The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Covering the Seattle Mayoral Campaign Trail
It has been brought to my attention that- while in communications with a local organization this week- Mayoral Candidate Mike McGinn claimed to have no recollection of a discussion regarding harassing, threatening and racially insensitive comments sent to me via twitter, the comments section of the SV, the SV email address and my own, personal and unpublished email address by a senior McGinn staffer as well as other McGinn supporters. This conversation took place a few weeks back at the opening of his SE office.
In an email by his volunteer campaign manager Ainsley Close, the McGinn camp states:
I grabbed a quick conversation with Michael while driving between meetings and he once again, said he had no idea what this was about. He remembers talking to Dawn Mason and SableVerity at the opening of the SE office but said there was no staffer in that meeting with the two of them. There were about 30 volunteers at the office that day.Mike would never permit anyone associated with the campaign to make inappropriate comments–nor would anyone who works in the campaign.
In other background I spoke to a couple of other volunteers who were at the SE office on opening day and they similarly said this was an unfounded allegation and had no clue where it came from…I certainly don’t want unfounded allegations to sway potential voters.
Though McGinn claims no recollection or knowledge of this incident- I stand by my statements where I recount my experiences covering the campaign trail.
McGinn now says his camp quickly determined my “claims” were unfounded and baseless. I assure you this is not the case.
A claim can only be determined to be unfounded (which would mean I lied about everything) if there is no proof. There is proof in this case. Copies of emails, tweets, and comments to my site exist and were in hand for the discussion with Mr. McGinn. I never claimed that Mr. McGinn condoned or encouraged this behavior from his staffer. Nevertheless, it happened.
Because of the severity of the situation, once I had all of my documentation, I contacted Dawn Mason and showed her everything. I’d previously made her aware that I was being harassed, but having discovered who was responsible took it to the next level. Given the nature of politics- and apparently selective memory- I thought it best that I not talk with Mr. McGinn alone about what was going on with his campaign, thus I asked Dawn to accompany me to the opening of McGinn’s SE office to have this discussion. Given the treatment I’d received up to that point I felt strongly that Mr. McGinn would ignore me and duck responsibility if I went by myself- simply put, I needed a witness and someone highly respected in the community to verify to Mr. McGinn, the facts of what was going on; she agreed to be that person.
From the moment we walked into the SE office, I was accosted by the same woman who works for McGinn who had been harassing me. It was alarming. I had never met this woman before, never laid eyes on her a day in my life, yet she made a beeline for me as soon as I stepped across the threshold. Her behavior was witnessed and addressed directly by Ms. Mason who asked this woman how it was she knew me so well, and knew personal, private details about me? Stutter, stammer, no answer. It was also at that very moment that I met Mr. McGinn’s wife, btw, who graciously introduced herself to me and was very kind.
After meeting Mr. McGinn’s wife, Ms. Mason walked directly to the candidate himself, re-introduced herself to him, and introduced me. She immediately said “you need to talk to this young woman [me] about what is happening with people in your campaign-” she turned right around- pointed to the woman in question, named her outloud, and said that I was being harassed. Ms. Mason told Mr. McGinn that she had personally seen the documentation and that we’d come to make certain he knew about it so he could address it. We stood in a tight 3 person circle and had this conversation with about 30 other people in the room- not all 30 were from the McGinn camp, as they claim. Mr. McGinn was given clear examples of what had been happening, winced visibly and replied “I’ll take care of it.” I asked him to clarify what that meant and he insisted that he would inform those working on his campaign that harassment and intimidation was not condoned nor would it be tolerated by him. After our discussion, he left.
Ms. Mason and I remained at the event for another 45 minutes or so. A few McGinn volunteers asked me directly why I was there and what had happened- I told them that since I’d spoken to Mr. McGinn directly, any questions they had should be directed to him- after all, he’s the guy in charge. To now claim that no one there knew what was going on, to claim that no one in his campaign has ever done such things is a farce.
I would ask Mr. McGinn, if he so quickly determined that I was making false accusations against his campaign, why I was contacted two days after Ms. Mason and I met with him, and offered the opportunity to schedule an interview? Why sit for an interview with someone who would make up such outlandish things? Further, Mr. McGinn stated clearly that he would send the message to his staff that the treatment I received would not be tolerated and was not condoned by him personally or his campaign. I have to wonder why he would offer this assurance if he determined the claims were unfounded to begin with.
The truth of the matter is his staffer was present and was questioned about her conduct towards me. She repeatedly sent emails to the SVemail and even sent campaign materials in her own name to my private home email account. She posted countless comments to her twitter account about me, my writing, and curiously, about the comments submitted by “readers” which never posted to my website (remember, all comments are held pending approval). How would she know about these unposted comments at all, if they were never posted and no one had ever seen them? The answer is obvious.
In one sentence they claim Mr. McGinn doesn’t know where all this is coming from, has no idea what this is about, that he doesn’t recall this incident at all. Yet in the next, he recalls Ms. Mason and I attending the SE office opening, and says the campaign determined the concerns were unfounded. Well, which is it; because it cannot be both. To say that none of this ever took place, or that the allegations are “unfounded” is nothing short of a lie.
There is no accusation more serious to a journalist than false or malicious reporting. While I have had many disagree with how I write, I always write from fact before opinion or perspective. Such is the case with the McGinn staffer incident. I cannot begin to guess why Mr. McGinn now feels that denying the incident is the appropriate course of action, I can only say that he assured me at the time that he would deal with the matter head-on. Whatever may have changed for him since then, again, I stand by the story.
In four short days the polls will officially close and (hopefully) signal the crowning of Seattle’s next Mayor. No on can predict what will happen; we’ll either get the business executive or the former lawyer turned environmentalist.
It’s unlikely that anything earth shattering is going to happen between now and Tuesday, though if it does, of course I’ll likely write about it.
But this post is more about what the experience has been like to cover an election of this magnitude; interacting with each campaign, the candidates, the voters, other news media and volunteers. I’ve seen what’s behind the curtain, and it’s…interestin’…
“Anyone But Him”
Well before anyone had declared their candidacy for Mayor of Seattle, just about every single community had a gripe with Mayor Greg Nickels. His past few years in office have been unimpressive at best- harmful at worst.
The power of power had gone to his head. Nickels has long since held the opinion that he can do no wrong. Even if ever admitting to doing wrong- really, he doesn’t think he ever does much of anything wrong. That attitude coupled with his ranks always closed around him and we were a city of special interests and pet projects. Nickels wasn’t dumb (though at times ignorant and unaware), he was just self-serving.
Lest we forget, he had an established relationship and direct line of communication to the White House and was respected by the O Administration and Mayors and other leaders across the country.
At home however, voters were reaching their breaking point. Besides his staff, Nickels had few relationships to fall back on. Nevertheless, in early primary season he appeared to be a shoe-in for re-election as none of the other candidates seemed either viable or safe choices.
I’d long since been critical of Nickels and had my fill when his office told me the Mayor felt he “does enough” in south Seattle, when our kids are dying in the streets (this was pre-youth violence prevention initiative). Nickels was on tv boasting about lower crime in Seattle, there were a bunch of murders in the CD and South End. Yet he said nothing. He did nothing. That was just one of dozens of issues the Mayor was late on. Then, when the Great Snow (as I call it) hit in Winter 08/09- people from across the city were lining up to hammer the final nail in Nickels’ political coffin.
Primary season was busy and it was crowded. Everyone decided to run for Mayor, even those who shouldn’t have and those who didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of getting elected. This was an 8 month marathon, not a sprint- I had no intention of focusing too much writing time on all primary candidates. That said, once all the candidates were official my daily email volume kicked up a few notches. If it wasn’t press releases, it was questions from readers, or rants about something a candidate allegedly said or did and what was Sable Verity gonna do? What would she write? Who would she support? And it wasn’t just for the Mayor’s race, it was city council, school board, port, city attorney and so on.
Meanwhile, I was praying for a new Mayor. I was praying that Nickels would get his arrogant butt handed to him. And somehow…it happened.
The tide turned. Two potential candidates other than Nickels began to emerge: Mike McGinn and Joe Mallahan. People were looking to vote for anyone but the Mayor, and shortly after the primary it was clear that Nickels’ time as Seattle’s Mayor was done. He was out of the race.
Everyone Wants Something
Post Obama, people are much more into politics than ever before- they saw what they were capable of doing and they are feeling their power as voters.
Everyone wanted a piece of the candidates- media, reporters, bloggers, voters, political organizations, unions, big business, small business, private organizations, religious organizations, cultural organizations, neighborhood organizations- everyone wanted their questions answered and issues addressed directly from the candidates before committing their vote or endorsement.
Having realized they voted they devil they knew out of office, people turned to these two new, unknown candidates and a wave of panic hit the city- which one of these guys is right for the job?! The answer varies based on the political temperament of the holder.
McGinn was popular with his neighbors for his knowledge of city government and how to effect change for his neighborhood, which translated into a grassroots effort up North as folks realized the potential in having one of their own hold the highest office in the city. They jumped on board his all-volunteer staff and put in work.
Their efforts were paved much in part by McGinn’s opposition to the tunnel as the replacement of the deadly AWV which runs along the waterfront. Those in opposition stood firm- they said the replacement project would cost too much money and they were looking for their champion.
McGinn was that guy.
Mallahan came out of the business world with zero name recognition. People critiqued his public speaking and often commented that he seemed out of place. It didn’t take long for Mallahan to gather his sea legs, and his campaign took off from there. He’s taken his fair share of knocks, particularly by the media. If they aren’t dissecting his comments on youth violence, or a policy held by T Mobile, or lamenting their own limited access to the candidate, they’re miffed about his media team and lack of access to the candidate.
I had countless conversations with print reporters, bloggers, editors, radio newsies- all had an experience that left them miffed with the Mallahan camp- including the 7 minute press conference post-primary. Most got over it. Others held the grudge. People are silly if they think members of the media are not biased- we’re people too, right? At times I was shocked at just how biased some members of the media are, and how seemingly personal they’d take the actions or words of a candidate or members of his camp. The best newsies check their bias, or at least use it to their advantage. The worst- they pretend to be above the sotrm, but really they’re the ones churning the waters. I gained a lot of respect for people…I lost respect for some people too.
Taking such a strong stance with the media was a risky role of the dice for the Mallahan campaign- after all, the media has the power to slant anything in any direction it likes. It was fascinating to have these conversations with colleagues and share inside info and perspectives. I had a team of go-to people to talk to, bounce ideas off of, fact check with, etc.
Getting access to the candidates face to face was hard- but not impossible. My plan of approach was simple: don’t stop trying. I wanted to interview both candidates because I wanted them to address issues impacting marginalized communities in Seattle. It certainly wasn’t easy. I began before the Primary to secure interviews. But even before I had anything on the calendar, I was reaching out to both campaigns.
When I reached out to the Mallahan camp to talk or work on the interview or ask a clarifying question, I got a timely reply. When I tried the same with McGinn, I got nothing.
Securing the Mallahan interview took months to finalize. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t hard. I emailed, I called, I reminded that I emailed and called. I turned up the heat with some tweets and fb posts and comments here on the SV. I made my case. I never presented myself as more important than the next, just a writer with a niche audience that votes. So while they were immediately- at least to my face- gung ho about an interview, putting it all together took about 4 months- about a month longer than the UW Daily worked to get their Mallahan interview (they didn’t get it and endorsed McGinn this week). Mama always said, “the squeaky wheel…”
I was squeakin’.
I absolutely felt the SV site should get interviews with both candidates simply because of the readership- you. Did I think I was going to get the interviews? (lmao) Ummmm…no. I love ya’ll, but would you have really been all that shocked if neither candidate cared to take the time? I wouldn’t have been. I had higher hopes with Mallahan than I did with McGinn because Mallahan’s camp was at least responding to me when I’d ask clarifying questions along the way. Yeah, I was pushing, and squeaking trying to get that oil- but I wasn’t holding my breath either.
Wagging the Dog
Much about campaigning for office has to do with creating the appearance of something that may or may not actually exist. But that’s the nature of the beast, so that’s what both candidates set out to do. To the undecided voters they must give the appearance of broad-based support and appeal, an understanding of the issues, a commitment to finding solutions, even temperament and a winning personality. Much of that comes down to what is commonly known as “spin”.
Looking back at my inbox I’d say McGinn spins harder than Mallahan (which doesn’t necessarily mean better). I have more press releases from McGinn in a week than from Mallahan in a month. Either McGinn really is working as hard as his press releases represent, or, his camp does a great job giving the appearance that McGinn is working really hard. Press releases, statements, plans, rebuttals, neighborhood walk-throughs, endorsements, viral videos, tv commercials, mailers, door knockers- they all add up to creating the appearance of a well wounded, politically astute candidate.
The Mallahan camp has also been clear that they don’t feel the need to advertise Joe’s every step, so they don’t. They say they’re taking a more nose-to-the-grindstone approach. Whether or not these efforts are working for either candidate will be up to the voters to decide.
Both camps are working to give the appearance of diverse support for their guy. Mallahan has an advisory board that looks like the We Are the World music video, and McGinn keeps getting his hand slapped by people who feel used. The most public incident was with Rob Holland, who is running for Port Commissioner. Holland says that while he gave the McGinn camp permission to use a photo of him and McGinn in tv ad, he didn’t understand the context of the commercial and didn’t approve of it coming across as an endorsement (this after he said he didn’t give permission at all- not cool). But Holland is not alone; there have been others.
McGinn was first to take up offices targeting the south end/minority voters will an office on MLK. He held an opening with volunteers and press. Mallahan recently opened an office on Yesler- they did not have an opening but use the space to reach voters in the CD and South of I-90.
Mallahan has worked hard to give the appearance of being a steady, strong, responsible candidate. He’s had some controversial things to say, but he’s stayed on message.
McGinn has worked hard to give the appearance of being the guy that will stand for the people, who will fight the status quo where it matters most. He highlighted this through most of his campaign by being against the tunnel as the replacement for the AWV, promising his supporters that if elected he’d stop the project. That all changed last week when he said he would not work against the tunnel saying it was the responsible thing to do if elected. That may be the case, but no one likes a flip-flopper, especially on a platform issue.
When the Mallahan interview came together, I was told I’d get 20 minutes to talk with him. A stupidly small amount of time that was in no way satisfactory to me. But I kept mum on it. I figured this was a tactical approach as much as a “gosh our schedule is jammed”. If the interview didn’t go well, they could cut and run at 20 minutes.
We met at his office by Lake Union. The 20 minutes came and went quickly, but the interview didn’t stop. A member of the Mallahan media team was in the room taking notes, but they never coached or guided answers or tried to censor questions. We talked for another 30 minutes.
I was genuinely engaged in what he had to say. I asked a question-he answered it. Nothing he said blew me over in a good way or a bad way. There were no real red flags. But I did notice that, while he falls into political-speak, there’s something about Mallahan that comes across- to me- as extremely authentic. I know people will swear on their grandmama’s ashes that he’s the fakest thing since Milli Vanilli, but I don’t get that energy from him. It was a simple interview. Cut and dry.
The responses were varied. Some thought he came off great, others thought he sounded like a jerk. Perfectly fine by me- it wasn’t for me to translate, it was for people to judge on their own. I didn’t do a lot of editorializing on the interview. I posted the questions in writing and his answers in audio, and added context to round things out and help it flow- but I didn’t have pom-poms out.
Prior to the Mallahan interview I’d received some ‘testy’ emails and comments from obvious anti-Mallahan folks, but nothing out of the ordinary. As soon as the Mallahan interview was posted, that all changed. First it came in the form of comments people were attempting to post to the site. Comments are moderated and we have a pretty thorough policy about what will and will not be posted- needless to say, these comments were not posted.
This went on for weeks and increased in severity over time. First I was just called things like a stupid blogger that no one cares about and who can’t spell. Then I was an Uncle Tom working for the establishment. Then I was a nigger. Then a fascist field negro. And then they took their efforts to twitter, and to the SV email box. Name calling, veiled threats (emailing me my home address), things like that. Some of it was really ignorant; some of it was really personal and hurtful. Some of it flat pissed me off.
It was disturbing to see the lengths people were willing to go to intimidate- in an effort to make me stop writing what I was writing and how I was writing it. Some used real names, others were fake- same for twitter accounts and emails to my home email (which isn’t public information). All came from the same 4 or 5 IP addresses and email accounts- of which 1 belonged to a senior McGinn volunteer who reports directly to the candidate. When it was brought to my attention that one of the people involved worked for the campaign, my heart sunk.
Here these folks were berating me for my coverage of the candidate, saying I was bought by Joe- well how does calling me names and trying to intimidate me, help me have a more rounded view of McGinn or how his supporters and volunteer staff operate on his behalf? They shot themselves in the foot with that one, completely defeating their purpose of attack.
Remember, the candidate represent the Mayor- the candidate’s staff represent what kind of people could be working in his administration- everyone knows those who work the hardest on campaigns wind up with a job if that candidate wins. That was cause for concern.
The situation about the volunteer’s involvement in the racism and intimidation was brought to McGinn’s attention and he replied “I’ll take care of it.” 3 days later a member of his campaign called me and said McGinn wanted to schedule an interview with me, so, we had our interview.
For his part, McGinn wasn’t happy. He stated clearly that harassment and intimidation were not tolerated, and I have no doubt- let me say it again for those who might need it twice- I have no doubt that Mike McGinn had nothing to do with what happened.
The volunteer who went all “rogue opp” still holds their place in the campaign.
It struck me a few days after my initial contact with McGinn that there was no apology. Let me be clear. I don’t need an apology nor was I ever looking for one. But to not even offer one, given the circumstances? I found that…telling.
My initial reaction to the entire situation of course, was to write about it. And I did. In a scathing post- now kept in my journal. I was furious that people were arrogant and supremisct enough to think that they had the right to stop me from expressing my views, to intimidate me based on my color (that’s so 1965), particularly those who did it out in the public with no shame. I went back and forth with whether or not to publish what I’d written, all of the documents and the names of those confirmed to be involved.
But it’s easy for incidents like these to get politicized, for people to rationalize and debate what did or didn’t happen, or, my favorite, talk about “intention”. You know, when people say “we’re sorry if…” and, “it wasn’t my intention…” The last thing I was going to do after being treated that way, was debate or defend what happened. Simple fact is, their conduct should never be rationalized or minimalized. Plus, writing about it only would have drawn attention away from the candidate and put it on people who really should be irrelevant- and I include myself in that group!
The emails, tweets and comments quieted down for a bit, but started up again after I posted my list of non-endorsements earlier this week. Such is the nature of politics, I suppose. For the record, I’ve had some great interactions with McGinn supporters, so, the bad apple hasn’t spoiled the bunch, as it were. Forgive and move on.
But never forget.
Back to the McGinn interview. It too was uneventful, well, except for that whole “whoa” comment that came when I asked for his personal working definition of equity. He stumbled pretty hard on that, and there was a big kerfuffle on the site in the comments about whether equity is an issue and whether McGinn’s flub should mean anything to people. I think equity is an issue in Seattle. Call me crazy.
McGinn and I met at a coffee shop. I don’t drink coffee and it was really noisy, but that’s where he wanted to meet. He was late, arriving on his bike. He had a lot to say, but sitting across from him I never made a connection. That said, I could also see the appeal that he has to people. I left unclear why he decided to run for Mayor.
If I had to compare the interviews and experiences to first dates, Joe would be the person I’d go out with again. He was on time, he was engaging, he proved to have at least minimal knowledge of things I cared about. Yeah we had a chaperone, but I’ll take a cautious chaperone- I’m an old fashioned kinda gal anyway. McGinn was late to our date, he took me someplace I didn’t particularly care to go, and he was disengaged. Sure, he went through the motions, but it felt like he only took me out because his mom made him- yanno? Oh, and he has wacky friends who don’t know how to properly, maturely express their feelings- a bit much in the drama department for me. Respectful in our interaction- not the guy I want to go out with again.
The Final Stretch
4 days left and both campaigns are scrambling to secure votes; there are many who are still undecided- one woman told me she is going to vote using the “eenie, meenie, minie, moe” method”- yeah.
McGinn has scheduled four more community forums in all 4 quadrants of the city at public libraries. Mallahan is attending some community events, include the Day of Rememberance at Greenlake on Sunday.
Many people have asked me “who is going to win”. I have no idea. I have my hopes, my suspicions, my doubts and fears and that’s it. I never put too much faith in poll numbers. We’re not going to know how this one turns out until the ballots are counted. If you’re a voter and you’re not sure about who to vote for, there’s plenty of information out there, including here on the site (some links are directly below). I would also encourage you to talk to your friends- ask them who they are voting for and why.
May the best candidate win.