“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon.” - Dr. Seuss
by Tyler Mangrum
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Last Thursday, Capitol Hill became the center of Seattle’s political universe. Senator Ed Murray and Mayor Mike McGinn sat atop a gaudy floral couch in front of the audience packed into Barboza’s basement and spoke for over an hour on a range of topics that included everything from crime, transportation and the rising cost of living on the Hill, to issues like preserving the neighborhood’s character.
As a Capitol Hill-centric forum, the atmosphere was appropriately off-kilter. Michael Wells, the executive director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, was armed with a gong, which he struck anytime the candidates used words like “parking,” “progressive” or “vibrant,” while the audience got the chance to “vote with their liver” by picking between either a “McGinn & Tonic” or “GingerEd” cocktail.
Rather than engaging in a full debate, questions fielded by moderator Sandy Cioffi of Seattle University, the audience and people on Twitter were answered by the candidates without retort or rebuttal from the other.
McGinn opened with praise for the Hill, and discussed specific plans to improve the neighborhood’s transit system, make its streets safer, and help create more green buildings.“Capitol Hill is an absolutely fantastic neighborhood, and it has so many wonderful things to offer,” McGinn said. “When I think about the future of Capitol Hill, there are a bunch of different things I think about. One is that it’s such an artistic and creative place… the 12th best in the nation, so we want to continue to invest in arts and public spaces…We also want it to be a place where everyone can belong.”
Murray began by touting his long-term residency on the Hill, and his work with the state legislature in improving the neighborhood.
“I have lived on Capitol Hill for 29 years,” Murray said to a large round of cheers. “We’ve seen the Hill go through some tough times, and we’ve seen the hill come back. It is Seattle’s first urban village… I’ve been happy to represent you for 18 years, and we’ve been able to do things with the city like help find state money to help rebuild Cal Anderson Park, to put new buildings on Seattle Central Community College’s campus, and, hopefully, someday, to re-landscape that campus so it fits in with the Hill and Broadway. In particular, [I] fought against those who tried to stop the light rail, so it’s actually coming here, and [I] put money into arts like the Hugo House, and that’s what I want to continue doing as mayor.”
Cioffi opened the forum with a round of questions regarding the affordable housing crisis on the Hill, namely helping the Hill become more affordable to people besides “young, single men who are wealthy or working in the software industry.”
In their responses, both candidates voiced support for the controversial growth of micro-housing as a way of offering affordable, low-rent options. Murray, who had previously offered up few strategies for assisting renters, emphasized the importance of making sure that people of all income levels and age groups could live in the neighborhood, possibly by increasing the Housing Trust Fund at the state level.
“I think that we have to find a way to really find the incentives for developers to build it, that’s part of the answer,” Murray said. “But the city also gives all the permits. If you build a high-rent apartment building, you get permitted by the city. We need to capture that data, analyze it, and put some programs in place to try and get at it.”
McGinn’s response largely mirrored Murray’s agenda, but the incumbent also stressed the importance in affordable transportation.
“The basic issue is that we’re seeing many more jobs created than housing units, and the price is now getting bid up,” McGinn said. “So one solution is taking a look at the Housing Levy renewal, which helps subsidize affordable housing, and taking a look at how high we can go while still maintaining voter support. Different types of housing is definitely part of it, micro-housing and other housing types matter. Affordable transportation matters, too. For most people, the second highest household expense is transportation. A good transit system really puts money in your pocket, and that’s a piece of the puzzle.”
When asked by an audience member about the possibility of introducing rent control, an issue that both have shied away from, Murray and McGinn noted that the option could make it harder for new people to move to the Hill, and that even if they supported it, the state would first have to lift its ban on rent-controlled housing.
Given the jump in crime on the Hill over summer, a large segment of the forum focused in on how both candidates would ensure that neighborhood residents can walk the streets without fear. McGinn, who has maintained that crime is down overall despite Murray’s assertions to the contrary, admitted that more could be done to help people feel safer, like his decision to leave the lights on at Cal Anderson Park at night.
“Often times, if you can identify and catch the right people, you can see [crime] go down, because it’s usually not someone who does this once, it’s usually a group of people who do it repeatedly,” McGinn said. “So, we’re working with different types of operations to catch the perpetrators as well as prevent it. I also think we have to look at community-based solutions to get people home safely late at night, and there’s a wide variety of ways to do that.”
Murray, who is homosexual, focused in on the issue of the recent rise of gay bashings within the neighborhood.
“Several decades ago, when I was young, we went through a rash of [gay bashings],” Murray said. “We spent time with the police so they could be trained to identify behaviors or types of behaviors that would happen before they were happening. This place is so popular now that you have people who are coming from [off the Hill] and they don’t necessarily understand the diversity we have here, and have been bad actors. Identifying those [people] and training the police to identify them is one of the ways we address that problem.”
Both candidates stressed adding new police officers to the Hill, and touched on the importance of homelessness as a cause of crime, using the Affordable Care Act to help the homeless community suffering from medical or psychological disorders receive treatment.
Outside the dominant issues of crime and affordable housing, Murray and McGinn briefly touched on subjects like increasing the minimum wage to $15, which both candidates now offer support for, while still calling on a measured approach of studying its impact. Additionally, each voiced interest in preserving historic buildings to keep the existing character of the neighborhood alive. McGinn stated that he does not currently have a solution to preservation the character, but will continue working with neighborhood groups to strengthen efforts to preserve historic buildings and possibly instigate stricter design reviews, while Murray suggested revisiting zoning rules for the Hill to avoid the construction of “McMansions.”
At the end of the night, Murray came out the winner of the drinks tally, with 65 Ginger Eds sold to McGinn’s 27 McGinn & Tonic.