SEATTLE — One of the candidates was the architect of Washington state’s gay marriage law. The other is a former activist known for riding his bike to work. Both unabashedly support substantial new taxes, a $15 minimum wage and legal marijuana.
Seattle’s mayoral hopefuls this year have been stumbling over each other as they try to satisfy urban voters who have been pressing the Democratic Party to embrace more liberal positions on social, environmental and economic issues.
Some campaign ideas would be liabilities elsewhere but resonate in the eco-friendly city that’s home to Starbucks and Amazon.com.
“The more traditional approach is that you win the primary and move to center. In Seattle, when you win the primary, you move to the left,” said Tim Ceis, a former deputy mayor of Seattle. That dynamic has grown in recent years, and Ceis said voters in the region feel as if they are at the forefront of social change.
With the relatively strong economy in the area, activists have turned voters’ attention to issues like climate change, recently seeking to block coal trains that would ship the product to Asia.
Union leaders believe a successful push on the minimum wage would set a new standard that could put pressure on the rest of the nation. And advocates have recently relied on liberal blocs in Seattle to win voter approval of both gay marriage and legalizing marijuana.
It’s similar to the dynamic that has also played out in the New York City mayoral race. Bill de Blasio won the Democratic primary there after a campaign that embraced a plan to raise taxes on wealthy New Yorkers and other policies that, in part, seemed like a repudiation of the business-friendly departing mayor, Michael Bloomberg.
Nowhere has the power of voter views been more apparent than on the minimum wage, which was thrust into the national debate this year by union activists.
Mayor Mike McGinn set the tone this summer when he moved to block a proposed development because he said the primary tenant, the Whole Foods grocery store, doesn’t pay its workers a decent wage. Three days later, he won a key endorsement from the union that represents thousands of grocery and retail workers.
Then, last month, challenger Ed Murray was first to overtly embrace an idea that union advocates around the country have been pushing — a $15 minimum wage. Murray said his proposal would be phased in.
McGinn said in a recent Associated Press interview by saying he would support a minimum wage above $15. He also dismissed Murray’s plan as having too many caveats.
On taxes, Murray is currently serving as a state senator and proposed this past year a capital gains tax. McGinn, for his part, proposed a large tax on sugary drinks that would be equivalent to 12 cents for every can of soda, and he wanted to dedicate the money to support parks.
Murray came back to say that he instead supports renewing a parks levy and potentially having a new taxing district.
Both have supported a substantial increase in the state’s gas tax to help pay for transportation projects.
In dealing with taxes and other issues, Murray has pushed a more collaborative approach that would have the mayor’s office work more closely with officials in the state capital or local industry.
McGinn said, however, that a Seattle leader needs to make difficult decisions and can’t appease everybody without ending up with substandard policy. He said the collaborative approach Murray had in the state Senate has left the state with underfunded schools, possible cuts in transit and a regressive tax system.
Republicans, meanwhile, have established a new coalition in the state Senate with two other Democrats, making Murray minority leader in the chamber. “He’s so agreeable to Republicans, they took over the state Senate,” McGinn said.
Murray’s campaign believes McGinn has tried to portray him as someone lacking proper Democratic credentials.
But Murray worked for years to pass a gay marriage bill, supported expanded collective bargaining and led efforts to expand tax revenues. Murray used an ad to ask voters to help the city “live up to our progressive values” and said in an interview that his record tells a different story than what McGinn is saying.
“I don’t think he’s been successful in trying to paint me as a conservative,” Murray said.