Here in Seattle, we like to think of ourselves as liberal. Actually, make that "progressive" — since the word liberal has been all but turned into a dirty word dating back to about the time of the so-called Reagan Revolution of the 1980s.
The point here is that most, if not all, of the rest of America rightfully views Seattle as one of the most liberal cities in the country. We are pro-choice, pro-environment, gay-friendly, and we almost always vote Democratic when it comes election time.
In fact, here in Seattle we are liberal to the point of infuriating many of our more rural and conservative neighbors east of the mountains — especially when the so-called "liberal King County vote" helps pass statewide initiatives favoring progressive causes, and helps elect Democrats and progressive candidates to statewide offices. Drive 100 miles or so outside of Seattle to the east, and you don't see too many Obama signs. Occasionally, there is even talk of secession from the state from our neighbors out there in crops and cows country.
So why does Seattle appear to be on the verge of dumping Mayor Greg Nickels, an environmentally correct, tree-hugging liberal Democrat if there ever was one?
As of the latest vote count from this past Tuesday's first ever mail-ballot only primary election, Nickels trails his two nearest challengers, Joe Mallahan and Mike McGinn, for what increasingly looks to be a third place finish.
Mallahan, a T-Mobile executive and McGinn, who largely ran on the single issue of opposition to a transit tunnel on Seattle's waterfront, are both relative newcomers to Seattle's political scene. Only the top two finishers will go on to the general election in the fall.
So the question remains, why is liberal Seattle rejecting its liberal mayor in favor of the newbies? Actually, the answer to that question is a lot simpler than it may seem. It is also not without precedent.
What the rest of the country doesn't quite realize about Seattle is also probably our best kept secret. Sure, we're largely a liberal lot out here. But we are also fiercely independent, and if you know what is good for your political future, you'd best not piss us off.
Like say, former Seattle mayor Paul Schell once did not ten years ago. Schell, like Nickels, was a pro-development mayor who favored big, expensive downtown construction projects. He was also unceremoniously shown the door by Seattle voters following his mishandling of the infamous WTO riots of 2000. Much like the way it appears the political winds are now blowing for Nickels, Schell didn't make it past the primary.
While Schell's death sentence probably came with the WTO riots — and to a lesser extent his cancellation of a New Year's fireworks tradition at the Space Needle following a pre-9/11 terrorist threat — Nickels' problems are more numerous, and cut a little closer to the bone for most Seattleites.
As a nationally recognized leader on environmentally correct issues, Nickels has earned the ire of many a Seattle voter by taking his pro-green stance to extremes at times. At a time when things are economically tough all over — but particularly so in Seattle — Nickels favors a twenty cent "green tax" on plastic grocery bags. When that issue was put to a vote (on the same ballot where Nickels appears to be going down in flames), green, liberal Seattle overwhelmingly rejected it. The results weren't even close.
Last December, when a freakish snowstorm crippled the Seattle area for two weeks, the city, citing environmental concerns, responded in part by rejecting the use of salt on snowplows to help clear the streets out from under the icy, slushy mess. Seattle and much of the outlying areas were for all intents and purposes shut completely down as a result. When Nickels himself graded the city's handling of the mess with a "B," it left more than a few Seattle residents with a bad taste in their mouths.
Seattle also lost its NBA franchise, the Seattle Supersonics — the only professional sports team to ever bring a world championship to the city — to a group from Oklahoma City on Nickels' watch. Many felt the city didn't do enough to keep the team here, with memories of similar efforts to save the NFL's Seahawks and MLB's Mariners still fresh in their minds.