The “Changing Seattle” was the first major clash between the candidates for mayor in the Nov. 7 general election, and was supposed to spotlight issues related to growth, affordable housing and homelessness.
In a debate Tuesday night overshadowed by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s abrupt resignation, Cary Moon pitched big ideas, while Jenny Durkan tried to play the pragmatist.
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The “Changing Seattle” debate was the first major, head-to-head clash between the candidates for mayor in the city’s Nov. 7 general election and was supposed to spotlight issues related to growth, affordable housing and homelessness.
But new allegations of child sexual abuse against Murray and his decision to step down took center stage as the debate at Seattle University’s Pigott Auditorium between Moon, a planner and civic activist, and Durkan, a former U.S. attorney, got underway.
Asked whether the mayor had made the right choice in resigning and whether he should have left office earlier, Moon noted that she called for it months ago.
Accused then by four men, Murray now faces allegations by five who say he sexually abused them when they were teenagers decades ago.
“I’m sorry it took so long,” Moon said. “Using the bully pulpit of the mayor’s office to defend yourself and demean and victim-blame is an abuse of public trust.”
Durkan, who accepted Murray’s endorsement in June but removed his name from her campaign site Tuesday afternoon, had previously stopped short of calling on the mayor to resign. She said the new allegations made his resignation the right move.
The debate presented by the Seattle University Project on Family Homelessness and Solid Ground, with media sponsors The Seattle Times and Crosscut, moved on at a quick pace, with the candidates answering a barrage of wonky questions about housing and homelessness policy.
Moon stood out as she promised new solutions to Seattle’s difficulties with gentrification, soaring housing costs and street poverty — problems plaguing an otherwise prosperous city powered by construction and tech-industry booms.
She called for a capital-gains tax on the rich, a more progressive business tax aimed at large employers, and a potential tax on vacant properties.
New revenues could be used to help people of modest means by investing in public housing, Moon said, criticizing a Durkan-backed Murray homelessness plan for relying too heavily on short-term rent vouchers.
A significant moment came when the candidates were asked whether Seattle should, like New York City, adopt a “right to shelter” — a legal obligation to shelter anyone and everyone who asks for help.
“Yes,” Moon said. “We sort of have this system where we provide housing as it becomes available instead of housing as a right.”
Durkan’s response jibed with the way she handled some other exchanges: She brushed past the question to reiterate her values.
“I won’t need a law to tell me that housing is a human right,” Durkan said. “I’m going to work as hard as I can to make sure people are brought off the street.”
Durkan seemed strongest as she sharpened lines of attack against her opponent, slamming some Moon proposals — the capital-gains tax, for instance — as overly optimistic, because of legal issues or a need for the Legislature’s approval.
The attorney challenged the planner to cite recent management experience, prompting Moon to recall her time running her family’s Michigan business years ago.
And Durkan claimed that Moon has said she would “start over” on the city’s approach to housing rather than steam ahead with Murray’s plan, which requires private developers to help create affordable units in return for neighborhood upzones.
“We’ve got to be honest with voters,” she said. “We need relief now.”
Moon also took the fight to her opponent, challenging Durkan to clearly state her support or opposition for a plan brewing at City Hall to help people living in vehicles.
Moon backs the plan under development by Councilmember Mike O’Brien, which could ease parking enforcement and provide safe zones for people in a housing-placement program.
Later, the candidate said she believes reserving blocks of large lots for single-family houses creates “a class system” where only people with certain incomes can live in certain neighborhoods.