The Cascade Bicycle Club finished its round of “aggressive” candidate interviews Friday afternoon, with Mayor Mike McGinn being the last to be heard. The nation’s largest bicycling club, with more than 15,000 members – 6,000 of them in Seattle – has become one of the most coveted endorsements for any serious mayoral contender. One skips the questionnaire and subsequent 45-minute grilling by the club’s legislative and endorsement committee at their own peril.
“I think a lot of the candidates were taken back by the assertiveness of our questions,” said outgoing executive director Chuck Ayers. “We didn’t ask a lot of softball questions. We were pretty aggressive.”
Four years ago, the club, formed in 1970, put their collective pedal to the metal for incumbent Mayor Greg Nickels in the primary. The nonprofit lobbying group had worked closely with Nickels in 2007 to pass a ten-year, $240 million Bicycle Master Plan, one of the most extensive in the country, which called for nearly 120 miles of new bike lanes, nineteen miles of trails, along with improved lane markings and signs. Impressed with his commitment to city bicyclists, Nickels was rewarded with contributions from several bike club staff members and a praiseworthy mailing sent to its members. When Nickels failed to survive the primary and lost his bid for a third term – which many attribute to his inability to keep the streets clear during record-setting snowstorms in December 2008 – the club threw its support to McGinn, who went on to beat a T-Mobile executive Joe Mallahan.
On April 17, the club’s board will consider the legislative committee’s recommendation and make their endorsement.
Whether McGinn can count on a repeat endorsement is unclear. While Craig Benjamin, Cascade’s policy and government affairs director, said McGinn is fully aligned with the club’s current priorities – a connected network of bike lanes and neighborhood green ways – Ayers, who has guided the group the past sixteen years, hinted that another McGinn endorsement is not necessarily guaranteed.
“He’s been very supportive of our issues, such as road safety and bike infrastructure, but can he move the agenda? That’s what we need to know. We need to be convinced that he is a viable candidate,” noted Ayers, no doubt mindful that McGinn’s approval rating hovers at just 33 percent, according to 2012 poll of Seattle residents by Survey USA. “All the candidates need to convince us they are viable.”
It is also unclear just how much effort they club will muster behind the candidate they choose to support in the August 6 primary.
Said Benjamin: “But even if we don’t do anything, our endorsement counts for a lot.”
The power of endorsement and its significance has long been subject of debate by political consultants. Without question, it can mean money for paid media and literature drops, and, equally important, enlisting boots on the ground: rousing volunteers for door-belling, putting up yard signs, and manning phone banks.
But the endorsement establishes a link between values shared by interest groups and the candidates they support, and help build momentum or a sense of invincibility, they are also fairly predictable. For example, it is hardly surprising that state Sen. Ed Murray, a leading mayoral contender and closely associated with the successful passage of gay marriage in Washington, won the endorsement of the Human Rights Campaign and Equal Rights Washington, both influential gay and lesbian advocacy groups. Or that in January, McGinn captured the Sierra Club’s endorsement.
“Endorsements are most important for candidates are not implicitly well known, and can create some real momentum for them,” Nickels told Seattle Weekly last week. “They are not that big a deal for the better known candidates.”
Every cycle, some endorsements rise or fall in importance, the ex-mayor added. “For me, it was environment, labor and Democrats in 2001, then I added business groups in 2005.” Reflecting on his ill-fated race four years ago, Nickels ruminated, “There was some real visceral anger because the economy had imploded, and it hard to say which endorsements will really count.”
Like Nickels, Christian Sinderman, a prominent Democratic political consultant, said, “In Seattle, the trifecta of political endorsements is being able to get business, labor and environmental groups on your side.
Former deputy mayor Tim Ceis agrees. “Everyone’s looking for those three major groups. It gives the credibility of a green stamp.”
Over the next 30 days, endorsements will be doled out by the big dogs, the ones whose endorsement can make any mayoral wannabe salivate. These groups include the Service Employees International Union Local 925, IBEW Local 77, and the United Food and Commercial Workers, all of whom endorsed McGinn in 2009; as well as the King County Labor Council, who backed Mallahan four years ago; Washington Conservation Voters, who lent their support to Nickels in the primary but stayed on the sidelines in the general election; and the Civil Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), a political action committee group representing more than 40 large employers throughout the region.
Also important is getting a favorable nod from the local Democratic activists in various legislative districts, and public employee groups representing firefighters and police.
Meanwhile, keep your eye on Burgess. Not only has he raised more money than any of the seven candidates in the field, but he’s making important in roads with organized labor. In recent weeks, the councilman has pocketed the endorsements of Laborers Local 1239 (public service and industrial workers), Local 440 (street pavers, sewer water and tunnel workers), Local 242 (hod carriers and general laborers union), Local 86 (iron workers), and Local 1 (bricklayers and allied craft workers.)
“This is a huge win for Tim in getting labor to rally around him,” said campaign manager Emily Walters.
Also, McGinn last week received the endorsement from Local 8, which represents hotel and food service employees.
The other labor endorsements proferred to date are from the King County Corrections Guild, who have lined up for councilman Bruce Harrell, and Local 19, the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union, who are backing ex-councilman Peter Steinbrueck, along with Local 52, the ILWU’s statewide clerical workers union.
Concluded Nickels, “This is going to be a very interesting and highly unpredictable election this year.”
As far as handicapping the race, Nickels believes McGinn will survive the primary, and that Murray, Burgess, and even real estate agent Charlie Staadecker, have a legitimate shot at facing the incumbent in the general election. Nickel is discounting Steinbrueck’s chances, saying, “Steinbrueck is sort of yesterday.”