A mayoral debate sponsored by the Seattle Parks Foundation Thursday night was mostly a genteel discussion of how to pay for and improve city parks. Mayor Mike McGinn floated the notion of a new tax on sugary drinks in Seattle. State Sen. Ed Murray backed the idea of a new taxing district.
But the debate really blew up at the end, when McGinn and Murray tangled over Murray’s legislative record and the alleged embezzlement of more than $250,000 by an employee from a Democratic campaign committee that Murray co-chaired.
McGinn attacked the embezzlement as an example of Murray’s failures, while Murray accused McGinn of taking the race to a “low point” by trying to score points off of personal tragedy.
The exchange showed just how testy the race is becoming as McGinn — after months of listening to criticisms of his mayoral record — tries to turn the tables by putting Murray’s record on trial, while Murray accuses the mayor of resorting to sleazy tactics.
McGinn, clearly waiting for the right moment to launch his attack, pounced after Murray brought up a backlog of street maintenance projects in the city.
This is the heated exchange that followed, as debate moderator C.R. Douglas tried to keep the conversation on parks:
MCGINN: “C.R. I just have to say it’s a pretty neat trick for Senator Murray to be in the state Legislature for 18 years, not supply the funding we need, and then run on a program that we’re not taking care of our streets.”
MURRAY: “Well let me be clear Mr. Mayor, I put together a transportation package that restored a lot of the cuts that Tim Eyman put on us when he got (Initiative) 695 passed. That package brought together environmentalists and it brought together labor and business. And the city of Seattle voted for it around 75 percent. You put a package on the ballot and the citizens actually voted against taxes.” (That’s a reference to a proposed $60 car-tab fee rejected by Seattle voters in 2011.)
MCGINN: “Let’s be clear, Senator Murray, you were in charge of the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee, whose job it was to maintain control of the state Senate for the Democrats, and over $300,000 was stolen under your watch…”
C.R. DOUGLAS: “OK, we’re not gonna get into that…”
MCGINN: “You lost a close race Senator Murray, you lost that close race and you-”
DOUGLAS: “OK that’s a different forum. That is a different forum-”
MURRAY: “C.R., I do get to respond, I’m sorry.”
MCGINN: continues to talk over Douglas…
MCGINN: “Let me make the remarks if you are gonna give him a response.”
DOUGLAS: “You get one minute and that’s all you get. You get one minute.”
MCGINN: “Here is what I am getting at… Senator Murray has been in the state Senate for 18 years, excuse me in the state Legislature for 18 years, in the state house and the state senate. And what he was talking about here was our maintenance backlog and our failure to fund enough bike racks, bike lanes, etc.
“And he did in fact play a role in passing a ballot measure a number of years ago. But this year that legislative local options funding package didn’t pass. It got hung up in the state senate. And the point I’m trying to make is we’re working hard to put additional money into these things. And I’m prepared to hold myself accountable to the public for what we can do with our resources. All I’m saying is I think Senator Murray needs to hold himself accountable, because he is running as a leader who can bring us money and he hasn’t brought us the transportation money. And if the issue is are we taking care of our resources, I think Senator Murray needs to take a look at his own actions in failing to hold on to the state Senate.”
MURRAY: “OK. So this is to me one of the low points of this race for mayor. Last summer, myself and Senator Nelson and Senator Frockt jumped into the Senate campaign committee because several people had resigned or chose to run for other offices. And we had a gentleman who developed an addiction problem to alcohol and gambling. And we discovered that he had embezzled money. The first thing that I did was to call the authorities and to ask them to investigate us. That’s what leadership is. You know, I gave an interview to a blog and I wasn’t particularly articulate. They were trying to ask me for a timeline. Did I hire the guy? I tried to point out I didn’t hire the guy. When did he get check writing authority? So it looked like I was blaming other people. I wasn’t. I was trying to explain a behavior that went on for two years.
“You know, the months that Senator Nelson and Senator Frockt and I shared responsibility for that committee — I’m sorry that we didn’t catch it. I’m sorry that we didn’t catch it for his wife. I’m sorry we didn’t catch it for his two babies. I’m sorry that we didn’t catch it for him. But it’s a tragedy, and to try and say that’s the reason we lost the senate I think is politics at its worst. Let’s talk about the issues. Let’s not use the tragedy of people’s lives to try and score political points.”