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DOWNTOWN Seattle is critical for the short and longterm health of the region, but currently it feels more like a mansion suffering from dry rot.

Anecdote after anecdote from residents, businesses and visitors — of petty crime unpoliced and human suffering unattended — corrode decades of impressive gains that made greater downtown an exciting place to live, work and spend.

Tuesday’s election for Seattle mayor is a fork-in-the-road moment. State Sen. Ed Murray is by far the better choice to reset the city’s approach to downtown civility and safety.

The most immediate task for the next mayor is to pick a permanent police chief. Incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn failed to land top-tier candidates when given that opportunity in 2010 and gives no assurance anything has changed
. Murray would draw better candidates in a national search.

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Murray’s campaign has focused on speeding up Seattle police reforms mandated by the Department of Justice consent decree. That’s smart, because it is an achievable goal with a big payoff for the city budget, for officer morale and for citizens. Murray has a strong relationship with U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, and he has support from the players needed to speed up reforms: a majority of the City Council, City Attorney Pete Holmes, the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild and the Seattle Police Management Association, which represents captains and lieutenants.

Policing alone won’t fix the downtown street environment. Both candidates support a promising new diversion effort, under the Center City Initiative, to emphasize social-service intervention in low-level drug and prostitution crimes.

But Murray, with two decades in the state Legislature, has a better vision for leveraging state and regional relationships to ease Seattle’s disproportionate burden on social services. He promises more shared responsibility with neighboring cities to shelter the homeless. And he can be a strong advocate in Olympia for mental-health reform, whereas McGinn is seen by many lawmakers as a provincial antagonist.

McGinn has failed to strike the right balance between policing and human services in responding to downtown disorder. His early budgets failed to maintain police staffing levels, and he antagonized both rank and file and the Justice Department in his early response to federal intervention.

Murray can wipe the slate clean. At this fork-in-the-road moment, he is the clear pick.

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