Metro? PACs? Seattle mayor candidates throw elbows

Thursday night's KCTS debates saw candidates launch pointed attacks at one another.
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Moderator Joni Balter with the five candidates at a mayoral debate: Bruce Harrell, Mike McGinn, Ed Murray, Charlie Staadecker and Peter Steinbrueck.

Thursday night's KCTS debates saw candidates launch pointed attacks at one another.

As mayor, how would you deal with an expected 17 percent cut in the King County Metro budget in 2014?

City Council Member Bruce Harrell and longshot Kate Martin were the only ones of eight Seattle mayoral candidates to actually answer that question at a Thursday evening KCTS-TV mayor's forum. Martin said she would eliminate overtime for Metro's bus drivers, and hire extra ones to handle the surplus driving. Harrell called for Seattle residents to approve a vehicle-license fee to help Metro. Everyone else dodged specifics in their answers to this question.

Martin, Mayor Mike McGinn, Peter Steinbrueck and Charlie Staadecker blamed the state Legislature, whose Senate Republican wing led a successful opposition to a transportation revenue package that would have given King County and Seattle the right to levy their own transportation-related taxes. Without that power, the 17 percent budget reduction at King County Metro will materialize next year.

Blaming the Legislature was also a not-really-veiled criticism of Senate Minority Leader Ed Murray, one of the better-positioned mayoral candidates. "I want to ask Sen.Murray: 'Where's the money?'" Martin said.

Murray put his transit budget hopes in a possible short special legislative session in the fall to address transportation revenue matters, including the King County Metro situation. "The way to win is to build bridges, not to point fingers," he said "... I think the Eastside legislators will realize they need buses as much as we do." Republican senators from the Eastside suburbs are the most likely to support a future transportation revenue package.

Although she was invited, Socialist Mary Martin was the only primary candidate to skip this forum. Even the rarely-seen Douglas McQuaid showed up in the wake of a Thursday KING-5 poll that showed 25 percent of likely voters were still undecided in the mayor's race.

One of the biggest topics of debate centered around special interest spending in the mayor's race; a conversation sparked by a shot Steinbruck took at Murray and McGinn. After the forum, Steinbrueck said he was referring to special independent political action committees in support of the two candidates. Candidates can't legally coordinate with PACs, but the PACs are allowed to accept unlimited donations in excess of the $700 limit on direct gifts to a candidate's official campaign.

Steinbrueck noted that the the Washington Beverage Association recently donated $5,000 to the independent committee supporting Murray. That was despite Murray helping install a soda tax in 2010, which the beverage association then spent $16 million to kill in a later public referendum. He also pointed to UNITED HERE, a hotel and restaurant worker's union that set up its own independent committee to support McGinn with an initial $50,000 donation. "I find that appalling," Steinbrueck said.

"Those are the kinds of influences that are holding us down. ... Look at the lobbyists' influence on the race. It's significant."

"What we have is a corrupt political system run by huge amounts of money," Martin warned.

After the forum, Murray and McGinn said they cannot control how the independent committees are set up, who donates to them and how that money is spent. Murray said he did not know why the Washington Beverage Assocation is financially supporting his candidacy, but that it won't affect his potential future decisions as mayor. Meanwhile, McGinn said he was proud that a union of low-paid workers chose to support his candidacy.

During the forum, most candidates agreed that choosing a new police chief will be the most important action by next year's mayor.

  • Gray wants someone who can balance the potential of new technology — such as cameras and drones — with citizens' rights to privacy.
  • Harrell said he would look for a data-driven individual who asks for the tools he or she needs to succeed. He also wants all officers to wear body cameras.
  • Martin said racism, sexism and improper use of force are problems nationwide with police departments. "Finding a chief is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack," she remarked.
  • McGinn cited his top priorities in a police chief as integrity and a commitment to working with the community, saying interim chief Jim Pugel has met those criteria. "I will look for someone who leads with his heart and leads with his values," he explained.
  • McQuaid wants someone who is transparent and can work with the community.
  • Murray will seek out a chief with experience dealing with racial and brutality issues and who can talk about how he or she reformed another department.
  • Staadecker called for someone with a handle on what constitutes acceptable force.
  • Steinbrueck stressed community relations and a willingness to "lead a cultural change into the 21st century."

All eight candidates said the city's system for providing business-related permits should be improved. Murray, Steinbrueck and McQuaid also said business-and-occupation taxes are poor ways to tax businesses because they are based on gross revenue.

All eight said that parking rates in Seattle should be rolled back in various ways. Several said parking rates' main purpose should be to control parking and its turnover, rather than raising revenue. Staadecker had the forum's most detailed proposal — charging $2 for the first hour, $4 for the second hour and $6 for each subsequent hour, with free parking in the evenings. Murray contended the city needs a master plan for all transportation matters, including parking and transit.

Thursday's forum was the highest-profile public appearance of McQuaid, who has not been actively campaining. McQuaid stressed his independence from all political interests. He also said: "Lets make all drugs legal and let the treatment centers deal with the problems."



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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8