In an address that was both pragmatic and optimistic about the role of government in solving problems, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray Tuesday vowed to address issues such as income inequality and global warming, as well as the city’s crumbling residential streets and rapid neighborhood growth.
“Local government has always served as the laboratory of democracy in America,” Murray told a standing-room only crowd at City Hall. “We have the opportunity to again lead on disparity in pay and housing, on urban policing, on the environment and universal pre-[kindergarten].”
In his first State of the City speech, Murray tried to tap into the energy and excitement over the Seahawks Super Bowl win. He praised the team as “very Seattle” in its intelligence, focus on fundamentals and innovative leadership.
But his delivery undercut the message of enthusiasm. Murray read from a 19-page script and often stumbled over words.
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“It wasn’t what I would call an inspirational speech,” said Councilmember Nick Licata. “He was really giving a report on the challenges the city faces and how he intends to meet them.”
Murray called the high cost of living in Seattle a crisis and said he would convene a stakeholder group to recommend plans for more affordable housing that he would present to the City Council in fall.
He reiterated his support for a $15-an-hour minimum wage, noting that since 2000, the top 20 percent of income earners in Seattle have brought home more money than the bottom 80 percent.
“We can increase the income and purchasing power of low-wage workers while protecting small businesses, retaining jobs and fostering economic development throughout the region,” Murray said.
Council member Kshama Sawant, who serves on the mayor’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee that is supposed to deliver a minimum-wage proposal to the City Council at the end of April, said she was pleased to hear the mayor reiterate his support for a $15 minimum wage, but wanted assurances that exceptions wouldn’t be made for some businesses or types of employees.
“It’s time for elected officials to say that there will be no carve-outs, no loopholes, no exceptions to the $15 minimum wage,” Sawant said after the speech.
Murray also announced a citywide Neighborhood Summit on April 5 for residents to talk about growth, neighborhood character and the future of development. He said he wanted to create new ways for residents to be involved in decisions that affect their neighborhoods.
Murray noted that the city’s big infrastructure projects — the new seawall, viaduct replacement tunnel and the new Highway 520 bridge — fundamentally are safety projects made more critical by climate change and its impact on the city including higher tides and more severe storms.
Murray signaled his support for a permanent parks levy, saying it was time for the city to be frank about the $270 million maintenance backlog facing the parks system. He also suggested that he was already thinking about a new Bridging the Gap levy in 2015 to address the poor condition of the city’s residential streets.
Several times in the address he thanked City Council members for their leadership on issues including major transportation projects and planning for universal prekindergarten. His willingness to work with the council was welcomed after four years of adversarial relations with Former Mayor McGinn.
“Murray has seen a mayor and a council at odds and he’s seen a mayor and council getting things done. I think he realizes the importance of working cooperatively and collaboratively,” said Councilmember Tom Rasmussen.
Lynn Thompson: email@example.com or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes