Image by Chris Blakeley on Flickr.

There weren't a lot of surprises at last night's Belltown Business Association-sponsored mayoral forum, held in the airy new Belltown Community Center—most of the candidates think the city is worse off than it was four years ago (guess which one doesn't?); all of them think Belltown has a problem with street disorder and crime; and all of them agree that something has to be done about noisy, disruptive nightclubs in the neighborhood.

However, the forum did offer a few surprises on some issues near and dear to Belltowners' hearts—not least of which was Murray's proud assertion that he was the one who secured funding for the downtown tunnel McGinn spent so many years fighting against. 

Ed Murray, who headed the house transportation committee for four years, made a point of crediting himself for securing funds for the tunnel in Olympia (and ensuring that the viaduct was replaced by a tunnel, not McGinn's preferred surface/transit option.)

"The transportation package that passed, with $2.2 billion for the viaduct from the state—that was my bill," Murray said pointedly, as McGinn, sitting directly to his right, stared straight ahead.

"The city of Seattle voted overwhelmingly to bring that thing down and to replace it. Secondly, the bill that designated a tunnel—that was my bill. [In me], you would have a mayor that is committed to making sure this thing works."

In his response, Mayor Mike McGinn made a point of not mentioning his years-long opposition to the tunnel, saying instead, "I'm tremendously excited about the opportunity to take down that elevated [highway]. It is a blight on the waterfront. ... It's going to be fantastic [but] we have to make sure we fit it within our means." "That's kind of a wacko solution to the problem of troubled clubs ... I say roll back the hours on those places and take away their opportunity to serve." – Mayoral candidate Kate Martin

Kate Martin (whose own proposal to preserve the upper deck of the viaduct and turn it into a High Line-style park from Pioneer Square to Pike Place Market drew scattered applause) doubled down on her usual law-and-order theme, promising to fine people who break civility laws against things like public drunkenness and urination (actually, her exact words were, "Nail 'em with fines!"); opposing later bar closing hours ("That's kind of a wacko solution to the problem of troubled clubs ... I say roll back the hours on those places and take away their opportunity to serve"); and proposing that panhandlers be required to get a permit from the city, which would confine them to special mid-block "panhandling zones" that would move from place to place daily "so that no businesses would be burdened" by panhandling "every day.""In areas that have high concentrations of nightclub activity, the nightclubs may need to contribute to the additional cost of policing in those areas."– Mayoral candidate Peter Steinbrueck

Peter Steinbrueck disagreed with Martin that panhandling is "the most serious problem" downtown, arguing that "it's criminal behavior, it's gangs, it's drug dealing, and we're not going to solve it through criminalizing panhandling, which is against First Amendment rights anyway."

(McGinn agreed, adding that panhandling is "actually a very complex problem"—and indirectly blasting city council member Tim Burgess for anti-panhandling legislation that "managed to pit social advocates against business interests." McGinn, of course, vetoed Burgess' legislation).

Steinbrueck also made a suggestion that probably didn't sit well with the nightlife advocates in the room: If noise and violence downtown are a problem, why not make nightclubs pay for more police downtown to deal with it? Noting that sports teams contribute to the cost of policing outside events at the stadiums, Steinbrueck said, "In areas that have high concentrations of nightclub activity, the nightclubs may need to contribute to the additional cost of policing in those areas."

Charlie Staadecker, once again holding up the lonely right flank on the otherwise liberal panel, cited former city attorney Mark Sidran—a failed mayoral candidate who is still widely reviled by liberals and civil libertarians—as someone who was unfairly "defeated because he wanted civility laws. We have to demand civility."

Staadecker called McGinn's proposal to stagger bar closing times "the most ridiculous ordinance that was ever recommended. Guess what? You’re the only municipality doing it, so the drinkers from Issaquah and Tukwila and Mountlake Terrace, they will all come here and you will burgeon the amount of drinking that is taking place. When you are commuting, taking your kids to school that is when people are going home."

Bruce Harrell was a noticeable no-show, prompting one attendee to speculate that he "doesn't care about downtown." Harrell campaign manager Monisha Harrell says the campaign told the Belltown group that he had previously committed to a private fundraiser (at the home of a Seattle political consultant who was active in the '70s and '80s) and couldn't make it to a 6:00 forum Monday.

"If somebody opens their home to us and invites all their friends, we do not cancel on them," Monisha Harrell says. She says the BBA initially offered the campaign another date, but ultimately decided on yesterday; she says they also refused to move the forum back an hour so Harrell could attend.

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