McGinn, Murray spar over public safety, soda tax

SEATTLE -- The Seattle mayor’s race is heating up, and in just a couple weeks ballots are mailed out. Incumbent Mike McGinn and his challenger state Sen. Ed Murray faced off Thursday night at a forum in downtown Seattle that centered on the themes of downtown parks and public safety.

Murray argued the mayor hasn’t cracked down hard enough on crime, especially downtown. Murray wants an overhaul of the Seattle Police Department, a new chief and 100 new officers to help keep people safe.

“What I hear from police officers is they are looking for a clear message from leadership about what they want to have happen and what we want them to do on the streets,” Murray said.

McGinn said he would add 15 officers next year, arguing that the problem with downtown crime is not simply about police.

“We did a study of the 50 most problematic individuals downtown,” McGinn said. “They’ve been arrested 2,500 times. So, police officers and arrests and enforcement, part of the failed war on drugs in many cases, is only a piece of the solution.”

McGinn made some waves when he called for a new tax on sugar drinks, arguing that it’s the solution to the chronic underfunding of the city’s parks and open spaces.

“A 1-cent an ounce tax on sugar sweetened beverages could generate $21 to $29 million a year,” McGinn said. “This I think would be a fabulous potential funding source.”

Murray instead favors something called a Metropolitan Park District, which would be a permanent property tax assessment.

“We have a $250 million backlog in our major maintenance in our parks and $29 million isn’t going to get us there,” Murray said. “We should seriously look at enacting that mechanism as a permanent ongoing source that can’t be taken away during bad times to maintain our parks and the operation of our parks.”

The candidates also got into it over transportation funding and whether not having enough funding was Murray’s fault, since a state transportation package failed to make it out of Olympia, or whether it is McGinn’s fault since his plan to increase the vehicle license fee a few years back failed with city voters.