Taking a couple of swipes at his opponent during a debate at Seattle Center on Tuesday night, Mayor Mike McGinn criticized Ed Murray for counting big companies among his supporters, and challenged the state senator to give a specific example of a recently planned bike or transit lane that he would change.
The City Club's One Stop Ballot Shop debate was held as the mayors race enters its final three weeks, with Murray consistently leading in the polls and about 15 percent of city-voters still undecided. While it’s unlikely Tuesday's debate will cause the poll numbers to budge, McGinn's offensives and the event’s unusual format did provide some intrigue.
Some of the debate's most revealing moments came during the “lightning rounds.” During these segments each candidate was asked to respond to a series of sometimes quirky questions, with one of three index cards — a green "yes" card, a red "no" card, or a yellow “waffle” card. For example: “Do you have a Seahawks jersey?” It turns out McGinn does and Murray does not. Asked if they support the ballot initiative to elect city council members by district, McGinn held up a yes card and Murray waffled. Both held up yes cards when asked if they think city cops should wear body cameras.
The debate’s closest brush with bellicosity began around minute 12, when Q13 Fox News Political Analyst C.R. Douglas, one of the two moderators, asked McGinn what he had to say about the majority of the city council endorsing Murray. In the process of responding, the mayor took a jab at Murray for having strong backing from the business community.
“I saw the white smoke coming out of the city council chambers the other day and I realized they picked a new mayor for us,” McGinn said. “These are the candidates that receive that same level of business support that Ed Murray is receiving.”
“It’s not that they want to sit at the table, they want to own the table,” McGinn said, referring to business interests. “Sen. Murray has done a great job uniting Vulcan, Amazon, Coke, Pepsi, [the Chamber of Commerce] and lots of donors.” Vulcan is a real estate company that has developed millions of square feet of residential and office space around South Lake Union.
After McGinn’s comment, Murray struck back. “I have the endorsement of the Washington Conservation Voters, hardly a conservative group,” he said. “As far as attacking companies like Amazon, like you just heard from the mayor, it’s bringing hundreds of thousands of jobs into our city and revenue to our tax base.”
Although McGinn said he was getting his support from low-wage workers and environmentalists, campaign finance reports show that he has also received a $700 campaign contribution from Vulcan’s Vice President of Real Estate, Ada Moore Healey, and smaller donations from at least 16 other Vulcan employees. Murray received a $700 contribution directly from Vulcan Inc., plus one from Healey, as well as donations from at least 12 other employees.
Later in the debate, Murray unspooled a critique of the city’s transportation planning that he’s outlined during past mayoral forums. “We plan transit in a bucket, and pedestrians in a bucket, and bicycles in a bucket,” he said. “We need to go towards using a comprehensive approach.”
“I want to build out a system that works; you can only do that if you look at all the modes together,” he said, adding that comprehensive planning could only be successful if the city doesn’t “get stuck in kind of a mode fetish.”
The next time McGinn had a chance to speak, he again went on the offensive. “I’m always interested when I hear Sen. Murray say we haven’t done the planning correctly.” McGinn said. “We’re hearing vague promises of doing something different in the future, but I’d love to know if there’s a bike lane we put in, or transit lane we put in, that you don’t think is appropriate.”
The debate’s other moderator, Seattle Times and GeekWire writer Mónica Guzmán, jumped-in, saying, “moving on” and asking another question before Murray could reply. The issue never resurfaced.
Early in the night, both candidates reiterated their support for the $15 dollar minimum wage, though neither one could provide a firm timeline for how quickly it could go into effect. “I think we can get there within the next four years,” McGinn said. “I think a lot of that will be determined by what it takes to get five votes in the city council.” Murray said: “My hope would be it will be phased in over the first four years.” He also said that the phase-in period should involve negotiations between employers and employees, with the city “playing a facilitating roll.”
The moderators also asked the candidates how they would reverse rising housing costs within the city. “We have to create more housing to help meet the demand,” McGinn said, adding that this will require a combination of subsidies, working with developers and insuring that there is affordable housing near Sound Transit stations. Murray said the city should look for opportunities to partner with nonprofits and private companies to help homebuyers obtain subsidized mortgages, and allow for some micro housing, also known as “apodments,” within Seattle. He also asked, “What is the incentive we can give to the market to actually build affordable housing?”
During the lightning rounds, both McGinn and Murray held up yes cards when asked if the city should regulate taxi-like ridesharing services and whether they support the ballot initiative to label genetically modified food. And both held up no cards when asked if they’d smoked pot since the approval of last year’s statewide initiative legalizing recreational marijuana-use.
When asked to write and display a few words that described the biggest mistake of their political careers, McGinn jotted down, “truthfulness," while Murray wrote that his biggest mistake was losing his first race for state Senate.