Mayor Mike McGinn and state Sen. Ed Murray went after each other’s records and effectiveness in the first of three televised debates of the Seattle mayor’s race Wednesday.

Murray criticized McGinn’s leadership of the police department and his opposition to the deep-bore tunnel, after announcing on the eve of the 2009 election that he wouldn’t interfere in its construction.

Murray also attacked McGinn for holding a news conference this spring to say guns collected in a January gun buyback would be melted down into peace bricks, even though at the time of the announcement, McGinn knew the guns had already been destroyed by the Police Department.

“How can we as a city trust you?” Murray asked the mayor.

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McGinn repeatedly questioned Murray’s effectiveness in the
Legislature, noting that the state is 43rd in the nation in education funding in the nation and last in mental-health beds.

McGinn said that he consistently opposed leaving the city on the hook for cost overruns from tunnel construction. A clause in the tunnel-funding legislation says Seattle property owners who benefit from the tunnel will pay for cost overruns.

“I raised an important question. The question remains unanswered. Sen. Murray’s position is that it’s all right for everyone to be angry at me for asking a question like that rather than just answering the question,” McGinn said. “We also saw that (neither Gov. Chris) Gregoire nor Murray, despite his vaunted influence in Olympia, had the power to get it changed.”

The two candidates have met almost nightly over the past month in forums sponsored by neighborhood groups and advocacy organizations. McGinn has often been the more animated and detailed on the workings of city government while Murray has sometimes seemed not completely engaged or well-informed.

But in the KING 5 debate, moderated by anchor Dennis Bounds, Murray seemed more poised and on-point, while McGinn repeated familiar talking points several times, such as that he held 153 town halls during his time in office and that there’s no such thing as a mayor’s school.

“I can’t even tell you how many I’ve had,” Murray said, describing his efforts in being accessible to the public.

According to his legislative aide, Curtis Knapp, Murray has had one big town hall, one telephone town hall, and three public, issue-based meetings this year. In a typical year, he holds three or four town halls, said campaign spokesman Sandeep Kaushik.

Questions were posed by Seattle journalists Jim Brunner of The Seattle Times, Linda Brill of KING 5 and Dave Ross of KIRO Radio. The other televised debates are Saturday and Oct. 22. The election is Nov. 5.

Murray decried McGinn’s resistance to a settlement agreement with “the Obama Justice Department” over use of force and biased policing by Seattle police, suggesting that a Democratic mayor should have been able to work on reform with a Democratic administration without a lawsuit being brought against the city.

McGinn said he wanted the community brought into the negotiations and didn’t agree to settle until the feds signed off on creation of a Community Police Commission that brings civil-rights groups, minority communities and police to the table to negotiate reform.

“This is an opportunity to fix something. It’s embarrassing that we had complaints about police brutality against communities of color for 20 years and we didn’t do anything about it,” McGinn said to applause from the audience, which had been invited by the two campaigns.

Murray countered: “The disappointment was that after 20 years of racially biased policing, when the Obama administration came to us, we didn’t work with them.”

McGinn criticized Murray for his lack of oversight on the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee (SDCC), which he co-chaired last year. The former executive director of the SDCC, Michael King, pleaded guilty last week to embezzling up to $330,000 in campaign donations.

Democratic leaders have acknowledged that money could have turned around a tight Senate race last year in Southwest Washington. Instead, the loss handed the
Senate majority to a Republican-dominated coalition.

“You just heard Sen. Murray do it again,” McGinn said, in an echo of Ronald Reagan’s “There he goes again” remark in a 1980 debate with President Jimmy Carter. McGinn said, “He was the chair. A key race was lost by 74 votes. On the issue of executive leadership, this was Sen. Murray’s job and he didn’t succeed at it.”

Both candidates were pressed on their support for raising the minimum wage in Seattle to $15. McGinn said he withheld support for a new Whole Foods store in West Seattle because the nonunion grocer would depress wages for workers in existing unionized stores in the area. “Some might even say it’s a divisive conversation, but it’s the right conversation to have,” McGinn said.

Murray said that if the city wants to change its land-use regulations to include consideration of an employer’s wages, “it needs to develop policies to implement that and not decide that one store can’t be in one place.”

McGinn said he’d like to see Seattle become the first city in the nation to set the minimum wage at $15.

Seattle Times reporters Jim Brunner and Emily Heffter contributed to this story.

Lynn Thompson: or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes