You could write today's Jolt one of two ways: Murray is today's winner for getting the police union endorsement or Murray is today's loser for getting the police union endorsement. (KIRO-TV had the surprise news today that the Seattle Police Officers Guild endorsed Murray over incumbent Mike McGinn.)
Winner because public safety is high on voters' minds right now and having the rank and file cops in your corner is an impressive thing to boast about on the campaign trail. Loser because the police union has a reputation for being obstructionist conservatives on reform—and police accountability is also a big deal for voters right now.
The candidates' respective messages on the issue complicate things even more. Murray has consistently criticized McGinn for pushing back on the Department of Justice settlement—the message being: McGinn was against reform. And so, Murray's campaign message, playing off the public's itch for reform, has been that McGinn is with the union. But wait! It's now Murray that's pals with the union.
McGinn's current message, a bit complicated to the casual voter, has been that he pushed back from the left, not the right—meaning: he wanted tougher reforms ... and indeed, McGinn deserves credit for adding the independent citizens' commission to the deal. However, his pushback reads to liberal Seattle like the ornery local sheriff who doesn't like it when the college boys from the FBI show up in town, putting on a bit of machismo provincialism that undermined the DOJ's efforts to rein in the SPD.
(I've always felt that the two of the major political stories of the last year—the DOJ consent decree and the McCleary decision—directly connected because they satisfied the public's demand for Mom and Dad to show up and set two of our dysfunctional institutions right. In that sense, McGinn misplayed the DOJ drama by coming across as a grump.)
Unpackaging all of that to figure out how the Guild endorsement reads to voters is tricky because the other factor at play is: What's more important to Seattle voters? Accountability or safety?
For what it's worth, I think safety trumps accountability in voters' minds at this moment (it's a see-saw in this city depending on the latest video vs. the latest shooting). A recent KING 5 poll found the 57 percent of voters were "very concerned" about "public safety and the police department." Couple that with the fact that the city's firefighters union also endorsed Murray last week, and the endorsement looks like good news for Murray.
Indeed, despite the Seattle Police Officer Guild's conservative rep in a liberal town, I'd ultimately count this as a win for Murray. As the city's frontline workers—the firefighters, the cops, the bus drivers (the transit union endorsed Murray as well) along with a majority of the city council—line up for Murray, it gets harder and harder for McGinn to write it all off as an establishment conspiracy.
Seattle Police Officer's Guild Presidnet Rich O'Neill told PubliCola: "City government is dsyfunctional right now. Do we want four more years of this?" He said the Guild interviewed all the candidates before the primary and "Murray rose to the top. He was head and shoulder above everyone else." Mainly, O'Neill said the union was impressed with Murray's ability to "work across the aisle."
Asked what he thought about Murray's campaign trail go-to line that it's an "embarrassment" for the a progressive Northwest city to be under a DOJ consent decree (a definite dig at the force), O'Neill said: "I think he stole that quote from me. I agree. To be lumped in with cities like L.A. and Detroit and New Orleans, that is embarrassing." O'Neill said Murray told them his goal was to "implement the reforms as quickly as possible, he was committed to the settlement, no more fighting, no more pushing back, let's get this done, enact these reforms, and let the guys with the briefcases go home."
O'Neill concluded that public safety is not McGinn's "forte," adding that "the DOJ might not have had to show up if there had been more leadership at the top....But public safety crawls up and bites you and becomes your top priority. You'd have to be living under a rock not to see that the SPD had been in the press during the last four years—and in a bad light—and if you're the mayor, what happens under your watch is your responsibility."
O'Neill said he likes McGinn personally. "He's a nice guy, but he's all over the place. He's distracted," which provided a leadership void for officers who "look to their supervisors who look to the chief who looks to tje mayor."
McGinn's campaign spokesman John Wyble said: "The police guild knows that Mayor McGinn is serious about reform. He worked with the Department of Justice to find a reform solution that worked for the DOJ, neighborhoods and the police. Clearly, the police are hoping that Senator Murray will collaborate with them to slow reform down. The mayor isn't willing to do that."
Murray's campaign spokesman Sandeep Kaushik said: "We appreciate this vote of confidence from our front-line police officers. ... They know first-hand that right now the city is not working the way it should be and that we need new leadership in the mayor's office. And they understand Ed's commitment to working with them and with other stakeholders to reform the department, and to prioritize public safety in Seattle. Ed looks forward to working cooperatively with our officers and other first responders to make our streets safer."