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After listening to both Seattle mayoral candidates debate downtown crime and disorder Tuesday, I can report back that something has shifted.

Nobody is saying Seattle doesn’t have a serious problem anymore. Maybe it was the killing the other night
of Shoreline Community College professor Troy Wolff after a Sounders game, knifed, randomly, by a mentally ill homeless man. Maybe it was the King County sheriff announcing, unexpectedly, that his own wife is scared to walk around downtown.

Or maybe it’s just that there’s an election in seven weeks. But now both candidates for mayor are attacking the other for being soft, passive and ineffective about an issue that a month ago we were told was under control.

Mayor Mike McGinn this week called the presence of so many untreated mentally ill people on the streets “an emergency.” At Tuesday’s debate he blamed his challenger, Ed Murray, accusing him of both forsaking the mentally ill and letting felons onto the streets unsupervised during Murray’s time in the Legislature.

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“It’s a pretty neat trick to release felons with less supervision and cut mental-health treatment, and then run for mayor of Seattle saying that the streets are meaner,” McGinn said, twice, during a debate in West Seattle. “That’s not holding himself accountable for his own actions.”

McGinn was referring to Murray’s sponsorship of a measure in 2011 to cut back on parole supervision of lower-risk offenders once they’ve been released from prison. The state did this to save money.

“We were building more prisons than community colleges,” Murray said by way of explanation, noting it was widely supported by Democrats.

Murray attacked back, accusing the mayor of ignoring downtown’s problems for years.

“We need to start by acknowledging we have a problem, which this mayor has not done,” he said.

I give them a gold star for finally getting to the crux of what the public cares about. But the problem for voters is this: There’s not a whit of difference between Murray and McGinn on the issue.

Does anyone believe that if Mike McGinn had been in the Legislature two years ago, he wouldn’t also have voted to cut back on parole supervision? He would have done just as Murray did.

And does anyone believe that if Ed Murray becomes mayor, he would deviate from the current practice of limiting police arrests downtown in favor of social services and treatment? No. Murray has been endorsed by one of the architects of the social-work approach, City Attorney Pete Holmes.

(The question I wanted to ask is: To divert low-level offenders into treatment or Community Court, don’t you have to arrest them first? It seems like the strategy now is to just leave offenders out there on the streets to be contacted by social workers.)

The debate got fiery Tuesday. All the candidates did was blame each other, but that means they finally agree we have a problem. In politics around here, that counts as progress.

Speaking of progress, Gov. Jay Inslee appears to have cooled off, for now, the absurd union versus union fight over four jobs that idled Bertha the tunnel drill on the waterfront for a month. He did it by telling the unions they were starting to embarrass Seattle and the state.

I went by Tuesday afternoon, and the longshore workers had ended their picketing, just like that. So even though the dispute is not over, Bertha allegedly is about to get back to her boring work.

I haven’t written much kind about Inslee. He’s nearing 250 days in office, and in my view has yet to give much hint of what his governorship is even going to be about. This is the first time I can recall that he’s shown real leadership and gotten some results.

It would be graceless — even for me — to grump “about time.” So instead: Good job, governor. More like this, please.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or

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