City Hall

Murray's State of the City Speech

The lowdown on Mayor Murray's inaugural State of the City speech.

By Erica C. Barnett February 19, 2014

In an inaugural State of the City speech that focused heavily on income inequality and social justice—the city's two issues du jour—new Mayor Ed Murray laid out an agenda that promised new initiatives, major reorganizations of city departments, and stakeholder committee after stakeholder committee. (For a much, much shorter report, check out my live tweets here). 

Murray, unlike his expressive predecessor Mike McGinn, is a hesitant, clunky speaker. Reading his nearly 45-minute speech from a 19-page printout, Murray stumbled over words and made few extemperaneous asides; it was clear that he's more comfortable under the three-minute limitations imposed on state legislators, where Murray could be oddly persuasive, than with the open-ended nature of a major policy speech.

Still, the written speech was on-point, not rambling, and it gave a good sense of Murray's first-year agenda—an agenda that can, it should be noted, afford to be ambitious, now that the economy is in recovery and city budgets are also bouncing back. (McGinn didn't have that luxury). 

Murray knows which departments he thinks are dysfunctional, and he wants to move quickly to fix them. And he's ambitious, but not headlong: Instead of proposing specific solutions (off with 200 strategic advisors' heads!), Murray frequently said he'd form a task force, or do a study, or come up with a "data-driven" strategy for dealing with an issue.

That said, it's easy for a new mayor to get over-ambitious and then run up against the council, a nine-headed hydra that has plenty of its own ideas and has often resisted taking a back seat to (ahem, "collaborating with") the mayor. State of the city speeches aren't road maps so much as aspirational documents—documents that require a skilled executive to put their promises into practice. In other words, follow-through. And that's the part that remains to be seen. 

Murray launched into the speech by emphasizing his commitment to working toward a $15-an-hour minimum wage—no doubt reassuring supporters of low-wage workers who had wondered online whether he would bring up the $15 minimum at all. But he said raising the minimum wage alone wouldn't be enough—the city needs to work on housing affordability, universal preschool, business assistance for immigrants and refugees, and better access to human services.That said, it's easy for a new mayor to get over-ambitious and then run up against the council, a nine-headed hydra that has plenty of its own ideas and has often resisted taking a back seat to (ahem, "collaborating with") the mayor.

Democrats like Murray are hot on the holistic rap these days—check out the unified theory theme in the state legislature —where, for instance, Murray's former Democratic colleagues are arguing that you can't separate K-12 funding from food assistance and housing.

Murray also stressed the need to address climate change by tackling the region's dependence on single-occupancy vehicles, efforts to get SPD out from under the DOJ consent decree, the need to involve neighborhood residents in the future of their neighborhoods (he's holding a citywide neighborhood summit on April 5, and the anti-growth crowd is already gearing up for a fight), the importance of entrepreneurship and the maritime/industrial sector, and a grab-bag of other issues including the waterfront, parks, and broadband. 

Perhaps more interesting than what Murray did talk about—and at 45 minutes and 19 pages, he had time to talk about a lot—is the issues he didn't mention. Here are a few that jumped out at us. 

• Light rail. Murray's predecessor, Mike McGinn, was famously (and perhaps excessively) associated with two issues: Light rail and bikes. While Murray did devote a bit of time to bikes (promising a new ridesharing program and "a world-class Bike Master Plan that will put Seattle back in place as the most bike-friendly city in the country," he said nothing about light rail to Ballard and West Seattle—a top McGinn priority. Instead, Murray focused on bus service and completing the downtown streetcar. 

• Municipal broadband. Murray talked briefly about the need to find out how the city's residents are using the Internet so officials can know where "there are disparities in coverage," he offered no specific proposal to address the city's lack of gigabit-level service, either through a private provider or from the city itself. 

• Women—specifically, gender pay equity. For a guy who has made a point of appointing women to many high-profile positions in his cabinet (including both of his deputy mayors), and said he wants to address the city's staggering gender pay equity problem (according to a 2013 study, Seattle has the largest pay gap between men and women of any U.S. city), it was surprising that Murray made not one mention of the wage gap in his speech.Nor did he mention that boosting the minimum wage would disproportionately benefit women.

There was lots of talk about immigrants, minorities, and young people (as well as high-tech workers, a sector that's predominately male), but nothing about raising the minimum to lift up low-wage women, training women for higher-paying jobs traditionally held by men, or other proposals to close the wage gap. 

• Ridesharing. In fairness, Murray has made his position on the taxi-rideshare debate pretty clear—he opposes caps on ridesharing licenses, but in the interest of "leveling the playing field" has proposed a comprehensive review of taxi industry regulations—but given the heat this issue has generated in recent weeks, it was a little surprising that it didn't warrant even a mention.

Here are some specific initiatives Murray is proposing: 

• Creating a stakeholder group of housing providers, community members, developers, and business community leaders to develop a plan for affordable housing to send to the council for next fall's budget. 

• While working with council member Burgess on a universal preschool proposal, recruiting another 60 preschool providers (a 45 percent increase) into the city's Comprehensive Child Care Program, which provides child care subsidies to low-income families. 

• Adding staff to the city's "understaffed and underfunded" Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, which helps new immigrants with technical skills, education, and services. McGinn and the council created the office in 2011, but only provided $218,000 in funding, a budget that limited the office to two staffers. 

• Addressing the recent "turmoil" in the city's Human Services Department (whose most recent permanent director, Dannette Smith, resigned last year after making a series of major, and unpopular, shakeups at the agency) by "restor[ing] strong stewardship and strategic direction to this critical office."

• Releasing a "comprehensive environmental report card–not just of government operations, but of the City as a whole."

• Launching a new bikesharing program with Puget Sound Bike Share in 2014.

• Completing the design of and securing funding for the Center City/First Ave. streetcar (the final link between the First Hill Streetcar and South Lake Union).

• "Moderniz[ing]" the Seattle Department of Transportation, which, Murray said, has "ignored widespread maintenance problems with our neighborhood streets." Murray removed McGinn's SDOT director, Peter Hahn, and has replaced him on an interim basis with former deputy director Goran Sparrman. 

• "Revitaliz[ing] the Department of Neighborhoods as the city grows, with the goal of bringing neighborhood residents in to decisions that affect the "character" of their neighborhoods. 

• Convening an industrial/maritime summit this spring to "help us better understand what our competitive advantages are as a region and how we can build upon and maximize them – particularly around widening our region’s window for international trade." 

• Coming up with a sustainable funding source for the city's parks system for the August 2014 ballot. The most recent parks levy only funded capital acquisitions, with no money for basic ongoing maintenance, creating a major maintenance backlog across the city's park system. Some advocates support creating a permanent metropolitan parks taxing district; others support passing a new, shorter-term levy focused on basic maintenance. 

Finally, in honor of the mayor's devotion to data, here are a few stats about some commonly used words in his speech.

"Opportunity": 9

"Conversation": 8

"Challenge": 8

"Innovate"/"Innovation," etc: 7

"Process": 6

"Effective": 4

"Collaborate"/"Collaborative": 3

"Stakeholders": 2

"Convene": 2


Show Comments