“This show will be all about glitz and glamor this morning,” said Rosette Royale, the host at the Nineteenth Annual Real Change Breakfast. Royale, an associate editor at Real Change, a Seattle-based newspaper that focuses heavily on stories related to poverty and homelessness, came on stage shoeless, wearing a pearl-white cape that he said was inspired by Liberace.
The breakfast, a fundraiser for the paper, included a tame — one might even say un-glitzy — debate between Mayor Mike McGinn and his challenger in the 2014 mayor’s race, Ed Murray. The two contenders agreed beforehand not to take jabs at each other (it was a charitable event, after all) and the variations between their proposals and comments were mostly minor.
One somewhat-shiny moment came when Murray said he would add 100 cops to the Seattle Police Department. In the 2014 budget he presented to the City Council yesterday, McGinn proposed adding 15 officers. If the budget is approved as McGinn presented it, the force will have 42 more officers than the number authorized in 2012.
Q13 Fox News political analyst C.R. Douglass moderated the debate, which centered mostly on housing, homelessness and public safety. His presence was appropriate. “I won my first Emmy Award on a segment we did highlighting a Real Change vendor,” Douglass said in his introduction.
As the debate unfolded, McGinn spotlighted his efforts to expand housing alternatives, saying he’d loosened rules restricting tent encampments, opened new homeless shelters — including one in a closed-down Lake City firehouse — and supported “micro-housing” projects that break single family residences into small apartments.
Murray said he wanted to provide more programs for homeless youth and to give social service agencies more leeway to provide services that match clients’ demands. He gave examples of individuals who asked agencies for help getting hairdressing or truck-driving licenses. “I hear some of the rules we put in place get in your way,” he said, referring to the agencies.
Both candidates expressed support for renewing the “housing levy,” which was most recently passed in 2009 and will expire in 2016. The $145 million property tax levy provides a variety of funding and services designed to build and maintain affordable apartment buildings, help first time homebuyers and prevent renters in financial trouble from ending up on the street.
“Are you a doubler, or a tripler?” Douglas said to McGinn, inquiring how much of an increase in the levy he might propose when it comes up for renewal.
“I don’t know why you stopped at triple. Get the candidates into a bidding war; that’s your job, C.R.,” McGinn joked. McGinn had said earlier in the debate that the next levy would “probably need to be bigger.”
Murray said the city should also focus on developing affordable housing using tools outside of the levy, including the micro-housing McGinn mentioned and “incentive zoning.” That gives developers building-code concessions in exchange for providing public benefits. The city might, for example, relax height restrictions for a new apartment building, if a developer agrees to include additional low-income rental units.
“The candidates are hearing these are the issues we want them to have good solid answers about,” Allison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle and King County Coalition on Homelessness said after the debate. “We heard the candidates confirm their and the public’s appetite for doing more.”
The debate was not the only item on the breakfast agenda. Real Change also handed out awards to exceptional volunteers and vendors who work for the newspaper. The paper employees about 300 low-income and homeless vendors each month, according to its website.
Nick Reyes, a Real Change vendor who attended the breakfast, said he was homeless for nine months while struggling with drug addiction and that he’s relied on services from Sound Mental Health — a recipient of city grant money — during his recovery. Asked if he supported either of the two candidates, he said “Both of them are legit. I think they have the same patterns.”
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