Last week, the mayor of a community stricken by gun violence, fear, and grief spoke eloquently and passionately before a large crowd of Seattleites. He reassured them, instilled them with confidence, and moved them to action.
Unfortunately, that mayor wasn't Mike McGinn.
Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, N.J., spoke at the Washington State Democratic Convention in Seattle on Friday night. While Seattle, rocked by an unprecedented string of lethal shootings, may have felt foreboding for a week, that's the status quo in Newark. Yet Booker shows up at the scene of every homicide, comforts every victim's family, has lived next door to his city's least fortunate, and backs truly innovative policing tactics—all while maintaining that Newark stands on the precipice of a better tomorrow.
McGinn introduced Booker the other night, the political equivalent of Rick Astley opening for Springsteen. Astley's music is fun while you're high, but insufficient when you're down. That's McGinn, a man who ran for office banking on the opportunity to deal with issues like transit, urban planning, and nightlife—not blood in the streets. As his unsteady responses to both the Department of Justice's probe into his police department's brutish behavior and last week's shootings have proven, he's simply not wired to deal with the heavy shit you sign up for when you put your name atop a municipal ballot, to say nothing of when you get elected. Even George W. Bush was able to comfort a grieving nation after 9/11.
The gun violence that has plagued Seattle in 2012 is in no way McGinn's fault, and it is unreasonable to expect him to come up with a bulletproof plan to combat it. As long as personal handgun ownership is a right afforded the vast majority of Americans, certain idiots are going to abuse that right, often to grisly ends. But it is reasonable to expect a city's leader to take a dazed citizenry under his wing like a parent or a coach and convince them that everything's gonna be OK. Yet instead of a father figure, McGinn comes off like the know-it-all uncle who bitches about the brand of merlot at his estranged cousin's wake.
Take away the nettlesome task of ensuring public safety, and how's McGinn, now two and a half years into a four-year term, doing? On transit, he's gotten pummeled twice at the ballot box, once while breaking a campaign promise and attempting to block the downtown tunnel, and again while trying to pass a roads-and-transit package on the backs of the motorists he openly deplores. On urban planning, he's been the pawn of developers, proposing increased density for quiet patches of neighborhoods which already teem with retail and foot traffic. And on nightlife, minutes before Ian Stawicki claimed his first innocent victim, the State Liquor Control Board torpedoed McGinn's Nightlife Initiative by denying Seattle's petition to do away with the mandatory 2 a.m. last call at bars.
Stawicki's horrific crimes instantly rendered McGinn's push for the liberation of tequila unimportant. And the mayor's meek reaction to those crimes revealed a man either not up to the job or simply uninterested in dealing with its grimmer aspects.