Seattle Times vs. Mike McGinn: The Feud Grows Deeper

It was the stolen bicycle story that cut the cord.

On February 24, 2011, Seattle Times reporter Lynn Thompson penned a comically snarkish account of how (“Seattle’s most famous bike rider”) Mayor Mike McGinn’s dark-green GT Slipstream was stolen out of the City Hall parking garage. The bike, which McGinn accidentally left unlocked, actually belonged to his wife, prompting the mayor to tweet: “Peg is pissed.”

The story, complete with the requisite “Mayor McSchwinn,” included anonymous e-mails from readers. One sarcastic missive, in particular, drove McGinn through the roof. After suggesting the theft was a publicity stunt by a pol seeking sympathy, the commenter meanly observed, “He has the body of Homer Simpson and apparently doesn’t own a bike himself.”

The city’s since slimmed down chief executive is reportedly still seething about the Homer Simpson crack.

Says McGinn, “We let them know that was inappropriate.”

Not long after the article appeared, an angry Peg Lynch called The Times and canceled the McGinn family’s subscription.

When the Stranger’s Eli Sanders brought the news of Mrs. McGinn’s pique to light more than a year later, Times executive editor David Boardman tweeted, “What kind of mayor cancels his subscription to his city’s daily newspaper? Our mayor. Thin skin, @mayormcginn?

McGinn’s antipathy toward The Times (and vice versa) had been building long before the bike-theft piece. And with some justification. Almost from the day the then-Sierra Club director announced his candidacy for mayor on March 24 2009 – a week after the reliably liberal Seattle Post-Intelligencer closed down – The Times (at least its editorial board) has gone after McGinn. It has been an almost a steady drumbeat of searing criticism.

As McGinn told Seattle Weekly in an interview in mid-June, “The Times hasn’t been kind to me.” Clearly itching for a fight with the state’s largest daily – who glowingly endorsed his general election opponent Ed Murray on July 12 – it is a complaint he’s often raised in the final weeks of the primary election.

Seattle political columnist Joel Connelly, never a fan of “Fairview Fanny,” as he mischievously delights in calling the paper, wrote last month of a McGinn fundraiser in which the mayor urged supporters to get out, talk to their friends, and be “a Seattle Times canceler.

In an interview Monday, McGinn tells Seattle Weekly the city has changed and that many more constituency groups are now involved in making decisions. “And they find that threatening that I’m listening to so many more voices at the table because it reduces their influence. They’re not used to that.”

The mayor adds, “The Times has a point of view. This is a paper who endorsed George Bush. This is a paper who endorsed Rob McKenna.”

Notes McGinn’s campaign manger John Wyble: “The Times has helped us. There’s a lot of people out there who say, ‘Well, if they’re against him, he must be our guy.’”

The rift between The Times and McGinn has become apparent to even the most casual observers. As Maple Leaf resident Cal Folsom recently griped,“If I could vote The Seattle Times into the Puget Sound, I would. They’ve trashed him all the way.”

Wyble elaborates as to why this may be so, “He’s not their kind of guy. There’s a Chamber of Commerce boosterism at The Times. They want a mayor who likes big projects, like the tunnel, and it drove them crazy he wasn’t for it.

“The Times is the last bastion of the way cities used to operate, where civic leaders would gather around a table and decide on a new freeway or something.”

From the very beginning, stretching back to the earlier days of his fledgling mayoral campaign in the spring of 2009, The Times has been at McGinn’s throat. (The paper endorsed Greg Nickels and Joe Mallahan in the 2009 primary, and then Mallahan over McGinn in the general election.)

The paper’s ed board has also endorsed Dino Rossi over Chris Gregoire, Susan Hutchison over Dow Constantine, even Republican Mike McGavick over Sen. Maria Canwell in 2006 (Makes you wonder if Murray got the kiss of death with the Times endorsement.)

The Times was unwilling to grant McGinn a political honeymoon after he won four years ago. In fact, on Nov. 10, 2009, day after his mayoral victory, they groused on the editorial page that Seattle voters “turned down the practical, stay-the-course mayoral candidate, Joe Mallahan, and opted for the anti-establishment, in-your-face change agent, Mike McGinn.”

On it went:

“Mike McGinn: Seattle’s stumbling ‘un-mayor’ needs to find firmer footing,” by editorial columnist Joni Balter. (March 24, 2010) “Mike McGinn’s hissy fit over a tunnel-project signature.” (Sept. 28, 2010) “McGinn’s go-it-alone approach gets mixed results at City Hall,” (Jan. 1, 2011)

“Mayor Mike McGinn’s clumsy move on choosing a police monitor.” (Oct. 18, 2012) (Note: Oct. 18, 2012 was the same day The Times’ Frank Blethen & Co. announced that they planned to launch an independent-expenditure campaign, and would purchase $75,750 worth of ads to promote the GOP gubernatorial candidacy of McKenna.)

“Mayor Mayor Mike McGinn’s failed broadband promise.” (July 1, 2013) “Was McGinn’s first-term too contentious for him to be reelected? by Lynn Thompson (July 25, 2013) “Mike McGinn’s Whole Foods wage campaign out of line.” (July 25,2013)

The day after McGinn survived the Aug. 6 primary, The Times editorial stated: “Murray ran a front-runner’s campaign based on his solid legislative record in transportation and same-sex marriage.” As to the mayor, “McGinn’s challenge is to show he is not just a mayor of Capitol Hill progressives and some union supporters.”

That same day, on page one, Times columnist Danny Westneat, referring to McGinn’s attempt to block a Whole Foods store in West Seattle, cynically mused, “Our mayor ‘s not always on the winning side, to say the least. But he does know his politics. He knows what drives votes. He knows how to go for the wedge.”

Says McGinn: “Early on, we raised concerns with them (the ed board). But overtime, we stopped. There didn’t seem to be any use in talking to them.”

Increasingly, McGinn’s supporters and staff are anything but reluctant to share their almost viseral dislike with the morning paper, which came to head in mid-July when the mayor’s spokesman Aaron Pickus fumed via Facebook, “I am proud to work for Mayor McGinn. And I am embarrassed that the Seattle Times editorial writers are such a shallow, intellectually bankrupt, juvenile and stagnant herd of Greek chorus members for the conservative, privileged establishment. Our great city deserves better.”

Times editorial page editor Kate Riley denies that her paper has any enmity for McGinn. “We did not endorse him four years ago, and we’ve disagreed on the tunnel, on the handling of the proposed arena in Sodo and his handling of the federal probe of his police department. That said, we have written editorials in support of the mayor’s policy and most notably, in defense of him as recently as two weeks ago in this campaign,” Riley responded last week to Seattle Weekly in an e-mailed statement.

“In (our) July 19 editorial, “Seattle’s gender pay gap is a problem but not an election issue,” we criticized the candidate we endorsed for mayor for trying to make hay about a study that McGinn himself commissioned.”

Riley cites some other examples of positive coverage: A Feb. 12, 2013 editorial that praised the mayor for stopping police plans to deploy drone, an October 2011 editorial that called his 2012 city budget “fairly reasonable,” as well an editorial applauding his decision last year to pull city advertising from Seattle Weekly, then owned by Village Voice, and to push for better policing of escort ads.

She concludes, “As much as the McGinn campaign would like to make The Seattle Times editorial board an issue in the mayor’s race, it is not. The issue is Mike McGinn’s leadership. And at least two current city council members who challenged the mayor and more than 70 percent of primary voters agree.”

Ouch. At least, Riley didn’t compare his physique to Homer Simpson’s.

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