With primary-election ballots on the way, the contenders for Seattle mayor faced off in a televised debate Thursday, arguing over parking rates, transit funding and who has the best résumé to lead the city.
In the relatively polite debate aired by public-television station KCTS 9, the biggest criticisms were aimed at the two front-runners in the race as measured by a poll released earlier in the day: incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn and state Sen. Ed Murray.
McGinn’s challengers portrayed him as a divisive figure who has picked needless fights with the Department of Justice over police reform, and with state leaders over transportation projects.
Murray said Seattle needs a new collaborative leadership style at City Hall, arguing the city has been worn down by “leadership of division” and bickering progressives caught up in a contest of “who is more liberal and who can be further to the left.”
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McGinn shot back that style should not be the top issue, suggesting Murray owed voters more specifics: “I think candidates should be proposing new ideas,” he said, rattling off his support of expanded broadband and universal preschool.
With Murray showing momentum in a KING 5 poll released earlier in the day, plus a hoard of campaign cash and high-profile endorsements, he seemed to increasingly become a target.
McGinn and others repeatedly blamed the state Legislature — and by extension Murray — for failing to deliver a local-option revenue package to stave off cuts to Metro bus service.
Former Seattle City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck said the city was in a “potential crisis mode” with the bus cuts. “The Legislature failed us,” he said.
Greenwood neighborhood activist Kate Martin asked Murray bluntly: “Where is the money?”
Murray argued such attacks on the Legislature were part of Seattle’s problem. “The way to win is to build bridges, not point to fingers,” he said.
Murray said he did not believe Metro will face cuts because lawmakers are still discussing a transportation package that could be brought up in a short special session later in the year.
The KING 5 poll of 501 likely Seattle voters released earlier Thursday found Murray with 22 percent support and McGinn with 21 percent.
Steinbrueck came next with 14 percent support, followed by City Councilmember Bruce Harrell at 11 percent and businessman Charlie Staadecker at 3 percent.
There is still time for that to change, as 25 percent of voters remained undecided in the poll, which had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.
Ballots for the all-mail election were mailed Wednesday, and must be postmarked by the Aug. 6 primary deadline.
The top two finishers in the nonpartisan race will advance to the November general election.
Steinbrueck, the former Seattle city councilman and architect, positioned himself in the debate as a uniquely qualified defender of city neighborhoods, playing to worries about unbridled growth.
“The neighborhoods should be the solution and not the problem, as some would see it,” he said.
Harrell said he ran for mayor because he’d grown frustrated with divisions in the city.
He also vowed to put cutting-edge technology to use in the Police Department, including a promise to have all officers wearing body cameras in his first year.
Martin, the Greenwood activist, talked with certainty of her abilities to lead Seattle, throwing out idea after idea she had — including a plan to preserve part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct as an elevated park.
She argued that local politics has been unfairly dominated by the candidates who raise the most campaign cash: “What I ask you to do is unfollow the money.”
Seattle’s parking rates were one flash point, with McGinn’s challengers saying they favored at least looking at rolling back some meter hours and rates.
Staadecker put it dramatically, arguing expensive parking is “ripping the soul” out of neighborhoods.
Staadecker, who owns a commercial real-estate company, touted his business skills and said Seattle City Hall should be run “like a five-star hotel.”
Joey Gray boasted of growing an ultimate Frisbee league and said she’s running in part because not enough women were seeking office.
The debate also featured a rare appearance from Doug McQuaid, an attorney who has not done much campaigning. He contended he was the perfect fit because he’s “totally independent.