In their final televised debate, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and state Sen. Ed Murray clashed Tuesday night over police reform, who is to blame for pockmarked city streets and the fairness of negative attack ads attempting to blame the mayor for a rise in domestic violence.
The hourlong debate on Seattle public television station KCTS and on KUOW Radio was a mostly genteel affair as the two men displayed nuanced disagreements on some policy issues and, at one point, shared laughs about their shared Irish heritage.
If recent polls showing Murray with a double-digit lead are accurate, McGinn may have needed a knockout blow or a gaffe from his rival to make up ground with two weeks remaining before ballots are counted.
McGinn didn’t get anything that decisive, though he did put the heat on Murray over misleading TV ads being aired by a political-action committee, and he got Murray to backtrack some on his earlier opposition to a new city soda tax.
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The ads portray McGinn as indifferent to the problem of battered women, attempting to tie an increase in some serious domestic assaults to a city reorganization that eliminated the city office of domestic violence and shuffled its functions into a larger human-services division. Experts have told The Seattle Times the link between that move and a crime spike was dubious.
Murray refused to repudiate the ads, though he called the unproven tie to an increase in domestic violence “unfortunate.” He continued to attack McGinn’s decision to close the city’s dedicated domestic-violence office, saying “this has not been an administration that has responded to a crisis that is rising.”
McGinn challenged Murray, noting the city has increased spending on domestic-violence services in recent years.
“A lot of people have stepped forward and said this is wrong and overtly political,” McGinn said. “I really do think you ought to take it down.”
For his part, Murray continued to put McGinn on the defensive over his at-times combative response to the Justice Department’s effort to force reforms of the Seattle Police Department due to overuse of force.
Murray cited a letter sent this week by U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan and another top Justice Department official that criticized McGinn’s role in the reform negotiations.
Murray asked McGinn whether he’d consent to the release of some confidential records Justice Department officials suggest would contradict some of McGinn’s statements about his role in creating a new citizen oversight commission.
“Yeah, I’d be happy to release all the documents because I think there has been a lot of misinformation about this,” McGinn replied.
McGinn acknowledged the Justice Department had always wanted some form of community involvement in the police-reform process — something he has not always been clear about when seeking credit for the new police commission.
When it came to the proposal for a new soda tax, something McGinn has floated as a way to pay for city parks, McGinn got Murray to soften his previous blanket opposition.
The 1-cent-an-ounce tax on soda and other sugary drinks, which McGinn has suggested could raise $29 million a year for city parks, was previously panned by Murray, who cited a statewide vote rejecting a similar tax two years ago.
McGinn suggested Murray opposed the idea now because he has received donations from soda companies.
Murray bristled at that, and questioned the seriousness of McGinn’s proposal, noting the mayor had floated the idea at a political forum but failed to include it in his budget plan released two days before that.
Murray said the proposed tax would not raise enough money to take care of the $200 million-plus maintenance backlog facing Seattle parks and said he favored creation of a parks taxing district that would actually solve the problem.
But after being pressed by McGinn, Murray said he’d consider supporting a soda tax — “for health issues, but not for parks.”
When asked about Seattle roads, both candidates agreed they’re in need of fixing but pointed at one another.
Murray said the city had failed to keep up with basic maintenance, and noted voters had rejected a transportation package McGinn had placed on the ballot. Whether you bike or drive, “those chuckholes hit us all,” he said, suggesting the next city-streets measure must state clearly what voters will get for their taxes.
McGinn blamed the state Legislature for failing to pass more local tax options for street repair and transit, saying Murray needed to “take a look at his own record on this one.”
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner