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Originally published July 16, 2013 at 10:44 PM | Page modified July 17, 2013 at 11:20 AM

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Seattle mayoral candidates take jabs at each other at forum

Seattle mayoral candidates have a go at each other in a CityClub-sponsored debate on the evening before primary ballots are mailed.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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In one of the last mayoral-candidate forums before the Aug. 6 primary, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn on Tuesday night pronounced the city in good shape and said he wouldn’t have done anything differently in negotiations with the Department of Justice (DOJ) over police reform.

In a fast 90-minute session, five mayoral candidates covered topics ranging from the looming Metro bus-service cuts to the selection of a new police chief.

Not surprisingly, McGinn’s opponents had plenty of suggestions for improving the city’s leadership, including better collaboration with county, state and DOJ officials.

Responding to a question about the Legislature’s failure to fund a transportation package, state Sen. Ed Murray, widely viewed as architect of the state’s marriage-equality law, said, “What we’ve heard from the mayor again and again is Olympia failed. I could have come back on gay marriage for 16 years and said Olympia failed, but I kept working the issue.”

A standing-room-only audience packed the Central Library’s auditorium for the forum sponsored by CityClub and moderated by Seattle Times assistant political editor Joni Balter. Only five candidates were invited: McGinn, Murray, City Councilmember Bruce Harrell, former Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck and Seattle businessman Charlie Staadecker.

Greenwood activist Kate Martin, who is also a candidate for mayor, was in the audience and both Steinbrueck and Staadecker questioned why she wasn’t at the candidates table. Event organizers didn’t explain why she and three other candidates, Joey Gray, Mary Martin and Doug McQuaid, were left out.

After the forum, CityClub Executive Director Diane Douglas said the organization’s policy is to focus on the most viable candidates: “Given the limited time, we wanted the discussion to be as informative as possible.”

In the case of the Seattle mayor’s race, viability equals money. The five candidates who participated have each raised at least $150,000 for their campaigns while those left out have each brought in less than $10,000.

With primary ballots set to be mailed Wednesday, the candidates seemed to have honed their messages and sharpened their attacks, though McGinn, who was energetic and animated in early forums, seemed more subdued Tuesday night.

When asked about his top three criteria for selecting a new police chief, the mayor pointed instead to accomplishments under his administration including the lowest crime rate in 30 years, outreach by the police to ethnic communities and creation of a Community Policing Commission to oversee the court-ordered reforms. “I have experience these past four years in running a police department,” McGinn said.

Murray pledged to find a police chief who could restore department morale, build trust with the public and who has a strong command of effective policing techniques. Harrell promised a bold and charismatic leader and said he would require body cameras on all officers within a year.

Steinbrueck said he wanted an unconventional chief who could inspire the rank and file, restore trust in the force and squarely address the DOJ findings of excessive use of force and biased policing. He also pledged to hire more officers and maintain a 24/7 police presence in four of the downtown parks and street corners with the most crime.

On the subject of transportation, Staadecker said Seattle leaders need to make a more effective case to the rest of the state about the importance of freight mobility. He won the biggest applause of the night for declining to answer a question on siting a new jail because he hadn’t studied the issue.

Harrell said he would ask residents to approve a vehicle-license fee to support Metro bus service, which is facing 17 percent cuts. Steinbrueck called the Legislature’s failure to pass a transportation package “a disaster” that could result in 50,000 more cars a day on city streets. He called for a stable funding source for Metro.

It was Murray who got off the sharpest jabs of the evening over McGinn’s “frayed relationships” with state leaders. “McGinn said he didn’t go to Olympia because it would hurt the (transportation) package. We need a mayor who would go.”

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

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