Power Lines

A Race for the Future of Seattle

Lucky us. Both Mike McGinn and Ed Murray are well qualified to be the next mayor. Now if only we could decide whom to vote for.

By Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit November 1, 2013 Published in the November 2013 issue of Seattle Met

Image: Alex Fine

Here’s how awesome Seattle is: We have two very qualified candidates running for mayor. Seriously, we’ve got an urban, bike-riding green who’s also got strong blue collar support vs. the guy who represents the densest urban district in the state legislature, passed gay marriage, and who also has strong blue collar support. In short, metropolitan liberals with some working class oomph. 

But. Both guys also have red-flag personalities. Incumbent Mike McGinn is a bully. And unlike successful political bullies who often get their way (New York’s three-term Mayor Bloomberg, for example), McGinn just pisses everybody off, routinely bringing city hall and the region to a standstill. Meanwhile, Ed Murray, the state senator from Capitol Hill, is a congenital incrementalist, who processes too much too slowly, which could jeopardize Seattle’s unique moment to upgrade into an innovative, low-carbon paradise.

It’s a heated race in which voters are, not only choosing between two standout progressives, but are also turned off by two problematic politicians. Confused about who to pick? So are we.


Why You Should Vote for Mike McGinn 
Forget the narrative that mayor Mike McGinn is trying to push and that state senator Ed Murray is trying to quash: Both men in the mayor’s race, despite -McGinn’s protestations to the contrary, are progressive. What differentiates McGinn is that he’s truly invested in the twenty-first century urbanist agenda.

From fighting against coal trains (because shipping millions of tons of coal to China will horribly exacerbate climate change), to standing up for rail transit even when the city council resisted him, to—campaign promises to the contrary— fighting a massive new freeway and tunnel downtown, McGinn genuinely believes in the urban future. His budget proposal September reflects those priorities, with new funding for bike lanes, sidewalks, transit improvements, and road maintenance (which, of course, benefits both cars and buses). 

McGinn is a Sierra Club liberal (he actually ran the local chapter) who veered away from that group’s more traditional conservationist environmentalism in 2006 to form an urbanist group, Great City, that lobbied for (and in many cases won) things like bike lanes, zoning changes to allow taller buildings, more dedicated bus lanes, and more mixed-use developments. Great City was unique among environmental groups in pushing for dense urban development downtown as well as in Seattle’s neighborhoods.

That agenda has carried over during McGinn’s tenure as mayor. 

Yes, he got off to a bad start during his first year (that tunnel thing again). On the other hand, opposing a massive downtown highway is right in line with that green agenda. 

And McGinn has proved that he can learn from his mistakes. In contrast to his tumultuous first year, McGinn spent the rest of his term working with colleagues on the council, rolling out successful initiatives like the new Transit Master Plan, the new neighborhood greenways program (which creates streets that are safer for bicyclists and pedestrians), and the implementation of the (sometimes controversial) Bike Master Plan. He’s also pushed, successfully, for more affordable housing in South Lake Union, a real plan to improve public safety, and for doubling the Families and Education Levy. 

McGinn has also expanded his green agenda to include blue—labor—support, thanks to his embrace of mandatory paid sick leave, a higher minimum wage, and (controversially) living-wage jobs at grocery chains like Whole Foods, winning him the support of several big labor unions, including the hotel workers’ union, the grocery workers, and two branches of the service workers’ union.

McGinn isn’t a perfect mayor, but he’s the only candidate in the race with a truly twenty--first century agenda, and for that Seattle should give him another term. 


Why You Shouldn’t Vote for Mike McGinn  
Mayor Mike McGinn spent his first year and a half in office fighting against the downtown tunnel. He lost. He spent his next year in office fighting for a downtown arena. Still no Sonics. In his spare time, he fought against a city panel’s choice of a police monitor, siding with the police department, which is accused of racial profiling and excessive use of force. He lost there too. And in a last-minute campaign move in July, he tried to use zoning rules to kill a Whole Foods in West Seattle if they didn’t pay higher wages—a nakedly political ploy to win labor support right before the August primary (McGinn had no problem making similar land-use changes in South Lake Union for Amazon, a company that also pays low wages to many of its workers.) The city council hasn’t voted on the Whole Foods street vacation yet, but McGinn seems likely to fail on that front as well. 

The point is, this is a mayor who charges into major battles without a game plan; as a result, he doesn’t have many big accomplishments under his belt. 

And many things he has done have taken longer than they should because of the way he’s gone about doing them. McGinn’s opponent, Ed Murray, has adopted the epithet “divisive” to describe McGinn. Cantankerous might be a better word. 

This is a guy who’s alienated the city council (he proposed major initiatives, like a $300 million seawall proposal, without informing the council), the city attorney (Pete Holmes, whom McGinn attempted to remove from the task force overseeing police reform), many city employees (he fired several popular department heads and threatened to arbitrarily cut 200 strategic advisors), and much of the public (he eliminated the domestic violence office—after which domestic violence spiked 60 percent).

As a result, five of nine council members, the city attorney, and the police union support Murray. Oh, and footnote: McGinn’s office has a gender problem. Most of his department heads are men, and, although his personal staff includes more women than men, those women are paid, on average, 20 percent less than the men—more than twice the overall 9.5 percent gender pay gap in city government. 

McGinn is an underachiever. It’s time to put him out to pasture.



Why You Should Vote for Ed Murray
Let’s start with the facts about Murray’s political profile, which belies -McGinn’s kooky contention that Murray is a conservative: A Kennedy Democrat from a working-class Catholic family in Lacey, Washington, Murray has a 95 percent favorable lifetime voting record with labor. He passed landmark auto-emissions standards in 2005. He restored social service, education, and family planning funding after the conservative senate majority pushed for deep cuts. The Service Employees union that’s backing the minimum wage campaign has endorsed him. He passed the only significant tax increase in the state in the last 20 years—gas taxes to fund transportation projects statewide—and he annually sponsors death penalty repeal legislation. 

And his most famous achievement: He followed up his 2006 gay rights legislation with 2012’s gay marriage law. But here’s what really makes Murray the right choice in Seattle’s mayor’s race: His vision for regionalism—as opposed to -McGinn’s go-it-alone provincialism—is on the cutting edge of the movement to turn the country’s metro centers into forces for economic, environmental, and social change.

At a time when the uselessly partisan federal government is dropping the ball on every major issue—global warming, education, gay rights, immigration (Murray cosponsored the state’s DREAM Act, by the way), income inequality, infrastructure, and economic revitalization, Seattle is poised to lead. Witness marijuana legalization and gay marriage—issues on which our state has pushed past the Obama administration.

 However, in order to succeed, particularly on beating back global warming, Seattle will need to partner with other cities. Perfect example: Transportation planning cannot happen in isolation.

 Murray’s superpower for collaborating—yep, he got Republicans to vote for his gas tax, gay marriage, and liberal budget line items such as the Disability Lifeline—is tailor-made for the times.

 Certainly, some issues—public safety, sidewalks, and zoning, for example—remain the bailiwick of city hall. On that score too, particularly on police issues where McGinn has alienated all the players (we’re under a consent decree from the Department of Justice and are currently looking for yet another police chief, while both the cop--reforming city attorney Pete Holmes and conservative police union have endorsed Murray), an unprecedented majority of the city council and the firefighters union have endorsed Murray, a vote of confidence that dovetails with his record of past success. Murray’s knack for collaboration seems like the perfect skill for bringing the region together to begin laying the groundwork to help the Puget Sound region emerge as a megalopolis for industry, trade, and invention. Rather than spending another four years quibbling, a Murray administration may actually get it done. 


Why You Shouldn’t Vote for Ed Murray
At a time when cities and metro regions are emerging as the solution to the environmental crisis and the economic doldrums, Murray, unlike McGinn, is neither a committed nor passionate urbanist. He doesn’t wake up thinking about light rail and bike lanes and density the way McGinn does. 

On that score, Murray’s greatest strength, his record of compromise, may be a weakness. This is no time to compromise. 

Murray’s signature dubious achievement? As the state house transportation chair in 2005, he sponsored legislation wedding highway dollars and light rail dollars. The result was a $18 billion (or $47 billion over the life of the project) “roads and transit” package that flamed out at the polls, thanks in part to a movement led by then–Sierra Club leader Mike McGinn. 

The measure, which combined 182 miles of roads with a compromised light rail measure, lost because it grated against Seattle’s progressive values. And, it raises the question of whether Murray, with his eye on consensus, is willing to go the mat for urban interests. As mayor, he would sit on the Sound Transit board, and wants to get rid of subarea equity, the policy that says money raised in one part of Sound Transit’s boundaries stays in that area. McGinn, by contrast, has fought to make sure the suburban--dominated board doesn’t raid Seattle revenues for exurban projects. 

Murray lacks expertise on city issues. His proposals in Olympia on UW’s parking program and the stadium taxes diverted money from Seattle’s city budget to King County, Safeco, and the UW. And he has no executive experience—oh wait, he was cochair of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee when the Democrats lost a pivotal election, and the group’s executive director is accused of stealing $300,000. And as senate majority leader, he allowed the Republicans to take over the senate. 

Look around. Seattle’s economy is rocking: Our unemployment rate, at 4.7 percent, is the lowest since 2008, and housing inventory is half what it was a year ago. Ultimately, voting for Murray would be a missed opportunity to stay the course with McGinn, whose urbanist sensibility is at the forefront of a movement that’s putting cities first as the smart solution on global warming and economic inequity.


This article appeared in the November 2013 issue of Seattle Met.

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