Mayor Mike McGinn and his challenger for re-election, Sen. Ed Murray, have spent the last several months attacking each other’s records, perhaps because their respective plans for the city’s future are so similar.
Both support a city-based minimum wage. Both say they want to create more low-income housing by increasing the housing levy. Both support a vision for Seattle that’s more compassionate to people who are homeless and/or mentally ill.
Voters’ decisions may come down to which style they prefer: McGinn, the anti-establishment incumbent who’s not afraid to stand up to downtown business interests, or Murray, the unifier who brings warring parties together toward a common goal.
McGinn touts his work reforming the Seattle Police Department and streamlining the city’s Human Services Department. Most recently he organized the Center City Initiative, an effort to coordinate safety, business and mental health services to fight crime without criminalizing poor people.
Now that services are used more efficiently, McGinn hopes to use his second term to expand them, he said.
“When I took office, we were making budget cuts,” McGinn said. “We are now in a position where we have more resources, and we’ve been adding more resources to the system.”
Murray said McGinn has been combative, and that this has slowed city governance, particularly in negotiating with the U.S. Department of Justice on reforming the Seattle Police Department.
“I believe if we had chosen not to go to war with the Justice Department and U.S. Attorney’s office, that we could have avoided that process,” Murray said.
McGinn says Murray hasn’t always succeeded in his own attempts at collaboration. In the last legislative session, Murray was majority chair but Republicans and two conservative Democrats nonetheless took control of the Senate.
The state has cut $10 billion in spending since 2008 and made little progress in finding new revenue, he added.
“Senator Murray has been in Olympia 18 years,” McGinn said. “And we have the most regressive state and local taxes in the nation.”
For his part, McGinn said he has fostered a collaborative relationship between civil rights advocates, the Seattle Police Department, downtown business advocates and human service providers.
Officials have been meeting under the Center City Initiative for the last several months, and this will pay off in 2014, McGinn said.
“We’re not going to end poverty, nor are we going to cure the mental health system in a year,” McGinn said. “But I believe a year from now we will see that we are putting more people into services who need it and helping them move off the streets.”
McGinn’s proposed 2014 budget expands Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), a program that directs low-level drug offenders into chemical dependency treatment rather than jail.
Murray supports LEAD, but said the city also needs more police officers. He called for 100 new officers over the next four years.
The city has grown, Murray said, and it has not hired more police proportionally. More police officers downtown will be especially helpful to homeless people, who are often the first victims of crime, Murray said.
“If you view it as the police also protecting the poor who are victims of crime, then I think people would think it’s a fairly reasonable proposal,” Murray said.
An emphasis on data collection and outcomes has characterized McGinn’s approach to the Seattle Human Services Department. As a result, when a day center or shelter applies for housing, the applicant is required to show how the work aligns with the city’s goal of reducing homelessness.
McGinn said this helps the city make the best use of limited resources.
“How do we determine amongst all of those folks that are doing good work, what is the best way to invest our money?” McGinn said. “I think we do have to ask hard questions about how we achieve the best outcomes.”
Murray disagreed. He said Seattle has been too strict with social services, and more flexibility is needed.
“Often the way we’ve approached it has been to over-prescribe what agencies on the ground can do,” Murray said.
Seattle’s Human Services Department has also suffered high turnover, Murray said. Since McGinn took office, three people have headed the Human Services Department. McGinn appointed Dannette Smith to head the department early in his term, but she often clashed with human services providers, particularly when she attempted to close an outdoor meal program because she felt serving food outdoors was “inhumane.”
Smith left this spring to take a similar position on the East Coast.
“We really do need to identify people who can work in this community and stay in this community within that agency,” Murray said.
If McGinn was truly divisive at any point in his term of office, it was in talks about how to reform the Seattle Police Department following a 2011 study that found that officers had a pattern and practice of excessive force that disproportionately targeted people of color and people with mental illness.
McGinn, City Attorney Pete Holmes and officials from the U.S. Department of Justice sparred over the details, including whether the city needed an independent monitor to oversee reforms over the next three years.
It took a while, but eventually McGinn and U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan stood side-by-side in 2012 to present a 72-page plan for reforming the police department.
The settlement includes an independent monitor to watchdog the city for the next three years. Civil rights advocates wanted a consent decree and an independent monitor, but Murray said with a more collaborative mayor, these steps would’ve been unnecessary.
“I think it’s appalling that we’re under a consent decree,” Murray said.