As election nears, McGinn inundates media with press releases

SEATTLE -- The Seattle political campaign season has reached a breaking point.

Seemingly endless debates, roundtables and political ads aimed at making the primary a turnout bonanza. But with eight candidates vying to topple Mayor Mike McGinn, the need to stay in the spotlight is as important as ever.

Take Charlie Staadecker. The bowtie-wearing businessman has had trouble breaking through in polls and at some debates. He lags behind the heavyweights like Senator Ed Murray and city councilman Bruce Harrell.

But Staadecker believes the deck is stacked in favor of those who can leverage elected office for campaign gain.

"It really is a problem," Staadecker said.

The Problem solvers get news releases from candidates nearly every day, vying for attention.
But only one seems to send the most: The Mayor.

"When you're the mayor, there's nowhere to hide," McGinn said.

The releases aren't coming from his campaign, but from City Hall, and there are more of them than ever.

The Problem Solvers crunched the numbers and found McGinn has more than doubled his output in the last two years.

In 2011, from January to July, he sent 58 different news releases for new programs, civic awards and comments on news.

Last year, it jumped to 90 releases.

In 2013, McGinn sent out 119 in the six months since he announced his re-election campaign.

To put it another way, that's nearly 20 every month, a news release nearly every single day of the week.

Councilmember Bruce Harrell is one of McGinn's leading rivals in the race and questions the validity of the press strategy.

"What the mayor has done is he's issued press release after press release about ideas and initiatives," he said.

Harrell said he doesn't see substance in the media blitz and says it all becomes noise after a while.

"He's coming out with all these different initiatives. They were never described in the budget process," he said.

Some of the releases deal with changes with Seattle Police Department leadership, the failed bid for the Sonics and seawall construction.

Staadecker and Harrell say others that aren't as important.

The Problem Solvers found some relating to film awards, asking for volunteers for various boards and even one to praise a cupcake company.

Harrell bluntly said this is how the game is played with incumbent advantage, that those in power get the ability to sway news coverage.

"With that comes with some perks and some benefits," Harrell

City rules dictate that political offices, time and equipment can't be used specifically for campaigns, but that deals mostly with money. Harrell says getting media attention for the office certainly doesn't hurt a campaign.

"I think we have to be brutally honest about that fact," Harrell said.

McGinn doesn't back down from the strategy. He said he is proud about outreach as mayor.

"If you're a challenger, you can say whatever you want. But when you're the incumbent, you actually have a record," he said.

McGinn wasn't aware of the rate of his releases, but says you can't communicate enough. He said there wasn't a conflict of interest in using his office to stay in the spotlight. "On the spectrum of being accessible or less accessible, more accessible is better," McGinn said.

He also took the opportunity to criticize his opponents in much the same way they have talked about him.

"Let's just be really clear. My opponents have been running pretty much content-free campaigns at this point," McGinn said.

As for the outsider Staadecker, he says he'll keep fighting until primary day and try to go what McGinn did four years ago and beat the political elite at their own game.

"It is a disadvantage to everyone else running the race, all the other candidates who don't have the power of a sitting political office to use it for self-gain for reelection," he said.