Even with an experienced politician like Mayor Ed Murray, setting can make a difference. The warm space at Tom Douglas’ Palace Ballroom lent to a more relaxed look for Murray — punctuated by his husband quickly adjusting his tie before the mayor headed to the stage for a Civic Cocktail.
In a wide-ranging conversation with host Joni Balter and three fellow journalists —Knute Berger of Crosscut, Ashley Ahearn of KUOW and Enrique Cerna of KCTS 9 — asked the mayor about a wide range of city issues including the forthcoming minimum wage, preserving Seattle's identity during the city’s growth boom, and a potential stadium in SoDo. Here are a few of the key points from the event, presented by Seattle City Club, Crosscut and Seattle Channel.
The high point of his 14 months in office? Referring to the last fall's voter approval of two funding measure, he said, “I’d probably go with last November on election night, when we passed pre-K and transit.” The pre-K funding measure, which will begin a pilot program for 3,000 children in September, will provide free pre-K education for families with children ages 3 and 4, with a focus on under-served populations. The transit measure will begin taking effect in June, increasing bus service in Seattle and restoring some recession-driven cuts.
On minimum wage, which is set to increase to $11 an hour on April 1, Murray championed the value of increased wages, saying, “Since we made this announcement, we’ve seen businesses move and expand in Seattle. Places that pay decent wages are the places that attract more business.” Wages will increase incrementally, hiking pay for employees of large businesses the quickest. This has not been well received by franchisees who have gone to court with the argument that, while they are associated with multinational businesses, they are in fact small business owners and should have small businesses' slower phase-in of wage increases. Murray's take: “I believe a multinational chain is not the same as a neighborhood restaurant next door."
When asked about the Seattle boom, Murray didn’t take credit, exactly, but he certainly didn’t avoid it. “I know that some of my colleagues certainly shoulder the blame for when their cities are not growing,” he said to laughs. On preserving Seattle's culture and livability, Murray said “We haven’t gotten public space, transit or schools right.” But, he added, “We’re early enough that we still have a chance to get it right.”
Murray updated the audience on discussions of building an arena to draw teams in the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League. “This is a new thing for me: going to Super Bowls, to the NBA, NHL,” Murray said. “Seattle has maybe gotten a little ahead of themselves with a basketball team. The NBA were pretty clear that Milwaukee or Atlanta weren’t leaving and that they weren’t ready to expand.” Hockey, on the other hand, may be where sports enthusiasts should go for more immediate hope. “The NHL was much more responsive and open to a team in Seattle. If there’s a deal to be made that benefited the city, I’d go to the council. So far there’s no deal.” The ever-cautious Murray added, “We don’t know what the economics would be, but would take very careful examination to see if it would work for Seattle.”
To hear more from the mayor and an excellent panel on climate change — The Nature Conservancy’s Mike Stevens; Yoram Bauman, sometimes known as The World’s First and Only Stand-up Economist; and Rod Brown, co-chair of the governor’s Carbon Emissions Reduction Task Force — tune in to Seattle Channel tonight at 8.
Update 12:48 p.m. Friday
Seattle Channel has posted the full program.