When Mike McGinn was voted out of office last year he left behind a full plate of unfinished business in Capitol Hill. As Ed Murray settles into his first term as mayor he’ll have plenty of issues to sink his teeth into around his home neighborhood. Making some bold moves on transit is something Murray, and many voters have identified as top priorities in 2014 but there is more to it than that.
While a group of neighborhood activists pushes to curb building heights on Capitol Hill, don’t expect Murray to champion the cause. The mayor, who lives with his husband in a single-family Capitol Hill home abutted by condos, said he supports increased density and microhousing in the neighborhood.
The minimum wage debate has led to jabs between Murray and newly elected $15-an-hour crusader, City Council member Kshama Sawant. A much bigger political battle could be brewing over the controversial issue of rent control. Sawant is a strong advocate for rent control in Seattle, while Murray has basically stayed mum on the issue.
In October’s Capitol Hill Mayoral Race Forum, Murray was slightly more open to rent caps than McGinn, saying “If the city wants it, I would work towards it.” Right now, there is little indication that a majority of the city wants it.
After fighting to free the state’s bars and clubs from the much maligned “dance tax,” Murray won a late-race endorsement from a power-group of Capitol Hill nightlife players. Combined with McGinn’s “failure” to get extended bar hours approved by the state liquor board, Murray comes into office with strong industry support.
Murray told CHS that he’s currently working with nightlife group (we can only guess who) to present a pilot program to the liquor board that would extend bar hours.
Murray will have the opportunity to ensure the dance tax doesn’t resurface in four years, but for now the mayor said he’ll take a breather on the issue and perhaps start a more complicated conversation about repealing it all together.
Last year Murray caught some flak for pushing a transit strategy that focused on building regional coalitions, distancing himself from McGinn’s focus on the city’s pro-density rapid transit needs. Without mentioning specifics, Murray told CHS this week he wants to draft a “vigorous” integrated transportation plan.
It’s still unclear exactly how Murray’s Olympia experience will bear transit fruit in the near future. Already underway are studies for a Sound Transit 3 ballot measure, which could include a Downtown-Ballard rail connector, as well as a study to connect the First Hill Streetcar and the South Lake Union Trolly, things Murray could help solidify and fund.
The opening of the First Hill Streetcar will likely be the biggest public transit news on the Hill in 2014. Murray was key in securing early funding for the project while in the senate and will in all likelihood be cutting the ribbon on its maiden voyage.
While the mayor has touted his Olympia experience as a way to get things done at the city level, Seattle’s newly hired lobbyist told City Council members this week not to expect any movement on local transit priorities this year.
“We don’t have an integrated approach in transit,” Murray told CHS. “We need to integrate how they all work together.”
Murray has come out early as a strong proponent of adding more protected bicycle lanes in the city and putting the needs of cyclists front-and-center in transit development. In a recent letter to the national Green Lanes Project Murray called protected bike lanes “a crucial component of our transportation infrastructure and at the heart of our Bicycle Master Plan.”
Before he even settled into his new office, Murray jumped head-first into the minimum wage issue by raising the lowest wage of city workers up to $15 an hour. Trickier will be a city-wide minimum wage hike, where Murray has taken a wait-and-see approach. A $15 an hour minimum wage is likely popular around Capitol Hill at-large, but many in the neighborhood’s influential entertainment industry have said Murray’s moves must coordinate well with their economy.
Murray has convened a group of stakeholders to study how a $15 wage increase would effect local independent businesses, and perhaps what a small-business exemption could look like. Expect Murray to start advocating for a plan soon.
CRIME & CIVIL RIGHTS
Having lived in Capitol Hill for two decades, Murray comes into office with some legitimate long-term perspective on the neighborhood. He told CHS that in his younger days he remembered many more officers walking and biking localized posts around the neighborhood. Murray has said repeatedly the Seattle Police Department will be his first focus in office, and part of that will be shifting patrols to get more familiar faces walking the street. “Our plan is to get that going before the new chief is on board,” he said.
Murray has also said that preventing bias crimes and harassment should be a priority for Capitol Hill. “We developed police training, we developed safety patrols on Capitol Hill, we held education forums and we were able to actually turn that problem around,” Murray told KIRO about some of the old ways from the neighborhood that should be revived.