State Sen. Ed Murray is forming an exploratory committee for a possible challenge to Mayor Mike McGinn in the 2013 Seattle mayoral race.

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Before a crowd of cheering supporters on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, state Sen. Ed Murray Wednesday announced he’s forming an exploratory committee for a run against Mayor Mike McGinn in 2013.

The Washington native stood before a wall of bumper stickers that said, “Murray for Mayor.” But the veteran politician said he couldn’t fully declare, because he wouldn’t be able to raise money or seek endorsements for the race while the Legislature is in session.

Murray said his first responsibility was to the state Senate, where he was recently elected majority leader. And he cautioned that the session could extend into June, potentially undermining any viable campaign.

“You can’t announce a campaign when the candidate is going to disappear for three months, which is what I’m going to do,” Murray said.

Murray’s longtime partner, Michael Shiosaki, stood beside Murray at the afternoon news conference. The audience was filled with longtime supporters, as well as young activists who campaigned with him to affirm the state’s landmark gay-marriage law in November.

The Democratic lawmaker has represented Seattle’s 43rd Legislative District since 1995 and chaired both the House Transportation Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Although his professional work has focused on state issues, he showed a deft grasp of Seattle city issues Wednesday as he fielded questions from the media.

He said his first priority would be providing leadership to rebuild the morale of the police department and restore public trust in the force. He wants to work with Seattle Public Schools and the city’s universities to create an excellent urban education system and keep families in the city. And, he said, Seattle needs regional partners to develop an efficient public transit system.

“Density and growth won’t work unless we address transit. We can’t do it by ourselves. We have to come together as a region and go to the state, the feds and find other revenue sources,” he said.

Murray helped win state funding for the Highway 99 tunnel, which McGinn fought during his first two years in office. In one of his only indirect references to the current mayor, Murray said, “we’ve had a series of mayors and city councils that have not been able to build good relationships with the state.”

Murray’s been rumored as a possible mayoral candidate for years. He floated the idea of a write-in campaign for mayor when McGinn and another political neophyte, Joe Mallahan, knocked incumbent Greg Nickels out of the primary in 2009.

City Councilmember Tim Burgess last week became the first high-profile candidate to announce he would challenge McGinn.

In an interview earlier this week, Murray said he plans to reach out during the next few months to neighborhood groups, as well as business and civic leaders to gauge support. “Do I think a good number of people will come and help and support, yes, but, man, I cannot take it for granted,” Murray said. “Burgess is a solid council member. McGinn is the last person I would write off. This is the guy who defeated an incumbent mayor. I have some work to do before I can have a full campaign for mayor.”

It’s not like Murray would be starting from scratch or suffers from a lack of name recognition, given the high-profile issues he’s been in the middle of, including transportation and gay marriage.

The district he represents includes Capitol Hill, the University District, Madison Park and Wallingford, as well as parts of Fremont, Ravenna and downtown Seattle. He’s easily won re-election from the 43rd, often running unopposed. The district accounts for roughly 23 percent of the Seattle electorate.

Legislature could delay campaign

Navigating the upcoming legislative session likely will be challenging. Murray was recently elected Senate majority leader by his caucus. But the Senate is narrowly split between the parties, and two conservative Democrats have threatened to cross party lines and essentially give Republicans control of the Senate. It’s not clear what will happen next, or whether Murray will remain majority leader.

Beyond that, there’s a new Democratic governor, Jay Inslee, who will bring a new cast of players into the process. The Legislature also has another large budget shortfall to plug and no obvious fix.

George Allen, vice president for government relations at the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said the business community will not commit to a candidate until the field shakes out. “We’re holding off until the field is really developed,” he said.

The chamber’s political group will look for a collaborative problem-solver with a good understanding of what it takes to run a business, he said. He wouldn’t comment on how well he thinks McGinn has lived up to those qualities.

The Washington Conservation Voters did not endorse either candidate for mayor in the 2009 general election, and executive director Brendon Cechovic said the organization will “take a hard look” at several candidates next year.

“Murray has been a tremendous partner” on environmental issues, he said, taking the lead on major Puget Sound restoration bills in the Legislature and helping fund environmental efforts.

His agenda

Murray has an extensive agenda if he were to run for election and wins. His top priority will be the police department.

“We need to support our police officers, but we also need to move this police department forward beyond these problems,” he said, referring to the U.S. Department of Justice’s oversight of reforms in the Seattle Police Department.

“We’ve got great cops, but we have a problem at the top in terms of leadership. This is not a functional department, and the issue of leadership rests entirely, unlike any other part of city government, with the mayor. I’d like to get a handle on that.”

Other issues he wants to address include making sure the city is prepared for climate change. “We need to do a complete stress test on the infrastructure of this city, our water, our sewer, our power grid. We need to take those capital investment steps. We have to look at the basics around infrastructure and the changing climate.”

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8266 or Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8306 or lthomspon@seattletimes. Material from Times reporter Emily Heffter and Times archives was used in this report.