Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and state Sen. Ed Murray trod well worn ground for much of the second televised mayoral debate Saturday night on KOMO 4. But there were fireworks when the rivals got to directly interrogate one another on perceived leadership flaws.
For much of the hourlong debate, McGinn smiled at the camera and made a case that — despite what his critics would have you believe — he’s been a good listener in his first term. And he said he has racked up accomplishments, such as an overall low crime rate and a growing local economy, that merit another four years.
Murray, who spoke in calm, flat tones even when delivering his most aggressive attacks, said Seattle is ready for a politically experienced mayor who will work with the City Council instead of fighting it. His answers throughout the night showed, Murray clearly came to the event with a strategy to appeal to female voters and neighborhoods worried about growth.
Once again, actual policy distinctions were hard to come by. McGinn and Murray clashed the hardest in the middle of the debate when each was allowed to ask the other a question. Both punched at sore spots, revealing what they believed to be leadership flaws they believe might sway voters in the few weeks remaining in the 2013 mayoral race.
McGinn targeted Murray’s record in the state Legislature, asking him how much the state cut from the education budget in 2011, when Murray chaired the Senate budget committee.
Murray fumbled his answer, apparently mixing up which year McGinn was talking about, and claimed education cuts that year had been proposed by Republicans but later restored (he was referring to 2012 when Republicans joined some more conservative Democrats to seize control of the budget process.)
“My understanding is that there were $1 billion in cuts and you were the chair of the budget writing committee at that time,” McGinn said.
Murray acknowledged he had his years confused and then defended the cuts that Olympia made as a product of the deep recession, which severely cut state revenues.
“Almost every single Democrat in the Legislature voted for those budgets. We voted for those budgets because we knew we had to do cuts, but we were also voting for them because we got an agreement to preserve programs,” Murray said, adding that the Legislature this year added $1 billion for schools.
McGinn wasn’t having it, noting the Legislature “is under a court order for failing to meet its paramount duty to education… that’s how bad the cuts got over the years.”
McGinn said the reason he keeps questioning Murray’s legislative record is that Murray is running on that more than any new policy idea. “I would love to have a debate with Senator Murray about his ideas for the future of Seattle. But he’s not really running on new ideas or new proposals.” He said Murray and other lawmakers had failed to close tax loopholes or raise taxes to adequately pay for schools and other services such as mental health funding.
Murray said McGinn was making a “Republican argument” by suggesting there was enough money to easily pay for state services. He said McGinn “doesn’t understand” how Olympia works, adding: “I think it’s time to stop attacking the Democrats in the state Legislature and start working with the state legislature.”
When it was Murray’s turn to ask a question, he sought to wound McGinn’s standing among female voters, citing a report on a gender pay gap at the city which showed McGinn’s office was among those departments where women are paid less than men. Murray also questioned McGinn’s closure of the city’s domestic violence office and said only 30 percent of McGinn’s cabinet members are women.
“Why should the women of this city believe, based on the fact that only 30 percent of your cabinet are women, based on the pay disparity, based on the numbers of domestic violence, that your next four years will offer something different to them?” Murray asked.
McGinn countered that three of the five top staffers who report directly to him are women and said he’d hired female city department heads as often as men.
As for any pay disparities, McGinn chalked that up to women “working in categories of jobs not valued as highly” and noted he’s launched a city effort to rectify any unfair pay gaps.
McGinn then turned the question around, saying only one third of the legislative aides hired by Murray during his 18 years in the Legislature were women.
Murray responded that as Senate Democratic leader he got to hire four people and three were women. He added that he’d hired racial and sexual minorities during his years in the Legislature, saying his office has been “one of the most diverse.”