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Originally published October 5, 2013 at 8:05 PM | Page modified October 6, 2013 at 4:58 PM

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As Murray wins business support, McGinn casts him as big-money candidate

As much of Seattle’s business community gets behinds Ed Murray’s mayoral campaign, Mayor Mike McGinn is trying to turn that to his advantage by slamming his opponent as the big-money candidate.

Seattle Times political reporter

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Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn was elected in 2009 despite the opposition of the downtown business establishment.

Four years later, not much has changed.

While McGinn’s re-election campaign is getting its share of support from developers and business lobbyists, most of Seattle’s business bigwigs have lined up behind challenger Ed Murray with endorsements and substantial financial backing.

McGinn has sought to turn that to his advantage, taking delight in casting Murray as a puppet of big-money interests.

At a Democratic legislative district endorsement meeting in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood last month, the mayor grinned as he mocked Murray’s corporate backers.

“I know Senator Murray claims he is a uniter. He has. He’s united Vulcan, Amazon, hotel developers, Pepsi, Coke, the Chamber of Commerce,” he said, drawing loud cheers from his supporters.

At times that has seemed like McGinn’s answer to every development in the campaign. When City Councilmember Jean Godden became the fifth member of the council to endorse Murray last month, McGinn spokesman John Wyble retorted, “It’s no surprise that the business-supported City Council members support the business-supported candidate for mayor.”

It’s a line of attack that has irritated Murray, who has built a solidly liberal record during 18 years representing Seattle’s 43rd Legislative District. He interrupted a similar McGinn remark at one recent forum to point out he’s also been endorsed by labor unions and progressive stalwarts such as Planned Parenthood and Washington Conservation Voters.

Businesses as villain

Murray says he’s been taken aback by some of McGinn’s efforts to make Seattle businesses a villain.

“When McGinn went after Amazon — any other mayor in the world would do a jig on top of the Space Needle to have Amazon building and bringing that many employees here,” he said.

McGinn’s strategy makes some political sense. In recent competitive mayoral races, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce has come out on the losing end.

The chamber backed two McGinn opponents in 2009, largely because McGinn opposed the Highway 99 tunnel on the downtown waterfront. In both the primary and the general election, the chamber lost and McGinn won.

The chatter that the business group’s endorsement might actually backfire against their favored candidates got into chamber leaders’ heads to the point they commissioned a poll last month to see where they stood.

Longtime Seattle pollster Stuart Elway conducted the poll of 400 registered voters, which found the business group’s endorsement of a candidate would be viewed favorably by 38 percent of voters, while 18 percent would view it negatively. The largest group, 44 percent, said they were indifferent.

“It’s not like it closes the debate one way or another, but (a chamber endorsement) is not the albatross that it’s sometimes portrayed to be,” Elway said.

Whatever voters think about business backing, there is no arguing Murray has the lion’s share of it.

Business groups were the largest donors to People for Ed Murray, a political committee that emerged before the August primary and raised $160,000.

More than $52,000 of that came from a chamber political-action committee, Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy. That PAC in turn has received its largest donations from Vulcan ($22,500) and R.C. Hedreen Co. ($10,000), which operates several downtown hotels, including the Grand Hyatt Seattle.

Soured on McGinn

McGinn soured some business leaders with his attempt in July to block a proposed Whole Foods in West Seattle, siding with the grocery workers union’s objections regarding the nonunion chain’s wages and benefits.

McGinn made his move by recommending the city refuse to sell a public alley needed for the project, and has signaled he may do the same with a proposed convention center hotel being planned by the Hedreen Co. downtown.

Murray criticized McGinn’s Whole Foods move as sudden and politically motivated, even though he’d previously said at a candidate forum he’d consider using city land-use powers in a similar fashion.

George Allen, senior vice president of government relations for the chamber, said the business organization supports Murray because a diverse city like Seattle needs “a leader who can bring all the factions together.”

“Unless you have that leader, diversity turns into fragmentation,” Allen said.

Asked what the chamber expects in return for its support, Allen said there is no specific promise, except the belief that Murray will consult businesses earlier when considering policy changes that affect them.

McGinn and his backers have argued that Murray’s business donations raise questions about whether he’d move to weaken laws opposed by the chamber, such as paid sick leave and restrictions on criminal background checks by employers.

But in an interview, Murray said, “I am not interested in opening up those policies. I think they are settled.” He said he’d only reconsider if there was agreement on changes by workers and businesses.

Write-in effort

While Murray bristles at being pigeonholed as a business candidate, the chamber’s blessing played a role in his decision not to run for mayor four years ago.

In 2009, after two-term incumbent Greg Nickels lost in the primary, leaving voters with a choice between two political unknowns in Joe Mallahan and McGinn, some urged Murray to enter the race as a write-in candidate.

“I called people at the chamber and they basically said no — go take a leap — we’re supporting Mallahan,” Murray recalled. He also was discouraged by labor leaders who said a write-in campaign was too difficult.

This year, the chamber backed Murray with a June endorsement, helping to lift him above rivals in the nine-way primary.

Murray also has received endorsements from many labor unions, including those representing health-care workers, bus drivers, firefighters and police.

McGinn has received his share of business money, too. Employees of Vulcan have donated $3,650 to his campaign, according to Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission records. Microsoft employees have kicked in more than $4,000 and longtime business lobbyists Don Stark and Tim Hatley have hosted tables at McGinn fundraisers.

Murray has compiled a 95 percent lifetime legislative voting record from the Washington State Labor Council. The Association of Washington Business, on the other hand, ranked his voting record a lowly 37 percent.

Minimum-wage flap

McGinn’s backers have at times reached far back to find alleged impurities in Murray’s record on labor issues.

At a McGinn campaign event in Ballard, Robby Stern, a former lobbyist for the state Labor Council, pointed to a 2001 bill Murray co-sponsored which would have lowered the minimum wage for waiters who receive tips.

In an interview, Stern said by signing onto the proposal, Murray was flouting the minimum-wage initiative approved by voters in 1998, which gave the state the highest minimum wage in the nation.

“That it was undermining the very thing we had worked so hard to do,” Stern said.

Murray said he signed on to the measure to discuss a possible compromise with the restaurant industry, which could have raised wages for cooks and dishwashers, who don’t get tips.

He noted some other liberal Seattle Democratic lawmakers co-sponsored the bill for the same reason, including McGinn endorsers Sharon Tomiko Santos and the late Kip Tokuda.

Tomiko Santos backed Murray’s account and said she didn’t think it was fair to “caricature” him as an advocate of lowering the minimum wage.

In any case, the bill didn’t get a committee hearing, Murray said. When restaurants balked at a compromise, he said, “The bill was put down.”

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner

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