State Sen. Ed Murray has joined critics of Mayor Mike McGinn’s controversial efforts to obstruct a West Seattle Whole Foods development over worker pay concerns.
“What the mayor is doing regarding the Whole Foods issue in West Seattle is wrong,” Murray said in a written statement Wednesday. “Once again he is dividing people, rather than trying to bring them together.”
Echoing earlier criticism by former City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Peter Steinbrueck, Murray said the mayor lacks the authority to intervene in the Whole Foods project, which had been approved by other regulatory bodies.
“The mayor has suddenly decided to attack this particular development based on politics. He has usurped the role of the City Council and subverted an impartial process to pursue his own advancement,” Murray said, saying he’d “treat projects like this in a fair and impartial way” and work with stakeholders and the council “to make sure we make decisions based on sound policy rather than politics.”
Murray also said that hundreds of city of Seattle jobs pay less than the average $16-an-hour wage earned by Whole Foods employees.
Locked in a tough reelection battle, McGinn sparked the Whole Foods controversy when he sided with the grocery workers union and ordered the Seattle Department of Transportation to recommend denial of a key alley vacation needed for the project to move ahead. McGinn argues the project by the nonunion store will drag down worker wages and argues the city should use its powers to force the company to boost its pay. Whole Foods says McGinn’s salary information is inaccurate.
Steinbrueck has already publicly lambasted McGinn over his Whole Foods stance, telling Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat on Tuesday the mayor’s actions were abusive and maybe illegal. “You can’t use the land-use codes to single out one grocery store and hold it up because you don’t like the wages they’re paying,” Steinbrueck said. “You can’t use land-use laws to curry favor with the unions. That’s an abusive political act.”
Businessman Charlie Staadecker, another mayoral candidate, also has weighed in against McGinn.
“The beauty of a well-run city is a well-established set of rules that we can all live by and that we are all aware of. Changing the rules ‘in the middle of the stream’ is not how we need to do business in Seattle or anywhere, quite frankly. Your announcement that you want to have Whole Foods pay better wages is commendable, but not appropriate in this situation,” Staadecker said in a statement emailed to reporters Tuesday.
But McGinn isn’t backing down. In a new statement posted to his campaign web site Wednesday, he defended his decision and said he welcomed a “robust” debate on income inequality.
“The city is under no obligation to sell public property to a company that will depress wages and benefits for workers at existing grocery stores in the same neighborhood. This city is fortunate in that we are growing and prospering, but too many people are left out of that prosperity,” McGinn said.
He said had looked at the law when the alley vacation came before him and believed the city is justified in considering wages and benefits in deciding whether the project had a public benefit.
The actual decision on the alley vacation will be made by the Seattle City Council later this year.