In just under 40 minutes Tuesday, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray delivered his second annual State of the City Address. As is customary with such affairs, the mayor struck a tone of “Hey, things are pretty good! But not that good…”—with themes of inequality, education, transportation and police accountability featured prominently.
The proceedings opened with plenty of self-congratulatory back-patting. Murray got the party started with a long list of things Seattle progressives—an all-encompassing “we,” as the mayor put it—accomplished over the past year.
Oh what an inspiring list it was! As Murray told us …
In April, because of our action, Seattle’s minimum wage will rise to $11 per hour.
And in April, because of our action, we will begin increasing park maintenance and expanding park programming…
In June, because of our action, we will begin to see the largest increase in bus service in the city of Seattle since Metro Transit was created in the 1970s.
In July, because of our action on priority hire, when the City invests in infrastructure, we will also invest in local workers.
In September, because of our action, we will see three- and four-year-olds attending new City-funded preschool programs…
Sure, the mayor credited all this to “our action,” but the message was clear. It’s been a good year for Ed Murray. A really good year.
But it isn’t all gumdrops and lollipops. We know that. And so does Murray. It didn’t take long for our fearless leader to dive into the work yet to be done in his city. “We see inequities,” Murray warned, before checking off a list of problems still plaguing Seattle, from what the mayor called, “the most challenging inequity of all,” racial inequality, to vast discrepancies in the way growth impacts different socioeconomic groups. The mayor also noted inequalities in education, “between those who are coming to school ready to learn and are graduating on time, and those who are not,” and inequalities in public safety, “between those who are safe from crime, and those who are at greater risk of crime because of who they are or where they live.”
Perhaps the most forward-thinking items on the mayor’s coming-soon list include updates to the Seattle’s comprehensive plans for growth and transportation. Circling 2035 on the calendar (the future!), Murray says Seattle needs to plan for some 120,000 additional city residents over the next 20 years. And keeping with the equity theme, Murry told us that the city needs to prepare for that growth to be “about placing without displacing.”
That sounds good, but what does it mean? Tough to say at this point, other than the mayor promises it will involve a resolution sent to the City Council in “the coming weeks” that will declare “race and social justice as one of the core values for the [Comprehensive] Plan,” and “will call on all of us to develop new equity goals and practices, and build in public accountability through more inclusive stewardship.” The mayor also promised extensive outreach efforts to all corners of the city, so that all of the city’s residents have a part in planning our future.
When it comes to transportation, Murray touted the ingeniously titled “Move Seattle”—a plan that, according to the mayor, will utilize a renewal of Seattle’s transportation levy and a push for Sound Transit III in Olympia to bring Seattle into the mass transit future. “As I said in these chambers last year, this city has many worthy individual plans for bikes, freight, cars, transit, and pedestrians. But we lack a unified, modern, interconnected transportation plan. A philosophy for how to get our city moving. Until now,” the Mayor beamed.
“By the end of this month, I will release a new comprehensive vision for how Seattle approaches transportation—a vision that integrates our many transportation plans into a single strategy that is greater than the sum of its parts,” Murray continued, indicating that bringing light rail to Ballard and West Seattle would be a priority.
The Mayor was also quick to credit one of his very favorite things in the known world, a good task force—and specifically the task force on housing affordability launched under his direction last September. As you’ll recall, that task force (or is it a work group?) is scheduled to provide recommendations to the mayor for making Seattle a more affordable place to live by May. Will it happen? Remains to be seen. But Murray doesn’t sound worried—and he’s putting some money where his mouth is, to the tune of $35 million to implement the task force’s recommendations.
“I have made it clear to the members of the committee—and will reiterate here today—that we are not going to get there with a single tool,” Murray said. “To address our affordability challenges, everyone must play a part: from developers to landlords to nonprofits to employers to the construction industry to city government.”
While there were other highlights in Murray’s remarks this afternoon—including the unveiling of not one but two new websites!—the mayor finished strong on the sensitive matters of police reform and race. And with the William Wingate saga fresh on the city’s mind—and Seattle police officer Cynthia Whitlach’s unfortunately firm reminder of just how far Seattle has to go when it comes to reforming its police force and healing its racial divide—it was the right call, providing a visionary entry point for Murray’s next 365 days in office.
As the mayor put it: “This is a historic moment in America and in Seattle as we confront the issue of race. We must acknowledge how far we have come, but this is the side of the mountain, not the summit. … It will take courage to address the deeply troubling issues of policing and race in this country. It will take courage to acknowledge that the police are often at the receiving end of the failure of other systems to address race, failure in our education, criminal justice, foster care, mental health and political systems.
“It is time for Seattle to talk with each other about how we heal the wounds of race.”