State Sen. Ed Murray seemed to echo many themes of neighborhood champion and failed mayoral candidate Peter Steinbrueck at a Saturday breakfast forum hosted by the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition.
Murray, who is challenging incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn, pledged to reinvigorate neighborhood planning and the city’s Department of Neighborhoods. He said residents should be more involved with planning for growth and in prioritizing what projects and improvements they want to see.
He also said that within his first 100 days of taking office, he would convene a Neighborhood Summit to identify problems between neighborhoods and the city and to prepare for the upcoming Comprehensive Plan update which will guide the city’s growth and land use over the next 20 years.
“Neighborhoods should be involved in how the city goes forward and changes. I want to empower the neighborhoods in a way they haven’t been since before (former Mayor) Greg Nickels,” said Murray, who noted that he started his political career as an aide to former Seattle City Council member Martha Choe at a time when he said the Department of Neighborhoods played a strong role in planning.
McGinn also cited his neighborhood cred, noting that he started his political career as a Greenwood Community Council activist. He said his administration has done a lot of neighborhood planning, but has focused on implementation rather than just broad updates across the city. He also said that no rezone is done without a lot of public process.
He described the Department of Neighborhoods working with the Department of Transportation to involve the neighborhood with a repaving process along 23rd Avenue through the Central District. He said the city is not just laying a road but is working with residents and business owners to widen the sidewalks and calm traffic.
“The Department of Neighborhoods is working better with other departments than ever before. It’s more robust. We’re bringing more people into the planning process,” McGinn said.
About 40 people attended the forum which was held at the Central District Senior Center.
Peter Steinbrueck, who finished third in the August primary among nine candidates, attended part of the forum and said he was pleased with Murray’s understanding of growth and planning. But Steinbrueck said he would withhold an endorsement in the race until Murray laid out his plans for protecting industrial lands in the city. Steinbrueck opposed the Sodo location for a proposed new sports arena.
McGinn led negotiations for a deal among the city, King County and investor Chris Hansen to build a new arena south of downtown with $290 million in public money. Murray has said he wants to preserve freight mobility, but hasn’t opposed the Sodo location, about a block from a major Port of Seattle terminal.
To McGinn’s familiar lament that he had no experience as an elected official before winning the job in 2009, Murray countered that there is a mayor’s school.
“It’s called experience in government,” Murray said. He cited other legislators-turned-executives, former Governors Gary Locke and Booth Gardner, and said his own writing large budgets in the Legislature gave him experience with the workings of departments, their staffing and functions.
McGinn said that he would gladly set his accomplishments as mayor against Murray’s in the Legislature. He reminded the audience that the country was in a recession when he took office and that he had balanced the city budget, preserved human-services funding, doubled the Family’s and Education levy and kept library funding. He noted that the state Legislature, in contrast, had cut education funding, social-service funding and failed to pass a transportation package in the past session to prevent cuts to Metro transit service.
“I’m happy to compare outcomes with what Senator Murray has achieved in the legislature,” McGinn said.
Several Montlake, Roanoke and Portage Bay residents attended the forum and asked the candidates about the stalled planning for the Seattle side of the Highway 520 bridge expansion project. Murray said that under Nickels, the city was unable to agree on a plan to present the Legislature, with the result that only the eastern side of the bridge is designed and under construction.
“The city still hasn’t come forward with a city option for a 520 plan. We can’t get mitigation money for the project until the city has a plan,” Murray said, adding that he thought he could bring the state and city together.
McGinn said that the state’s haste to start the project led to defective pontoons and “a much larger structure than I think is needed there.” McGinn had argued unsuccessfully earlier in his term that the bridge only needed to be four lanes. The state expects to build a six-lane bridge over Portage Bay.
McGinn and Murray, who have frequently clashed at forums and debates over the past month, argued Saturday about McGinn’s opposition to the tunnel and Murray’s support for a funding bill that left Seattle taxpayers on the hook for cost overruns on the tunnel.
At one point, a member of the audience asked McGinn to stop rolling his eyes and smiling sarcastically while Murray was speaking. “Please stop doing that. It’s annoying” said Eileen McCann from Ballard.
McGinn apologized from the front table and again to her personally after the forum ended.