By now, Seattle’s mayoral candidates have memorized each other’s stump speeches after debating during countless forums and campaign season events.
The format of Tuesday night’s town hall allowed for the candidates to show off not only their policy differences but their stylistic differences as well.
Former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, an experienced trial attorney, took full advantage of the format—at times holding the floor for longer than moderators would have desired.
Urban planner Cary Moon, a self-proclaimed policy wonk, gave thoughtful and effective answers but struggled, at times, to interject and assert herself.
By the end of the night, Durkan tried to make the case that her opponent lacks specifics when it comes to executing ambitious proposals that she argues rely too much on new taxes that would require approval from Olympia.
“I think it's irresponsible to say I want to do ‘x,’ and not tell the voters how you're going to pay for it. In every one of my proposals I have laid out not only what I'm going to do, but how we're going to pay for it,” said Durkan.
Moon, meanwhile, tried to paint Durkan as an establishment candidate who would be a continuation of the status quo, pointedly noting the sizeable amounts business groups are spending on Durkan’s behalf.
Her harshest criticism came during a question about municipal broadband, an idea that Moon supports.
“I would just like to point out that my opponent has an independent expenditure of over half a million dollars supporting her campaign largely funded by the big corporations – Comcast, CenturyLink, and other big corporations that don't want municipal broadband in the city, because they are profiting off our pain,” said Moon.
“Not true,” responded Durkan, who said the city doesn’t have the funds to pay for a project she said would cost as much as $700 million. Durkan said any extra money in the budget should be spent on housing affordability.
While the actual word “difference” was used only three times; twice by Moon and once by Durkan, plenty of contrasts were drawn. Here are some of them across the key issues:
Housing and Affordability
Moon believes solving the affordability crisis will require additional market intervention. She called for building new housing on the city’s surplus public land, and for more than doubling the state’s housing trust fund.
“We have got to be building affordable housing everywhere we can or we risk becoming a city that's a playground for the rich,” said Moon. “We have to solve this problem now. We can't wait for the free market to solve it, as my opponent would like to do.”
Durkan has said she would like to encourage developers to build more affordable housing inside new buildings.
When asked whether the mandatory housing affordability target range between two to 11 percent should change—Durkan said she would “continue to evaluate it.”
Moon believes the range is “about right,” but “only one narrow part of the overall solution.”
She argues for revisiting the single-family zoning debate that was dropped from the original HALA package—talking with individual neighborhoods about upzoning options from backyard cottages to duplexes or stacked flats.
“You could look at row houses, you could look at turning some of the big mansions and some of the neighborhoods into group housing or rooming housing,” said Moon.
When asked for a timeline of her goal to quadruple the amount of affordable housing in the city—Moon couldn’t give a definitive answer, saying much of it depended on lawmakers in Olympia, as well as getting surplus land back in use. She also suggested reaching out to philanthropists and nonprofit housing developers.
“We all need to act quickly. I don't know exactly how quickly, but let's make this a priority for the first year,” she said.
Durkan said going to Olympia to ask for more money—alluding to the housing trust fund, or new progressive taxes—is “not very realistic right now.”
Moon argued the biggest difference among the candidates remains on the topic of sweeps.
“I have said consistently I will stop the sweeps, because I believe chasing people who have nowhere else to go is unjust and inhumane and inefficient,” said Moon.
“If you're going to be the mayor of Seattle, you can't just use slogans or bumper stickers,” fired back Durkan, who said the process of “sweeping” has been significantly revised.
“I'll be the first to admit that the first actions that the city took against people experiencing homelessness were inhumane,” she said before going on to describe a recent ride-along with a navigation team. “They see what services they need. They talk to them. I went with them last week and I will tell you every person in Seattle would be so proud of what they do.”
When asked about RV parks—Durkan pointed to problems with prior attempts to set up safe lots.
“If we're going to set up safe lots, we have to do it a different way, because we spend tens of thousands of dollars and it wasn't efficient,” she said.
Moon, meanwhile, proposed using some of the city’s publicly owned properties to try out five to 10 RV safe lots.
“See if it works and if it does, scale it up,” said Moon.
Both candidates have proposed building additional short-term shelters, micro-housing and tiny house villages.
Durkan has promised 1,000 microhomes insulated with running water and electricity, within her first year, as well as emergency shelters in every council district.
“It’s a citywide problem. Everyone has to share in the solution,” she said.
Moon said she would focus on low-barrier shelters where people can bring their belongings or pets, as well as looking into the possibility of turning existing shelters into 24-hour shelters.
“I've worked directly with homeless folks themselves,” said Moon. “I would listen to them about what works for them. And 90 percent of homeless people have said they would come inside if we offered them a place that met their needs.”
Budget and taxes
Durkan has promised no new taxes until she’s determined that the city’s current revenue is being used efficiently. However, she warned that she may ask for additional money for addiction services and mental health treatment, a point she’s made since entering the race.
“That's the tax I may come back for,” she said.
Moon’s budget promise—to cut costs in the mayor’s office, pointing to double digit increases under the Murray administration.
While Moon couldn’t give an exact dollar figure of the cost of her proposed programs, she advocated for analyzing the numbers and assessing “what’s viable and effective” once in office.
She’s also proposed a menu of more progressive tax options from capital gains to a “more steeply progressive B&O tax, so small businesses would pay less than large corporations.”
However, those changes would require approval by Olympia and the state legislature.
When asked about the new proposed “head tax” on employers grossing at least $5 million a year—both candidates said they believe in what it’s intended to fund homelessness but have questions about the math and small businesses that could be impacted.
Advice to that city that wins Amazon Headquarters 2
“Go Seahawks,” Durkan joked before answering.
“We're a city that has grown from people coming here,” she continued. “I think it is wrong for us to say we're going to roll up the welcome mat.”
Durkan has argued that increasing access to economic empowerment needs to happen citywide, particularly in South Seattle. She’s also said fixing the city’s problems will ensure that companies will want to stay and continue to grow in Seattle.
Moon said while she believes Amazon has been a “net gain,” her advice to cities bidding for HQ2: “Be careful what you wish for.”
“I would advise other cities to plan the growth in advance," Moon said. "Understand what it's going to cost and make sure Amazon is going to help pay for it because I'm not sure we did that well enough here.”
Who the candidates would hire
Moon would not accept a job in a Durkan administration.
When asked which two primary candidates they would offer jobs if elected, Moon replied Jessyn Farrell and Nikkita Oliver.
Durkan tried to dodge with the politically savvy answer of “all of them have benefits and strengths.” She then listed Hasegawa, Farrell, and Oliver, before talking about President Abraham Lincoln’s “team of rivals.”
“So, I would hire Cary Moon,” Durkan said. "I think I'm going to make the better mayor but I think she's got some great ideas, so I'm not going to limit it to just two. If I can bring them all, I'm going to bring them all.”
When asked whether she would accept a job—Moon said, “With all due respect to the political skills of my opponent, I don’t think so, because there’s too much difference in really what future city we’re aiming for.”
Groups the candidates are reaching out
Both gave distinctly different answers in naming constituencies they have gotten to know better over campaign season—a potential indicator of voting blocs the candidates are courting.
Durkan listed the East African community—a group that former Mayor Mike McGinn emphasized engaging.
Moon named the tech community—saying she’s reached out to better understand how they are integrating into the city.
Traffic and congestion pricing, as proposed by City Council
Moon: “Congestion pricing puts too much burden on low income folks, especially folks who have to drive for work or folks who are not well served by transit because they're in a low income neighborhood."
Durkan: “I think we're going to have to look at congestion pricing down the road.”
Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole
Should she stay or go?
Durkan says she hopes she stays. Moon says she has not sat down to talk with her yet about her vision of the police force.
Annexation of White Center
Durkan said she “absolutely supported annexation.” Moon said she’s not sure.
Arena debate: Seattle Center, SODO, or both
Durkan remained neutral, again.
When asked if she had to pick one today..."I'm not saying," dodged Durkan.
Moon said she supports the plan in motion (KeyArena), but added she hasn't seen the details worked out to a degree that would satisfy her, particularly regarding transportation.
Both said they're committed to protecting industrial land around SODO.