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Originally published October 17, 2013 at 4:15 PM | Page modified October 18, 2013 at 4:52 PM

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Guest: Racial attacks have no place in Seattle election for mayor

Mayor Mike McGinn’s suggestion that state Sen. Ed Murray did not support affirmative action has no merit, writes guest columnist James Kelly.

Special to The Times

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RACIAL attacks have no place in the Seattle mayoral campaign. The suggestion by Mayor Mike McGinn’s campaign that his challenger, state Sen. Ed Murray, was secretly dismissive of a 1998 bill to support affirmative action has no merit and is beneath us, both as a people and as a city.

We all have fought and continue to fight against racial and social injustice.

We all have fought and continue to fight against hate crimes toward people of color, gays, lesbians, Jews and Muslims.

There are also traces of unfortunate bigotry and bias in politics. We should instead focus on issues and services that keep a city moving forward: public safety, transportation, education, livable wages, affordable housing, better parks and responsible stewardship of the environment. I’m disheartened to hear McGinn or his supporters imply that Murray is racist.

I know both men. I was on the Bridging the Gap team, campaigned for the city’s levy for street maintenance, stood with the mayor on school levies and tried to be a team-player with the mayor.

I have also known Murray for more than 20 years, when he was a state representative, and know of his leadership, hard work and persistent calls for the elimination of sexism, racism and discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Both are good men.

The Commission on African American Affairs commissioned a study to review the state’s affirmative action laws in 1995. The commission concluded that the state law was balanced and fair. We all worked against the legislation proposed by then-Rep. Scott Smith, R-Graham, to gut the state’s affirmative-action efforts.

King County was the only county in the state that voted against what that legislation would become: Initiative 200, which prohibits racial and gender preferences by state and local government in employment, education and contracting. It became law in 1998.

Ed Murray was an early, strong and persistent activist against Rep. Smith’s anti-affirmative-action bill; he opposed Initiative 200. Moreover, Murray was a co-sponsor of state Rep. Kip Tokuda’s 1998 legislation (House Bill 3130) to head off Initiative 200, which other McGinn supporters are accusing Murray of opposing. Their accusation is just not true.

People should not be afraid to have more courageous conversations about race. We can continue to have open communications, exemplified by the forums organized by Herman McKinney and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce in the late 1990s and 2000s. We should use that as a model for future forums.

Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity.

The words of President Obama from his speech about race in 2008 say it best: “To continue the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal, more free, more caring and more prosperous America.”

The candidates and their campaigns should stick to the issues and stop the race baiting. We are better than that. Let’s not go back to using race as a cheap shot that takes comments and actions out of context to make political points, or out of desperation for a few votes.

James Kelly is the former president and CEO of The Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle.

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