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Originally published October 19, 2009 at 12:20 AM | Page modified October 19, 2009 at 9:32 AM

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Seattle mayoral candidates trade sharp exchanges

In a race for Seattle mayor in which candidates Joe Mallahan and Mike McGinn agree on much, they traded criticisms Sunday about the few issues they differ on, including the Alaskan Way Viaduct, management experience, and — in a new line of attack — a gun ban in city parks.

Seattle Times staff reporter

In a race for Seattle mayor in which the two candidates agree on much, they traded criticisms Sunday about the few issues they differ on, including the Alaskan Way Viaduct, management experience, and — in a new line of attack — a gun ban in city parks.

The sharpest exchanges in the KIRO-TV debate occurred when Joe Mallahan, clearly angry, accused foe Mike McGinn of making "baldfaced lies" in recorded phone calls in which the McGinn campaign accused Mallahan of "siding with the NRA" in backing a "repeal" of the ban.

"Mike and his campaign chose to conduct a lie campaign," said Mallahan, adding that his wife received one of the calls. "Mike, the Seattle voters deserve an apology. I deserve an apology."

When asked if he would defend in court the ban enacted by Mayor Greg Nickels, Mallahan said he may not, because it is "not a pragmatic way of addressing public-safety concerns."

"I don't owe an apology, because we told the public that Mr. Mallahan did not support the gun ban, and you heard that right now, here, he doesn't," McGinn said.

The two candidates — both first-time candidates for office — have been a puzzle for Seattle voters since Nickels' surprise defeat in the August primary. After two months of Seattle-style civility, the tone of the race now has an edge.

The candidates expressed similar views on protecting the environment, encouraging outreach to at-risk youth and their support for Referendum 71, which upholds the state's "everything but marriage" law. Both said they would support some public spending to return the NBA to Seattle, with conditions.

Mallahan, a vice president at T-Mobile, emphasized his business experience, while McGinn, a lawyer, campaigned on his environmental and neighborhood work.

McGinn said among the past Seattle mayors, he most admired Norm Rice because Rice convened an education summit that led to the popular Families and Education Levy. Mallahan trumpeted his endorsements by past Mayors Charles Royer and Wes Uhlman.

But as in past debates, the issue of replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a deep-bore tunnel was a line of attack. After eight years of contentious debate, the tunnel was picked this winter by the governor, Legislature and city.

McGinn's opposition — and support for a surface and transit option — is the signature of his campaign. Mallahan supports the tunnel, calling it a "stimulus project" that is overdue.

In the debate, Mallahan said by opposing the tunnel, "my opponent, on the other hand, wants his first act of leadership to be conducting war with the governor, the Legislature and the City Council." State lawmakers have earmarked $2.4 billion for the project.

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McGinn said he opposed the tunnel because the city is responsible for cost overruns. "It's not a solution for the future. It exposes the city to too much risk. The problem is the elected officials did not listen to the people," said McGinn.

But he conceded if other issues are resolved, such as the risk being shared by or shifted to the state, "it would be my job to implement it."

When given the chance to ask each other questions, both men focused on management experience, a critical quality for mayor of a city with 11,000 employees.

McGinn attacked Mallahan's central campaign theme — that private business experience enabled him to make the city more efficient. McGinn noted that Mallahan's payroll of campaign staff was larger than "my entire budget."

Mallahan asked McGinn about something he recently said in a TV interview, in which McGinn conceded "detail is not my strength." "Why should we not make the conclusion that you have zero management experience?" Mallahan asked.

The two candidates will appear together for at least five more debates, including one on KING 5 on Wednesday.

The Nov. 3 election is being conducted entirely by mail-in ballots, which began hitting mailboxes last week.

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com

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