Spin Control

Which politics are more progressive: Seattle or Spokane

One footnote from last week's primary elections, prompted by an item by colleague Jim Brunner of The Seattle Times:

Seattle's mayoral primary results -- State Sen. Ed Murray and incumbent Mike McGinn advance from the Top 2 to the general election -- mean Seattle will extend its streak of 85 years without a woman at the helm of its City Hall. The one, and only, female mayor of Seattle was Bertha Landes, elected to a single two-year term in 1926. Since then, the mayor's post has been a guy's only club, and except for Norm Rice from 1989-1997, all white guys.

This reminds Spin Control of many conversations over the years about how Seattle politics are so much more progressive and forward-looking than Spokane politics. There are significant differences in policies and partisan leanings, as well as government structures between the two cities. In fact, for half of the 20th Century, Spokane voters didn't even elect their mayor, they elected a five-member commission which picked the mayor from among its ranks. That was later replaced by what some called the weak-mayor system in which citizens elected the mayor, whose main job other than sticking a shovel in the dirt at construction openings or cutting ribbons at their completions was to run the City Council; a full-time city manager ran government day-to-day.

But during the period in which Spokane elected a major, strong or otherwise, it had three women in the job: Vicki McNeill, Sheri Barnard and Mary Verner. (It also elected an African-American mayor, Jim Chase, eight years before Rice, but that's kind of rubbing it in.)

All three were very different politically. None campaigned primarily on being a woman or won because of, or in spite of, gender. In McNeill's case, she ran against another woman, Margaret Leonard. Seattle has never had a general election mayoral race between two women.

Spin Control would never use the gender diversity of a city's chief executive as proof of much of anything. But the next time a Seattle resident gets too over the top about how forward thinking his or her city is, remind them that Spokane has had three times as many female mayors, who held the office six times as long as Seattle. It might keep them quiet for a minute or two.




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Jim Camden
Jim Camden is the Legislative and state government reporter, political columnist and blogger for Spin Control.

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