Opinion

You Know What's Divisive? Dumbed-Down Sound Bites.

Polling on Whole Foods tests Murray's campaign message.

By Josh Feit July 25, 2013

There's a poll in the field now testing out state Sen. Ed Murray's messaging on the Whole Foods story.

The call, according to someone who got it last night, makes two statements about the Whole Foods story—one characterizing incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn as having a divisive position on the proposed new Whole Foods development in West Seattle, and one about Murray bringing people together (I'm not sure how they played the Murray line, given that Murray isn't actually working on the issue.)

After the divisive vs. collaborative setup, the poll asked which candidate you supported. (The poll went on to make a second round of statements about McGinn being divisive and Murray bringing people together, and then gave the candidate list again asking who you supported).

If I may: While there's no doubt McGinn can be a divisive mayor, this Whole Foods issue is hardly a good example of that. McGinn sent a letter to council about an alley vacation. The process requires a recommendation from the executive branch. McGinn was doing his job. In that capacity, he gave his opinion: He didn't think Whole Foods was a good development for the community because they aren't union.

Was he being opportunistic by parroting the union line in the runup to a crowded election where a bunch of progressive Democrats are trying to distinguish themselves from one another? Yes. But is his position divisive? Hardly.

McGinn came out in support of living-wage jobs so grocery workers can afford to live in Seattle. It's a position that's standard fare in Seattle's political conversation—and has come up at nearly every mayoral forum (raising the minimum wage to $15, for example, is one regular lightning round question.) At the recent Washington Bus Candidate Survivor forum and at an SEIU forum, in fact, Murray said as mayor he'd propose raising the minimum wage to $15... and McGinn, interestingly, was not as firm about it. Murray sent out a statement the following morning saying he actually supported an incremental approach.

Murray is using this substantive discussion as a ploy to amplify ad hominem campaign  themes.

Yes, there's a legitimate complaint about McGinn's position on Whole Foods, namely that there's currently no living wage standard when it comes to trading public right of way for public benefits, so, essentially his crime is that his letter was at worst an empty campaign grandstand or at best a nudge of idealism to start a conversation (and well...) Again: Kind of his job.

As for Murray: After first having nothing to say about the issue (Erica called all the candidates on Monday for a Cola One Question on it, Peter Steinbrueck went off, and this story blew up), Murray suddenly has lots to say about it. In a dramatic statement yesterday, he accused McGinn of being divisive (groan) and of trying to override the public process.

Huh? McGinn has no authority here. It's a council decision. McGinn simply gave his opinion. It's what mayors do. Again: Is McGinn guilty of grandstanding? Sure. But Murray is being opportunistic here too.

To shoehorn the issue into the Murray campaign narrative—Murray collaborative/McGinn divisive—after initially drawing a blank on the issue just two days earlier is crass politics.

If Murray continues the attack, we'll know that the polling reinforced his sense that he had a political opportunity here to oversimplify an important issue into one-word sound bites (divisive/collaborative), rather than stepping back and doing a values check on what we're actually talking about: living wage jobs. (I have a message in to the Murray campaign to confirm that the poll is theirs. The Murray independent expenditure campaign, called People for Ed Murray, says it is not theirs.) 

I'd much rather hear Murray's vision of how to make Seattle a livable city, the way McGinn just did, than hear him use a substantive discussion about wages as a ploy to amplify ad hominem campaign  themes.

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