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Tempers Flare In Seattle Mayor's Race

As the August 6 primary draws near, the Seattle mayor’s race is heating up.

Candidates are now engaged in almost daily debates and forums, and some are getting testy.
At last night’s debate sponsored by CityClub of Seattle, five candidates took to the stage, but at times it seemed like a fight between just two of them: incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn and State Senator Ed Murray.

At one point, Murray and McGinn began bickering just out of range of the microphones. Candidate Bruce Harrell was so distracted that he had to ask moderator Joni Balter to repeat the next question.

“Is the mayor interrupting?” asked Balter. “No, we’re just muttering here,” Mayor McGinn replied.

In the forums and debates so far, incumbent McGinn has been a frequent target, in particular over his handling of problems within the city’s police department. But last night, McGinn made a fervent defense of his administration’s police reforms.  

“These are institutional practices that have been swept under the rug for decades, and under this administration, we confronted them,” McGinn said. “We’re all pulling together on reform, we’re in a good place right now."

But it wasn’t just McGinn in the hot seat. Senator Ed Murray has been campaigning as the candidate who can build coalitions and get things done. Former City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck said Murray has failed to do that in Olympia.

“Coalition building is crucial and it starts in the legislature, it has been a disaster this session, with the failure to pass a transportation package, the loss of the Senate to the Republicans. Where is this bi-partisan cooperation that we need, where is the coalition building?” Steinbrueck said.

Senator Murray has been picking up the bulk of the endorsements and money in the race in recent weeks. Only the top two vote-getters will make it through the primary.

Last night’s debate at the Seattle Central Library began with a minor altercation. Mayoral candidate Kate Martin arrived to find she had no seat at the table. Only five candidates had been invited to the event, and Martin was eventually escorted from the stage, under protest.  

"They are denying me a seat. It's not appropriate. What kind of organization are you?" Martin asked.

Bruce Harrell tried to intervene on her behalf, and throughout the evening, other candidates repeatedly expressed support for her.  

“I am disappointed she is not sitting with us tonight,” said businessman Charlie Staadecker, to applause. “She has some very excellent ideas and should be heard.”

According to executive director Diane Douglas, CityClub has a long-standing policy of carefully choosing candidates for its debates. The organization’s board of directors applies a set of criteria in deciding which candidates are "most viable." Those include money raised, endorsements and standing in the polls.

That policy is reviewed every few years, and given last night’s audience response, “it’s appropriate for us to consider it again,” Douglas said.

After the CityClub debate, the candidates moved over the Showbox for a more light-hearted campaign event.

Candidate Survivor, sponsored by the Stranger and Washington Bus, is modeled after the popular TV series in which contestants are voted off the island. Last night the candidates had to answer both policy questions and embarrassing personal questions and also perform a talent.

Under questioning, it emerged that Peter Steinbrueck is the only candidate who has ever skinny-dipped in Lake Washington. Every candidate except Bruce Harrell admitted to having smoked pot, and Peter Steinbrueck and Kate Martin both said they have smoked pot since it was legalized.

The talent show featured Mayor McGinn juggling, Bruce Harrell and Kate Martin singing, and Ed Murray in a skit with cross-dressing campaign advisors who questioned him on his policy positions and then dismissed his answers as “gay, gay, gay, gay, gay!”

In the end, the election was close, but for the Showbox audience, Mike McGinn was the choice for next city’s mayor.

The rest of the electorate gets to decide in the primary on August 6. Ballots will begin to arrive in the mail this week.

Year started with KUOW: 2005