Mayor Ed Murray gave his state of the city speech yesterday, a sweeping speech that, while lacking any groundbreaking or concrete policy proposals (see bullet point critique below), eloquently focused on race as an unfair arbiter of success.
(Footnote on "sweeping" : Mayor Murray is not the best speaker; he's actually pretty awkward up there on the dais. But by looking at nerdy public policy items such as growth, transportation, education, and public safety through a lens of social justice (and youth—he packed the place with students), the text itself was at times kind of philosophical.
For example, citing a batch of stats about racial injustice ("40 percent of African Americans will fail to graduate on-time from our schools--or at all" in the explicit context of Ferguson), Murray said/read: "It will take courage to acknowledge that the police are often at the receiving end of the failure of other systems to address race—failure in our education, criminal justice, foster care, mental health and political systems."
And Murray went on to settle the great dorm room debate—is it class or is it race?—stating:
While Seattle is strong and, I believe, getting stronger, we must recognize that the benefits of our thriving city are not jointly shared. We see inequities in how we experience growth – between those who benefit from it and those displaced by it …in prosperity – between those who can afford to live here and those being pushed out. In our schools – between those who are coming to school ready to learn and are graduating on time, and those who are not. In public safety – between those who are safe from crime, and those who are at greater risk of crime because of who they are or where they live. And, of course, cutting across all these inequities is the most challenging inequity of all – and that is racial inequity.
As for solutions? Well ... not so much.
• Police Accountability
Murray listed a batch of police accountability reforms—(vague) standard fare such as recruiting a more diverse force and "significant new transparency to ... ensure that incidents of misconduct are not swept under the rug."
Murray framed his push for accountability as "non-negotiable," but in fact (taking the air out of his bravado) "negotiable"is precisely what police reform is. The irony being that he dramatically framed his push for accountability as "non-negotiable" when in fact (taking the air out of his bravado) "negotiable" is precisely what police accountability is: The bulk of Murray's police reform wish list needs to be bargained.
For example, when the city goes to formalize its body cam pilot program as troop-wide policy in 2016, it will have to be worked out at the union bargaining table. On that score, Mayor Murray's administration already balked. Changes in state law can set the standards for local negotiations. But when I asked Murray's office point blank if they supported the ACLU-legislation currently in play in Olympia that says body cam footage can only be used for police accountability (and not for catching suspects) and for prohibiting officers from turning the cameras on and off at their discretion, they demurred.
• Housing AffordabilityMayor Murray said he was "committing $35 million to city resources to enact the recommendations of [his affordable housing advisory committee]" the group of housing activists, developers, architects, lawyers and social justice leaders who are currently cogitating on the issue.
Frankly, the commitment was confusing. The group hasn't made any recommendations yet.
It was also underwhelming. For example, $15 million of Murray's commitment is coming from Housing Levy money—the $145 million, seven-year property tax that already makes up more than 50 percent of what the office of housing spends on affordable housing stock and preservation anyway. (And by the way $35 million is only about $8 million more than what the city spent in 2013).
Meanwhile, $25 million of Murray's commitment is coming from the incentive zoning program, a program the committee is likely doing away with. The money is already banked, Murray spokesman Jason Kelly told me after the speech, but A) that's hardly a compelling commitment to the future and B) more importantly, given the current absence of any recommendations, Murray's pledge lacked substance.
Kelly told me: "The mayor’s commitment was for this year’s implementation only, recognizing that future years’ revenue to support affordable housing may be come from other sources."
And he concluded: "What’s important about today’s announcement is that this is the largest dollar total of incentive zoning and levy funds since incentive zoning started in 2001 and that it will be reserved to implement the [advisory committee's] recommendations."
• Racial Justice
Murray said he planned to send a resolution to the council that "recognizes race and social justice as one of the core values" for the 2035 comprehensive plan, the 20-year city blueprint that governs how the city plans everything from commercial hubs to neighborhood parks to housing to transportation.
I don't know if Murray has been paying attention to his Department of Planning and Development's 2035 work to date, but "Social Equity" is already one of the documents' four "core" principles.
And I don't know if these count as solutions, but Murray also listed a series of upcoming "summits"—an education summit and a youth opportunity summit and a neighborhood summit—to tackle the issues.
I don't doubt Murray's sincerity—Murray is, if anything, a sincere bleeding heart liberal. But his first neighborhood summit (yep, this isn't a new proposal either) wasn't very monumental.
Oh, and as for the state of the city, no mention of Bertha.
He did mention that Ballard and West Seattle lines have to be part of any Sound Transit plan, though he didn't mention that the state legislature has already jeopardized that goal by proposing limited funding authority.
I tweeted Murray's speech here.
Meanwhile, city council member Sally Clark, who was listed as running in one of the council's two at-large seats (district nine), announced this morning that she's not seeking re-election.
Neighborhood activist Bill Bradburd, an opponent of increased density in the neighborhoods, recently announced he's running for the spot.
Add to all that: I hear city council member Mike O'Brien, currently in position six in northwest Seattle, is now thinking of running at large. O'Brien is also being challenged by a neighborhood activist, Catherine Weatbrook, an executive committee member of the City Neighborhood Council.