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State of Seattle? Mayor Ed Murray zeroes in on income inequality & climate change

Is Ed Murray's incrementalism the fastest way to make change? Credit: Credit: Allyce Andrews

Mayor Ed Murray touted Seattle’s "progressive legacy" on Tuesday, as he outlined an agenda focused on girding the city against income inequality and climate change.

In his first State of the City address, Murray emphasized his commitment to a $15 minimum wage and said he’d assemble a committee to address problems related to housing affordability. The mayor also pledged to work with Council President Tim Burgess to come up with a strategy for offering affordable universal preschool. And he noted higher rates of income inequality among some of the city's minority groups.

“We stand at a crossroads, we can follow the example of other cities and become unaffordable,” Murray said. “Or as elected leaders, we can take deliberate action to address the decline of the middle class.”

Murray played off another progressive theme as he pointed to transportation — and motor vehicles — as a major emissions source. He said he’d like to see 75 percent of city commuters walking, biking, carpooling or using transit. A new bike-share program will be unveiled later this month, he said, adding that he wants Seattle Department of Transportation to finish design work on a streetcar link between Center City and First Avenue. To fund the link, Murray said he’d look to “federal partners.”

In addition to income inequality and climate change, Murray ticked through a catalog of longstanding city challenges, some as familiar as the February rain. The city has ignored road maintenance for too long, he said. He voiced support for a transportation district initiative, backed by King County Executive Dow Constantine, which is designed to stave off Metro Transit bus cuts. He also committed to working with the council on a plan for finishing Seattle’s side of the new State Route 520 bridge.

Mayor Ed Murray gives his first State of the City speech/Photo: Bill Lucia

The mayor said he’d introduce a measure in August to fund the city’s parks. According to a 2012 Seattle Parks Foundation report, there is a $270 million backlog of park maintenance projects in the city. On Tuesday evening, after the speech, a political action committee called, “Our Parks Forever” issued a statement opposing the creation of a metropolitan parks district. On the campaign trail, Murray had indicated that such a district was his preferred option to shore up parks funding.

Murray also commended Interim Chief of Police Harry C. Bailey’s recent moves to restructure bureaus and shuffle top staff, and the mayor said the federally mandated police reform process was moving at a steady pace for the first time since it began. On March 7, Murray will meet with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss the process.

Murray didn't mention the ongoing City Council debate about ridesharing regulations, but some of his comments about innovation and business seemed to signal his preference for not capping the number of Seattle drivers who can use apps like Lyft, Uber and Sidecar. The caps are favored by the traditional taxi industry. “As elected leaders, we cannot and should not seek to hit pause on progress by clinging blindly to the status quo,” Murray said, “Or inhibit innovation by protecting outmoded ways of doing business.”

The speech lasted roughly 40 minutes. Flanked by the City Council members, who sat behind him at the Council Chamber’s dais in City Hall, Murray spoke to a packed audience. The crowd included Chief of Police Bailey, assistant police chiefs and precinct commanders, about a half dozen firefighters, city department heads and Mayor’s Office staff. 

Murray stressed throughout the speech that he wanted to work closely with the council. After the address, Council President Burgess gave the mayor a photo that featured Murray in the early 1990s, during his time as a staffer for former Councilmember Martha Choe. “You can put this on your wall to always remember that you’re welcome here, and that you really want to follow our lead,” Burgess said, eliciting a chuckle from the crowd.

An avid reader of political history, Murray has been known to pepper his speeches with iconic quotes. On Tuesday, he included only one, referencing Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s call during a 1932 speech for the country to engage “in bold, persistent experimentation.” A little over a month ago during his inaugural address, the mayor used the same quote from Roosevelt, who is still a hero to many progressives.

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