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The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

October 8, 2013 at 5:58 PM

Murray insists he’s against coal trains, too

In another measure of the ideological tightness of Seattle’s “me too” mayoral race, state Sen. Ed Murray called a news conference Tuesday to point out he totally agrees with Mayor Mike McGinn on opposition to coal trains rolling through the city.

Seeking to rebut what he called a “whispering campaign” by McGinn forces, Murray said notwithstanding campaign cash he’s received from some pro-coal train businesses, he’s against the trains, which coal opponents say would disrupt traffic and send coal dust spraying into air and water — in addition to abetting global climate change.

It’s an issue that McGinn has elevated to a top-tier priority in his mayoral campaign. Murray has been more muted on the topic; hence Tuesday’s news conference in which he tried to put to rest doubts about where he stands.

“I have been, since the first day I announced in December, opposed to these coal trains, despite the information you might have gotten from — I guess you could call it the office of misinformation — the McGinn campaign,” Murray said at the news conference next to the train tracks on the downtown Seattle waterfront. As if to reinforce his point about the disruption more trains would cause, Murray’s event was interrupted twice by passing trains at the nearby railroad crossing.

Murray’s mayoral campaign has received donations and fundraising aid from some firms and individuals with ties to proposed new coal ports that would ship Rocky Mountain coal to Asia.

For example, Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) has maxed out with a $700 donation to Murray’s mayoral campaign, and BNSF lobbyist Terry Finn added another $250, according to campaign-finance disclosures. BNSF has donated more than $6,600 to Murray’s legislative campaigns since 1998, according to the state Public Disclosure commission.

Asked about those donations, Murray said he’s always been a supporter of rail freight, which he said is better for the environment than trucking. “I think it would be a mistake to confuse the issue of supporting trains, which has always has been an environmental issue… and say that somehow means I support coal,” he said.

Murray also has been hosted at a swanky fundraiser by Roger Nyhus, whose Seattle public-affairs firm has been working for pro-coal port forces. But Nyhus also has been a close ally of Murray’s on other issues, including the fight to legalize gay marriage.

Murray was joined by several endorsers to vouch for his green credentials, including representatives of Washington Conservation Voters, the statewide environmental group helping lead opposition to the new coal export facilities. Cliff Traisman, WCV’s chief lobbyist, said Murray has proven his environmental values during his years in Olympia by championing measures such as tighter car emissions standards.

State Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said Murray has the sort of regional relationships needed to effectively fight coal trains. Without a mayor who has the ability to pick up the phone and work those relationships, Carlyle said, “this decision will be made in the backrooms of a windowless office in Washington, D.C.”

The McGinn campaign wasn’t buying Murray’s message, continuing to suggest he’d be soft on coal. “I think he (Murray) will say he’s against coal trains and do absolutely nothing to stop them,” McGinn campaign consultant John Wyble said in an email.

Comments | More in 2014 elections | Topics: 2013 Seattle mayoral race, coal trains, Mayor Mike McGinn

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