With Public Locked Outside, Murray Presents Budget

Regular citizens waited in line for three hours, only to be refused entry due to space.

Yesterday, with members of the public kept outside by City Hall security and Seattle police officers, Mayor Ed Murray presented his proposed 2017 budget in council chambers.

“As a high-tech city of nearly 700,000 people and one of the fastest-growing cities in America,” Murray said to the assembled luminaries, “our greatest challenges are challenges of affordability, livability and opportunity.” As Murray spoke, the chants of a couple dozen protesters who had been unsuccessfully waiting in line for three hours were faintly audible. At one point, some kind of metal-on-stone percussion joined his comments.

“During our three years together”—bang, bang, bang—”we have addressed [our] challenges directly, inclusively and collaboratively,” the mayor said. Bang, bang, bang. “We have shown how Seattle progressives can do more than argue over minor differences in ideology; we have shown how progressives can work together to pass big measures.” Bang, bang, bang.

Susan Russell, formerly homeless, says that she was the first person in that line of regular people who unsuccessfully waited to get into the budget address. “I was told to stand in line and that no one could get in anywhere else but in this line,” she says. “Meanwhile, up through the back door, the mayor with his entourage and all his people filled the council chambers.” Here’s her full reaction:

Asked why only hand-picked attendees were allowed physically inside chambers during Murray’s speech, a mayoral spokesperson replied, “There are many members of the public and community members in there. The room has a capacity, so if it’s full that’s a capacity issue.”

In his speech, Murray doubled down on his vision of Seattle as a technocratic policy sandbox. “It is my intention to make 2017 the year of good governance and to bring to fruition the many innovations and best practices we have established during our time together,” he said. “The City of Seattle has already built a national reputation for excellence in governing.”

Murray broke his message down into four elements:

  • More transparency and accountability
  • Increased efficiency
  • Better financial management
  • Better management through the use of data

As one example of a city program improved through efficiency, Murray pointed to the Utilities Discount Program, which we wrote about last year. According to Murray, the city has doubled enrollment in the UDP over the past two years, “saving low-income families an estimated $30 million each year.”

Most of the speech consisted of enumerating city programs that have worked well and will work better. However, Murray ventured into the territory of race, police, and homelessness that have made him unpopular among the city’s political left. First, he addressed policing and racism. Quoting himself from an earlier speech, Murray said, “As a white man, I stand as an ally with the black community. But I cannot pretend to know their experience.

“We, the beneficiaries of hundreds of years of structural inequality,” Murray continued, “must recognize our privilege and work with others to construct a more just society. Black lives matter…I have come to understand how a precinct building could become a symbol embodying the divisions of these difficult times.”

Murray boasted of the reforms he and the federal monitor say are already underway at Seattle police (which was sued by the Department of Justice in 2012 for brutal and possibly racist practices), and reiterated his promises to create an all-civilian Inspector General’s office for police oversight and to make the Community Police Commission permanent. He then pivoted to talking about how his investments in schools and youth job programs targeted at poor people of color would help solve the systemic racism around us.

Second, Murray addressed homelessness—an issue on which he has often spoken with eloquent compassion, even while proposing to evict homeless encampments around the city. “We must provide much needed help and care for as many people suffering from the trauma of homelessness as possible,” he said. “The crisis we see on our streets and sidewalks, in our parks and greenbelts, is what income inequality looks like.”

In a rhetorically astute move, Murray positioned himself as a leader of Seattle’s liberal opposition to state Sen. Mark Miloscia, who recently told the Seattle Times that Seattle needs “adult supervision” in dealing with homelessness and drug use.

Without mentioning him by name, Murray replied to Miloscia: “I do not remember ever seeing a state senator go into another jurisdiction and tell them what to do, much less say they need adult supervision. This city, this Council, and this Mayor may not fully agree with each other on this issue, and at times the issue is messy and at times we are frustrated with each other. But Senator, this city, this Council, this Mayor are doing serious work to address a humanitarian crisis that all of us, including you, are responsible for.” Murray went on to exhort the state and federal government to adequately fund social safety nets like affordable housing and services for substance abuse and mental illness. “We need the state and federal government to step up,” he said.

The council will haggle over amendments to Murray’s budget through October and most of November, before voting on a final budget on the last Monday before Thanksgiving.

This post has beed edited.