Just one day before his historic gay-marriage law takes effect, State Sen. Ed Murray (D-43, Seattle) announced at a packed gallery in Capitol Hill that he has formed an exploratory committee for a 2013 mayoral run.

He would not say specifically who'll be on his team—a team tasked with figuring out if a campaign is possible after Murray "disappears for three months" as he put it, while he's down in Olympia.

But he said: "I think it will be names that you will know, a group of people that I’ve known throughout my life, but I haven’t asked them yet." (He did note that Seattle Rep. Jamie Pedersen (D-43) "has been one of my strongest supporters to do this behind the scenes.")

Given Murray's stature—not only as a civil rights leader, but as the new Democratic leader in the state senate—his announcement is an earthquake in the race against incumbent Mike McGinn, who is already being challenged by city council member Tim Burgess. Other likely candidates include former city council member Peter Steinbrueck, former King County Executive Ron Sims; city council member Bruce Harrell. real-estate agent Charlie Staadecker, and business consultant Albert Shen.

Photo of Ed Murray at the Capitol Hill library by Robin Stein

We sat down with Murray (pictured, above, at the Capitol Hill library) yesterday to talk about the city's hot-button issues (the tunnel, police reform, and the arena), McGinn's record as mayor, and where Murray fits in to the city's political landscape. Winning a mayoral election in this town requires candidates to stitch together tricky alliances, as, for example, McGinn did, uniting anti-tax conservatives and urbanist liberals.

Murray will certainly have a built-in liberal base, but McGinn and Steinbrueck also have appeal to Seattle's progressives.

Murray didn't so much go after McGinn's policies—we asked him point blank if he would push the city in a different direction than McGinn's focus on density and alternative transportation, as much as frame the pending race as a contrast of styles.

"I’m not here to run against Mike McGinn or any particular candidate; I’m running because there are too many internal pissing matches in politics in Seattle," Murray said.  "I think that our styles are very different. That’s one of the reasons I’m running."

While McGinn certainly has a reputation for being prickly, Murray also has a rep for being difficult. When we pointed that out, he said his record shows that he plays well with others to get things done.

Murray told us:

The fact that I get in people’s face and we still are friends ... The people I’ve built transportation packages with, the Republicans [he worked on the budget with] will tell you I’m actually a person who brings people into the room

I think it is a major difference that I bring between McGinn on the one hand and some of the other people talking about running on the other hand. I’ve [negotiated] across geography and across party lines, and I’ve gotten things passed. The nickel tax—people said it wasn’t going to happen. The 9.5 cent tax for transportation.

I have passed transportation budgets and ways and means budgets … that’s what a mayor’s got to do  …To get that 29 members to get 9.5 cent gas tax—I think if I can do that with 29 members in the legislature I can do [the same thing] with the council.

Despite Murray's emphasis on "style" we did ask him directly what he thought about McGinn's focus on transit and density—and bikes! McGinn has alienated much of traditional Seattle with his green agenda. Did Murray think it was the wrong focus?

Murray doesn't disagree with McGinn's urbanist agenda, he said, but felt mass transit was the key solution and felt McGinn was going about it wrong by trying a go-it-alone strategy. 

Here's what he said:

This is a city where we want people to drive less as a value, an environmental goal—all the things associated with it. This is also  a city does not have its mass transit system built up … It’s a really difficult city to be a pedestrian in … when you emphasize one or the other you get in that situation [of a perceived “war on cars”].

You can’t just say, we’re going to push more parking off the streets until you really have light rail up and running …
 
We can’t afford [light rail from Ballard to West Seattle] by ourselves. There are probably things we could do as a city … that would feed in and make the light rail system work.

The city is all gridlocked. More light rail is great, but that’s got to be built on the regional level.

As for the other big issues:

ON THE ARENA

It would not  have been an issue that I would have pushed if I had been mayor … It certainly wouldn’t have been a priority and the question I would have asked was … let’s talk about risk and how are we going to manage risk when we get involved in this pub private partnership? … Who assumes the risk? Well, the history is the public does.

The question that’s unanswered in my mind is: I want insurance if this thing goes south.

ON THE TUNNEL

(Murray was a strong advocate of the tunnel and debated McGinn at a PubliCola forum in 2010. McGinn warned of cost overruns at that debate. As we've since reported, the state is already nervous about a $200 million shortfall in tolling revenue.)

I believe McGinn lost a huge opportunity when he decided to fight the tunnel. I’m not interested in refighting a decision that’s been worked out. If I’m mayor, I will be monitoring the risk.

We need to understand what has caused cost overruns. We had an independent group tell us the financial plan was solid. What happened?  What is the status of the contingency funds we originally built into the plan?  At some point we will need a new transportation package and issues such as the tunnel and mitigation on 520 need to be included.

I continue to believe that the state has a responsibility to make sure that the project goes forward to completion, and shares responsibility on any of the issues around financing.

ON DENSITY

This city is going to look different, very different, based on decisions that are made in the next four years.

How do we balance the need for not just low-income housing but also workforce housing, with views and parks and all that we value in Seattle? …

Are we creating the type of housing that we want? …I’m a big supporter of Sound Transit [as an engine of transit oriented development], but one of things that was never built into this model was economic development. Sound Transit does not have a robust economic development model.  

ON POLICE ACCOUNTABILITY

We should not have found ourselves in this situation [dealing with incidents of excessive force] and it is an issue of leadership. There is one area where a mayor of Seattle, in a process-laden city, can have direct leadership. … Whoever is elected mayor, this issue of public safety and the issue of the police force is going to be one of the top issues that they’re going to have to work on.

The mayor and council have to create the environment and the culture and build the police force where those incidents don’t happen.

If I’m elected mayor … I would hope that the chief and all the department heads throughout the city would offer their resignations so we could reevaluate. There are good people working for this mayor, and there were good people working for past mayors … When it comes to the chief of police, that would probably be the position I would look at the longest and the hardest.

The conventional wisdom, with so many high-profile candidates lining up to run for mayor, is that McGinn is vulnerable. But Murray isn't underestimating McGinn.

"I, for one, think that Mike McGinn is a far stronger contender than some of the chattering classes think he is," Murray concluded. "I don’t take him lightly. He did defeat an incumbent mayor. That was more than just luck. He has a significant core group of very strong supporters."