The Best Question of the Night

By Morning Fizz October 23, 2009


1) Last night's mayoral debate at KCTS didn't come with the fireworks we saw at the KING 5 debate on Wednesday. But there was some noteworthy stuff.

First,  some quick policy differences between the candidates.

Joe Mallahan said he was for Council Member Tim Burgess' panhandling proposal: No panhandling near cash machines or when people are getting out of their cars.  Mike  McGinn said he  does not support it.

Mallahan said it's "reasonable" to focus on cash machines and getting out of cars. McGinn said its too broad because there are ATMs and parking spots all over downtown and the de facto result would be to "outlaw panhandling" ... and "give the police too much discretion."

They also differed on the head tax (a tax on businesses to fund transit). Mallahan, saying we tax businesses too much in Seattle, is for repealing it, and said, "Yeah, it's kind of Republican, but you know what? We need jobs in this city .... "  McGinn said: "Giving out business tax breaks, that was George Bush's strategy, and that didn't work."

They also, obviously, differ on the tunnel. On this debate, McGinn said he will not proceed on the tunnel if the city has to pay cost overruns—which he estimated could be $2 billion and cost every tax payer $15,000.  Mallahan said we have to "move forward" on the tunnel.

Re: the cost overruns, Seattle Times editorial board member Joni Balter (one of the moderators last night) asked Mallahan point blank if he would move forward even if Seattle had to pay the overruns (a question McGinn had asked Mallahan the night before at KING 5 without getting a straight answer.) Mallahan was clearer on this last night, saying he would fight to remove the provision in the state law that says Seattle does have to pay the overruns.

Mallahan said: "The state constitution is clear, the state cannot impose on a municipality, the cost of a state highway project. We need to get rid of it."

McGinn seized on that, saying it was "interesting" that Mallahan was willing to litigate on that point, but wasn't willing to litigate to defend a proposed gun ban in city parks nor take a position on a current city court battle against local businesses to complete the Burke-Gilman trail, adding that Mallahan "didn't have his priorities straight."


Enrique Cerna, Deborah Wang, and Joni Balter question the candidates.

The best question of the night came from KUOW's Deborah Wang who asked: "If you only serve one term and could only accomplish one thing,  what would that be?"

Mallahan won this round with the best answer of the night. McGinn fielded the question first and gave a generic answer about making sure the citizens of Seattle feel like government is their partner in solving problems.

Mallahan said: "That every citizen of Seattle who chooses to have a job has a job and that that jobe be a living wage job."

Part of why Mallahan's answer on this was so good was because it put a policy marker on a theme he'd been emphasizing all night, his "social justice ethic";  he had made a point of citing African American unemployment stats in his opening statement (20 percent as opposed to the general 10 percent in the city), and referenced his working class Catholic roots several times.

Mallahan, however, botched another big moment. Each candidate was allowed two "challenges" (when they'd get to circumvent the moderators and directly question each other on something the other one had said.) Right after McGinn finished making a strong statement about how he supported gun control in city parks and Mallahan did not, Mallahan used his challenge to rewind to something McGinn had said in passing several rounds earlier—that Mallahan had once worked for Republican U.S. Senator Slade Gorton.

The audience had likely long forgotten the dig, but Mallahan brought it up, saying, seemingly out of the blue: "Okay Mike, I'll come clean, I did ... at the age of 19, for two months, I worked for Senator Slad Gorton, and he is a Republican." Mallahan went on to explain that when he was 13, Father James Mallahan (his grandfather?) told him that the Democrats were the good guys, and that he's been a Democrat ever since, organizing and door belling for Obama and getting elected as a Kerry delegate.

Pleased with himself, he said, "that was fun," and holding up the "challenge" card he said, "I might want to double down."

Mallahan's challenge ended up working to McGinn's advantage, who shot back: "I appreciate that Joe calls himself a lifelong Democrat and took a two month break off to work for Slade Gorton. But... what being a Democrat means is that you stand up for people against power ... I remember when we were in the earlier forums Joe, and in your closing statement you said that you were a threat to the status quo in Seattle. Well after the primary election ended the satus quo has moved in and they've become your advisers and your funders ... I have never seen a candidate go from idealistic outsider to a campaign run by the status quo in that amount of speed."

At that, KCTS moderator Enrique Cerna held up a "challenge" card and asked Mallahan sarcastically, "Do you want to double down now? I don't know."

After the debate McGinn took his "challenge" cards home as souvenirs.

You can watch the debate here.

2) Late yesterday, Erica posted a major story on the Viaduct. Read it here.

This morning's Morning Fizz brought to you by Fuse.


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