Earlier this year, state senator Ed Murray warned that if he faced Mayor Mike McGinn in a two-man battle for mayor, this would "be the ugliest campaign Seattle has ever seen." Now Murray is on the ballot against McGinn, and, sure enough, a political action committee supporting Murray seems intent on using the dirtiest, most dishonest politics Seattle has seen in years.
Their weapon is a commercial that began airing last week. Paid for with $63,000 to buy air time just as ballots arrived in mailboxes, the TV spot makes a big claim: Mayor McGinn "eliminated the city's office of domestic violence; now domestic violence aggravated assaults are up 60 percent."
Terri Kimball, the former director of the city's anti-domestic-violence program, adds sternly in the video, "To McGinn, domestic violence just wasn't a priority."
Sounds awful, right?
It would be—if it were true. Although the commercial argues that McGinn left abused women without city services, the opposite happened. During McGinn's time as mayor, city funding for domestic-violence prevention increased by 19 percent, roughly 5 percent more women received domestic-violence services annually, and law enforcement got tougher on abusers.
"We suggest that you take that ad down, as it does not speak candidly to the truth," said Patricia Hayden, cochair of the Seattle Human Services Coalition, speaking at a press conference last Thursday flanked by domestic-violence and human-trafficking prevention leaders.
The women, mostly immigrants, were furious. They argued that the ad actually does harm by broadcasting a message that the city has no services to help abused women, when, in fact, caseworkers are standing by. "We shouldn't make women's lives a campaign issue," argued Dr. Sutapa Basu, executive director of the Women's Center at the University of Washington. She called it a "deceptive" attack.
If this ad were one slipup, that would be one thing. But Murray and his backers have been increasingly deceptive lately.
Murray claimed in a TV debate this month that McGinn didn't create the innovative Community Police Commission (the mayor did create it). [The US Department of Justice gave McGinn full credit last year and then contradicted itself after the article went to press. Read more.] Last month, Murray claimed violent crime is up across the city (even though violent crime is mostly down). And an endorser at one of Murray's campaign press conferences even declared the economy was nosediving under McGinn, when it's actually on an upswing. Transportation is no different: Murray announced recently that he opposes North Seattle bike lanes because, he said, they "got rid of all street parking." That is not true. Murray has refused to comment on his inaccurate claims or the ad that uses beaten women for his political gain.
Rather, Murray has stuck to a succinct script that blames the mayor for being "divisive" and "dividing people." But on issues of crime, Murray is the one dividing people—even victimized women.
So what's the pro-Murray PAC argument?
While it's true that the city's Office of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention was technically eliminated, that's simply because in 2011 the mayor and city council folded it into another division in the city's Human Services Department, the Community Support and Self-Sufficiency Division. The city goal was to streamline management, thereby saving money. The domestic-violence work was protected (as well as its caseworkers) and remained in the same department.
In fact, there's more money for domestic-violence work now. During the dip of the recession, it dropped slightly from $4.2 million in 2010 to $4 million in 2011. But in the next two years, funding rebounded. Money for domestic-violence services hit what appears to be a record $5 million in 2013.
More women were helped, too. In McGinn's first year, operating with a budget set by the Greg Nickels administration, domestic-violence caseworkers helped 8,424 women. That number increased to 8,856 by in 2012, city figures show. This year, caseworkers will help between 9,000 and 9,200 women.
But the pro-Murray PAC's misleading attack will probably work.
A consultant for the ad was reportedly Tim Ceis, dubbed "the shark" when he was deputy mayor for former mayor Nickels. The ad exploits McGinn's low rating among women in recent polls. It takes only a slick 30-second commercial to smear a candidate, but it requires lots of reporting and analysis to deconstruct it.
Still, the facts belie this smear.
The pro-Murray ad refers specifically to one type of felony: aggravated assault related to domestic violence. The legislature in 2007 expanded the law that covers that crime to include strangulation. David Martin, who has supervised the Domestic Violence Unit for the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office for the past 12 years, said after the law changed, "there was an increase in the number of felony assaults in the second degree as domestic-violence charges, and the reason is that we took cases that were previously charged as misdemeanors."
Felony strangulation charges for domestic violence in King County rose to 185 the next year, up to 201 the next, 238 by 2010, and then 80 in the first five months of 2011. Due to a switch in computer systems, Martin said he could not provide complete data for the following two years. But the trend is obvious: Strengthening the law created a snowball of felony prosecutions for domestic violence—exactly the criminal charge that the pro-Murray camp cites as rising. "Specifically strangulation was the second most common domestic-violence felony charged" in the most recent two quarters of 2013, second only to violating a court order, Martin said.
"This tool is being used by police and prosecutors for its intended purpose, which is to hold batterers accountable," Martin said.
In addition to the debunking on The Stranger's blog, Slog, the Seattle Times reported that the ad was "mostly false."
Does the PAC still stand behind the commercial?
"Absolutely," said spokesman Dean Nielsen. Nielsen was speaking on behalf of the pro-Murray independent political action committee behind the ad, People for a New Seattle Mayor.
Murray himself refuses to comment on the claims in the ad.
While this sort of deception may be common in politics, fighting crime is one of the paramount duties of a mayor. We don't want politicians to mislead us into believing crime is spiking everywhere, which can lead to misdeploying limited resources in ways that make people feel good but may actually make certain parts of the city more dangerous. And we absolutely do not need dishonest smears that use battered women as political props, particularly when it sends a message that services don't exist when they do exist.