Yesterday, mayoral challenger Ed Murray excoriated incumbent Mike McGinn for the mayor's controversial effort to use a "street vacation" recommendation as a tool for pressuring non-union Whole Foods to guarantee living wages and benefits at a proposed West Seattle store. "He is unilaterally trying to override an extensive review process," Murray accused McGinn. "He has usurped the role of the City Council and subverted an impartial process."
Strong words. But it turns the exact issue was raised at a June 17 mayoral forum on low-wage workforce issues: "As mayor, what would you do to keep low-road retailers like Walmart, Whole Foods, and WinCo, out of our city to protect union jobs?" an audience member asked. And starting at 39:06 on the video above, it was Murray who suggested using street vacation requests as a tool for influencing developers "to get the kind of wages that are needed."
"I think that if we need to work to change the zoning laws, if the problem is at the state level, then let's work to change the zoning laws so that a city can control what type of employer comes in, and what public benefit that employer has. I also think that there are things that big developers or a big entity like Walmart want when they come in that have a public benefit—sometimes it might be a street vacation or something like that—that we can also have influence in sort of a soft leveraging place, to get the kind of wages that are needed."
So Murray is now vehemently attacking McGinn for doing exactly what Murray suggested he would do as mayor.
For his part, starting at 37:20, McGinn's response in June is pretty consistent with his position today, if not fully formed:
"This is a tough one, because the laws aren't set up very well in this regard. We can say whether there's a grocery store or not a grocery store in a spot, and this is something, trust me, I've been looking at. But how do you differentiate between grocery stores is actually, under state laws, really hard to do under land use laws. I'd certainly raise my voice. I'd make my intentions clear to the development community. … So there's a way to bring pressure, and there's a way to demonstrate to a developer that there is an easy path versus a hard path. And the easy path is to get a good employer in there. And we're going to have to keep looking and experimenting with different ways to do it."
This was an issue that McGinn had clearly been struggling with, given the legal constraints. He says that land use laws make it difficult to "differentiate between grocery stores." And in the end, he didn't try to use land use laws to force Whole Foods to guarantee living wages and benefits. He used a street vacation request instead. That's different. That's not land use. It's a request to transfer city-owned property to a private developer. And it's the best he could do with the limited legal tools he had available.
It's also exactly the type of "experimenting" McGinn promised. McGinn said he was looking for different ways to do it. And perhaps thanks to Murray's "street vacation" idea, McGinn found it.
In any case, it is Murray who has some serious explaining to do. For there's simply no way to reconcile Murray's July 24 comments with those he made on June 17.