Morning Fizz

Morning Fizz: McGinn Successfully Fends off Attacks in Latest Candidate Forum

Caffeinated News & Gossip featuring punches and counterpunches.

By Morning Fizz May 3, 2013

There was another mayoral debate last night—a second joint Democratic Legislative District affair, this one at Hamilton Middle School in Wallingford (co-hosted by North Seattle's 43rd, 46th, 36th, and 32nd Districts). 

There was no obvious winner last night—Ed Murray remained a bit subdued and aloof, Tim Burgess was more present than he was on Monday, and longshot Charlie Staadecker continued to charm folks with his friendly bow-tie wearing style (he called for a round of Happy Birthday for Murray).

Evidently trying to emulate Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell's success at Monday night's forum (Harrell was applauded for his standout showing after taking it to the incumbnet at the South Seattle Community College forum sponsored by south end and West Seattle districts), the other candidates upped their attacks on Mayor Mike McGinn.

Some times it worked, but mostly it fell flat. And for that reason, if anyone came out slightly on top last night, it was, ironically, the mayor.

1) Tim Burgess went after McGinn on South Lake Union, pointing out that the council raised the fees on developers for height increases to fund affordable housing—the council increased the rate from McGinn's $15.15 per square foot of additional density to $21.68.

Burgess said the mayor "did nothing more for affordable housing than maintain the status quo" while crediting the council for "increasing the fees dramatically that developers have to pay" while rejecting a "special back-room deal that the mayor made with Vulcan" (referring to the controversial "Block 59" proposal.)

McGinn said: "Mr. Burgess is incorrect. We sent down $45 million for affordable housing because we raised the heights and they lowered the heights." McGinn's point: His plan didn't maintain the status quo because there was no incentive zoning in South Lake Union to begin with, and he proposed the new $15.15 fee, which developers would pay in exchange for greater density. Additionally, by lowering the heights (on three blocks along the water to protect views and prevent shadowing), McGinn contends the council took millions out of the affordable housing piggy bank.

Of course, it wasn't Burgess who pushed the fund higher, it was Council Member Nick Licata and Mike O'Brien, whose push to substantially increase funding for low-income housing over McGinn's proposal resulted in the higher funding level.

After the forum, McGinn also disputed the "backroom deal" charge, noting that he convened a stakeholders group to vet the plan (which won praise from housing advocates such as Low Income Housing Institute director Sharon Lee), as opposed to what he characterized to Fizz as "the council's nuttiness."

2) State Sen. Ed Murray (D-43) went after the mayor for being divisive and failing to get things done. The point of Murray's attack was to highlight his own political acumen. He pointed out that as house transportation committee chair, he was able to get a 29-member coalition ("including Republicans who voted for taxes") to sign off on his big transportation package. He also boasted about getting Republicans to vote for his gay marriage bill.

McGinn swatted this one down: "Ed, I'm really glad to hear that nobody down in Olympia ever disagrees." McGinn's zinger turned Murray's Olympia trump card into a liability by conjuring up the current budget standoff, which has Murray on the defensive against a shrewd Republican majority.

Murray even drew boos when he made a second attempt to paint McGinn as a divisive force; Murray criticized McGinn for "attacking" Gov. Christine Gregoire during the tunnel debates, totally misunderstanding McGinn's populist appeal as a Seattle partisan.

3) Harrell himself continued to attack McGinn as well with slightly better results than Burgess and Murray, at least judging from the audience. After McGinn, trying to dispute accusations that he doesn't play well with others, challenged his rivals to sign on to the anti-coal train coalition of mayors, legislators, and tribal leaders that he's put together (touché), Harrell drew applause and laughter by shrugging condescendingly, "Sure, I'll join ... if it'll help you do better in your four years" as mayor.

Harrell also drew big applause when he said of McGinn: "The city voted out [former mayor Greg] Nickels because they wanted someone who they thought could bring an outsider's point of view, not a politician. ... Well, we got what we got."

However, Harrell's claim that McGinn's list of accomplishments seemed more like an inventory of council successes—he pointed to McGinn's boast about the paid sick leave ordinance—was disingenuous itself. It was liberal council member Licata, along with Harrell's other opponent, Tim Burgess, who were the driving forces for that legislation.

Additionally, Harrell went after McGinn for spending more money on bike lanes and sharrows than on sidewalks—"in 2012 we built 12 blocks of new sidewalks, but but we re-striped 50 miles of bike lanes and sharrows."

It's a nice line for  Seattle Times editors, but it fell flat last night in front of the roomful of liberal Democratic activists.

We'll have much more to report from last night's debate—including, to our surprise, why supposed neighborhood candidate Peter Steinbrueck actually took the most urbanist position of the evening.

For now, you can click on last night's Cola twitter feed for a blow by blow account.

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