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Originally published Friday, June 28, 2013 at 9:11 PM

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Morning attack just latest in string of downtown assaults

The morning assault of the president of the Seattle Hotel Association underscores concerns about crime and disorder downtown.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Three weeks ago, David Watkins, president of the Seattle Hotel Association, was asking pointed questions at a forum of Seattle mayoral candidates about downtown crime and street disorder.

Friday morning, on his way to a 9 a.m. meeting at the city’s tourism office, Watkins was assaulted at Third Avenue and Pike Street, in the heart of the city’s retail district and a main corridor between downtown and Pike Place Market.

Watkins said the suspect was angry, swearing loudly and had just struck another pedestrian in the neck before crossing the street and punching Watkins in the back and shoving him into the street.

King County sheriff's deputies on duty nearby pulled the man off a bus and turned him over to the Seattle police. The suspect, a 28-year-old with an address in unincorporated King County, has a lengthy arrest record and several misdemeanor convictions, including for assault, theft and malicious mischief.

For Watkins, who also is the general manager of the Inn at the Market, the question is how long low-level crime, open-air drug dealing, drug use, panhandling and disorderly conduct will continue.

“It’s not about me. It’s about what happens downtown to our locals and visitors. Overall crime may be down in the city, but low-level crime continues to be a problem,” he said. “It’s got to stop.”

A woman was badly beaten and kicked by three other young women in the middle of the afternoon Tuesday at Westlake Park. Three suspects were detained by police, but witnesses weren’t able to make a positive identification and the suspects were released.

Several stabbings have been reported in the past few weeks at Victor Steinbrueck Park, a scenic overlook north of the Market, and a popular gathering place for the homeless.

The stabbings erupted from disputes between park regulars, said Ben Franz-Knight, executive director of the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority.

“It’s a challenge. Having more patrol officers on the street who know the area and have relationships with the people here would help.”

The Market has private security around the clock.

Both Watkins and Franz-Knight praised Seattle police West Precinct Commander Capt. Jim Dermody and said he and his officers have been responsive to problems.

In a blog post Thursday, Dermody wrote that police have seen a “significant and consistent drop in reported crime and disorder” as measured by 911 calls. But he also noted that downtown is shared by daily office workers, shoppers, cruise-ship passengers, sports fans and residents, as well as the homeless who reside in the many nonprofit shelters and day centers.

“All of the diverse use of the same spaces can create challenges and competing interests,” Dermody wrote.

The problem of crime downtown has emerged as an issue in the Seattle mayor’s race. Former City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck has called for resuming the neighborhood policing plan that calls for hiring 250 more patrol officers. Businessman Charlie Staadecker has called for more enforcement and arrests. Greenwood neighborhood activist Kate Martin has questioned the concentration of social-service agencies downtown.

Mayor Mike McGinn has defended his Center City Initiative that has brought together police, social-service providers and business owners to address underlying problems and divert some low-level offenders to drug, alcohol and mental-health treatment.

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

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