After a week of sniping, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and state Sen. Ed Murray took a break in a debate at the Belltown Community Council Thursday night, where they stuck mostly to their own talking points, muted their attacks and ended with what may have been the first cordial handshake of the campaign.
Moderators Jeanne Kohl-Welles, the state senator whose district includes Belltown, and Belltown Community Council President Elizabeth Campbell (not to be confused with the anti-tunnel activist of the same name), said no progress is made on formulating policy for the city’s future if the candidates just point fingers at each other. In that spirit, the moderators allowed many two-minute answers that gave McGinn and Murray more time to formulate thoughtful responses.
Crime and public safety were again central themes of the debate. Campbell asked McGinn to commit to hiring 100 new police officers and guarantee they would be on the street next year. McGinn said the city didn’t have money for that many, but said that with improving city revenues, his budget would fund 30 new cops who likely would be on patrol. He also spoke in favor of his Center City Initiative, which tries to identify bad actors downtown and determine if they are amenable to treatment or other social services or whether they should be arrested and charged with a crime.
“When are services appropriate and when are consequences appropriate? You can’t have one without the other. We all know we need to enforce against violent activities,” McGinn said.
Murray said that Seattle lost officers overall during budget cuts the past few years and needs to consistently add more police. “If people are breaking the law, they need to be arrested,” he said. In one mild attack on McGinn, Murray said, “Officers don’t have a clear message about what to do [about downtown crime]. That’s a problem of leadership.” But Murray avoided being painted into the law-and-order corner — often a loser for mayoral candidates in Seattle (i.e., Mark Sidran) — by reiterating that no officers should be hired unless they are trained in urban policing, anti-bias and use of force.
Murray also outlined his criteria for a new police chief and how he would conduct the selection process. He served on the search committee that ultimately chose Chief Gil Kerlikowske, and said he thinks the current process scares off good candidates.
McGinn did himself no favors when he noted that he already had selected one chief, John Diaz. Diaz was widely viewed as ineffective at changing the department culture. McGinn also failed to outline a potential search process, fueling speculation that he’s happy with Acting Chief Jim Pugel and would not undertake a national search.
McGinn was again the more energetic and specific candidate on city issues. He made so many references to examples of working with others that he seemed to be trying to distance himself from his reputation as difficult to get along with, after several high-profile fights in the past four years.
Murray had a lower-wattage performance, although he’s sharpening some references to his legislative experience to make them relevant to Seattle issues, such as when he talked about an overhaul to the state juvenile justice system that created more effective programs and reduced incarceration.