nonunion staffers. “We’ll have benefits for years to come because this lowers our costs over time,” says Constantine.
It may turn out that McGinn and Constantine are ideally suited to their roles. Time will tell which style delivers the most substance.
Published November 2010
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