Seattle mayor's race heats up as candidates get aggressive during KOMO debate

SEATTLE - The already heated race between the two men vying to be the next Mayor of Seattle reached a fevered new pitch Saturday night as Mike McGinn and Ed Murray clashed for a televised debate at the KOMO News studios.

The two men fielded questions on topics including neighborhood development, police accountability, their own leadership records and a proposal to run hundreds of coal trains through Seattle.

On crime and a recent spate of violent attacks in Seattle, Murray said as mayor he would work to move people off the streets who are in despair, he would retrain police officers and would search for a new police chief in Seattle and elsewhere.

"We need to have a search that is national for a new chief," said Murray.

McGinn said his most recent budget included funding to hire 52 new police officers. But he said it was more than just hiring more people, instead he said it would be about deploying and using them in a smarter way through neighborhood police plans.

"Getting them out of their cars, onto the streets and into the crime hotspots," said McGinn. "We're trying to take a holistic approach."

On development and whether Seattle was at risk of losing its unique identity because of the explosive building boom, McGinn began by pointing out how the city's economy had improved in the four years since he took office. But he said he had a plan for the next four years as well.

"We are adding jobs and housing, but how do we keep Seattle special?" asked McGinn. "It's how we invest in our places and people."

McGinn promised a better parks levy in the future, a light rail expansion plan for voters by 2016 and an effort to convince state lawmakers to expand transit funding in King County.

Murray said if elected he would go back to neighborhood groups to help the city grow and decide what Seattle looks like in the future. He promised a 'neighborhood summit' within his first 100 days.

"We also have to do something about transportation particularly," said Murray. "We are too often involved in 'road wars' - we need to move bikes, buses and cars through neighborhoods."

Later in the debate the two men sparred over Murray's record in the state legislature. McGinn accused Murray of a failure of leadership in the state senate. Murray said he was proud of that record and accused McGinn, a democrat, of attacking democrats in Olympia. McGinn praised democrats Governor Jay Inslee and House Speaker Frank Chopp, but then stopped short of sharing that praise with Murray.

Both candidates said they supported a higher minimum wage in Seattle.

Reaction to the debate was instant on social media with voters sharing opinions on Facebook and Twitter.

"All I hear from these two is higher taxes, taxes, taxes, just put into different terms!" said James Winston on the KOMO News Facebook page.

Alexander Semritc posted about Sen. Murray.

"He seems to be proud of what he's done, but he has been a major part of the Olympia problem," wrote Semritc. "From him he single-handedly held back the Republican minority from destroying the State."

Voters on Twitter had strong opinions as well

"Why would anyone in Seattle vote for McGinn again? Nice work in not answering the question," tweeted Paul Brender.

"Sen. Murray uses words of "raise revenue" gee doesn't that mean take other people's money? Last I check Seattle can't print money," tweeted @ElucidateAll .

The last question asked of the candidates was to tell voters what their number one priority would be in the first 100 days if elected.

McGinn said as mayor "you never get to pick just one thing" and so he listed multiple priorities including universal preschool, financing to better connect neighborhoods through bus and rail, stopping coal trains through the city, decreasing the use of fossil fuels, improving wages and benefits for the working class and public safety.

Murray said his top priority would be finding a new police chief and reforming the police department. He said his next priorities would include holding a neighborhood summit on growth and addressing affordability of housing and employment in Seattle.

A new poll by a group called Washington Conservation Voters was released this week. The poll shows Murray leading with 52% of the vote to McGinn's 28%. The poll does show a full 20% of voters saying they are undecided.

Expect several more weeks of vigorous campaigning before the November 5th mayor election in Seattle.