Seattle Mayor's Race 2013

The Claws Come Out at Neighborhood Mayoral Forum

At a neighborhood group-sponsored mayoral forum, the candidates toss accusations and assign blame.

By Erica C. Barnett June 27, 2013

As we mentioned in Fizz this morning, I live-tweeted from last night's action-packed City Neighborhood Council forum, where the sometimes-cranky group of neighborhood activists (and cheerful moderator Jim Diers, the former head of the citys' neighborhoods department) lobbed questions at the eight mayoral candidates. (Mystery man Doug McQuaid, who filed for the office and paid his fee but hasn't campaigned or even created a website, was, as always, a no-show). 

Check out my 44 tweets for the blow-by-blow, but here are some longer observations:

Peter Steinbrueck—in his element among the anti-South Lake Union, anti-aPodment, pro-neighborhood planning crowd—took full advantage of the friendly audience, declaring repeatedly that "neighborhoods are the solution, not the problem"; chiding former mayor Greg Nickels and current Mayor Mike McGinn for "the systematic dismantling of the neighborhood plans that represented a decade of work that many of you [in the audience] participated in"; and noting that "25 percent of the city lacks basic sidewalks and drainage. How can we accomodate that problem while we're building massive office parks in South Lake Union?"

"To witness the dismantling of our neighborhood structure internally at the city ... has a lot to do with why I'm running for mayor." 

Steinbrueck also criticized the mayor for cutting the department of neighborhood's budget, eliminating some neighborhood service centers and cutting the neighborhood matching fund. True on all three counts. "To witness the dismantling of our neighborhood structure internally at the city ... has a lot to do with why I'm running for mayor."

Kate Martin, a Greenwood neighborhood activist and landscape designer, also preached to the choir, calling former mayor Greg Nickels' firing of Diers "the worst decision we ever made as a city"; promising to "bring planning, not just cramming people into your neighborhoods" to the job of mayor; and calling aPodments, or microhousing, a "monoculture" of tiny units that aren't actually affordable (on a per-square-foot basis) despite their $500-$700 monthly rental rates. 

• Playing catchup on the pro-neighborhood front, city council member Bruce Harrell touted his own work to restore funding for neighborhoods, including the addition of $300,000 a year to the city's neighborhood matching fund; restoring three neighborhood district coordinator positions that were on the chopping block; and restoring funds for police patrols, senior centers, and P-Patches in neighborhoods.

• Mayor Mike McGinn, as usual, spent perhaps 90 percent of his time talking about what he had done in office and 10 percent or less focusing on what he will do if reelected. On the mayor's brag list: 100 town halls. Doubling the families and education levy. Balancing the city budget. Replenishing the city's rainy day fund. Focusing on basics like street maintenance. Expanding library hours. And creating the "Only in Seattle" program to promote local businesses. "We don't need a mayor who attacks other progressive Democrats from Seattle. If you're tired of the politics of division, then I'm your candidate."

• McGinn and Ed Murray, the two presumptive frontrunners (thanks to a run of recent establishment endorsements, including the environmental establishment, for Murray), wasted no opportunity to take shots at each other. McGinn, for example, blamed "the condition of the roads in our city" on "decades of neglect by the state legislature. Our leaders have focused on major roads expansion and not put the dollars into basic maintenance."

Murray responded by pointing out that "the state doesn't pay for local streets, the state pays for highways, so I think your statement is odd."

Then he blamed McGinn for failing to "take care of major maintenance" with funds from the 2006 Bridging the Gap levy, saying, accurately, that the backlog for road maintenance in Seattle had quadrupled, to $2 billion, since 2011. Murray said he'd support a new Bridging the Gap levy focused on "major infrastructure."

And, playing up his persistent theme that like-minded Seattle liberals waste too much time arguing over minutiae than agreeing on a collective vision, Murray added that he found it odd to be attacked by another progressive Democrat. "We don't need a mayor who attacks other progressive Democrats from Seattle [a reference to McGinn's excoriation of Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-34, for endorsing Murray over him]. ... If you're tired of the politics of division, then I'm your candidate." 

• Harrell, who got a lot of the night's more leading questions (for example: "How would you work to stop the city's sweetheart deals with developers?") was direct and on-point—when he got a word in edgewise between McGinn and Murray. One example: Asked how the city was doing on citizen engagement—a land mine of a question for a sitting city council member, since the obvious implied answer is, "Not good"—Harrell responded in a way that seemed geniune and candid. 

"All citizens aren’t created equal in this city. In some citizen engagement forums, it is outstanding. We listen to you, you listen to us, you regularly testify. But in the race and social justice movement … we realized some people are unable to do that," because they don't have access to meetings or don't speak English as a first language. "In those situations, we are very poor. Under my leadership, we would do an outsanding job reaching out to all communities in the city."

• Finally, McGinn was the only candidate on stage last night who supported district elections—not surprising, given that districts would dilute the relative power of each individual council member (who would only represent a fraction of the city, instead of the city as a whole) compared to the mayor, who represents the entire city.


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