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Originally published April 29, 2013 at 9:58 PM | Page modified April 30, 2013 at 1:50 PM

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Police Department troubles top agenda at Seattle mayoral debate

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn defended his record on the Seattle Police Department against criticism from political rivals in one of the first major mayoral debates Monday night.

Seattle Times staff reporters

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Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn defended his record on the Seattle Police Department against criticism from seven political rivals in one of the first major mayoral debates of the campaign Monday night.

With several of his challengers citing recent SPD troubles as a prime reason for their running, McGinn rose to “set the record clear.”

Noting the police union wanted him to “fight to the death” federal findings that the department had used excessive force, McGinn said he “worked to negotiate and get a reform package that worked for Seattle’s needs.” He noted the creation of a new civilian oversight commission that will bring together officers and critics of the department.

But McGinn’s challengers repeatedly said he’d failed to solve long-running issues within the department or to restore trust with the community.

And many of them said the November election would be about leadership.

“There is a reason seven people are challenging this mayor,” said City Councilmember Bruce Harrell. “People want to believe again.”

People in a standing-room- only crowd numbering more than 150 shouted out their own opinions, cheered and booed as the candidates answered some unconventional questions, such as what they have on their iPods and which phone apps are their favorites.

The questions were posed by moderator C.R. Douglas, political commentator for Q13 Fox.

McGinn laughed at many jokes aimed at him, including Douglas’ introduction that the 2009 mayor’s race was interesting because of McGinn and that this race was again interesting “because of McGinn.”

Amid the lighthearted questions, some serious issues were also addressed.

State Sen. Ed Murray, when asked to describe his biggest political regret, said it was seeing the state pass a Defense of Marriage Act in 1998.

“That happened on my watch,” he said. But he added that his defeats became the state’s success when voters approved gay marriage in November.

Peter Steinbrueck said strong leadership is needed to plan for multiple complex projects the city is undertaking, including six new transit stations, a new 520 bridge and a redesigned waterfront. He said the next mayor will need to balance growth with quality of life.

Several candidates didn’t seem to know how to respond to a question about a recent news story that Seattle has the worst gender pay gap in the country.

Seattle businessman Charlie Staadecker said increased education and expanding opportunities in biotech and life sciences would address the problem. City Councilmember Tim Burgess said if everyone had daughters like his, “the problem would self-correct.”

Harrell drew applause for saying institutional practices must change and legal action be considered. He said a difference between McGinn and him is that when he heard the news, he went to the Seattle Women’s Commission and said, “Let’s develop a work plan.”

All the candidates said “no” when asked if the city should continue to pay the salary of police-union president, Rich O’Neill. Almost all said current conditions at the tent city Nickelsville — rat infestation, no running water, plumbing or electricity — were unacceptable and should be addressed.

Greenwood activist Kate Martin said the city needs to stop spending money for “disjointed incrementalism” and do more long-range planning.

Socialist Workers Party candidate Mary Martin answered nearly every question with a variant on the same theme: Replace capitalism with government control by the workers.

An awkward silence followed Staadecker’s admission that he had a picture on his iPhone of a naked girl. Then to laughter he explained it was his newborn granddaughter. He also got laughs when he said his three top advisers were, “My wife, my wife, my wife.”

Burgess concluded the forum on a more serious note. “This campaign is about a quality of leadership in the Mayor’s Office that will restore confidence in government.”

Lynn Thompson: lthompson@seattletimes.com or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes

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