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From Climate Change To Minimum Wage, Seattle’s New Mayor Is Pushing Forward

Ed Murray is bringing about a slew of progressive changes to the Emerald City, in an attempt to save the middle class and prepare the city for the future.

From Climate Change To Minimum Wage, Seattle’s New Mayor Is Pushing Forward

In his first “State of the City” speech this week, Seattle’s new mayor, Ed Murray, invoked progressive hero Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s call for cities to engage in “bold, persistent experimentation.”

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The longtime state senator’s efforts to deliver on that promise to be a civic innovator is one that Co.Exist will be tracking as one of eight new urban mayors to watch who took office in 2014 (see: “The Class of 2014: The New Mayors Who Are Building The Future of America’s Cities”).

Seattle–“an odd mix of innovation … and progressive thought (legalized marijuana) and outdoorsy and can-do spirit”–is a city that has changed rapidly in the last decade, so much so that some local bloggers are hoping to dream up a new nickname. “There’s some awesome alchemy at work here,” writes John Cook at GeekWire.

Murray, who led the successful drive to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington last year, has no plans to change that quirky mix, as he hopes to at once promote progressive change and economic development in the Emerald City.

At the very start of his term, he made an impact already by signing an executive order that would implement a $15 minimum wage for all city employees (it could affect about 600 people). The move comes as the new mayor has already called a commission to look at instating a $15 minimum wage for all Seattle employees more broadly–an effort at the leading edge of a national movement to raise the minimum wage and address the growing affordability crisis for adults with full-time employment in these jobs. Seattle, like San Francisco, has experienced the mixed blessing of a tech-fueled economic boom that is squeezing out low-income residents. Murray is also looking at new ways to create more affordable housing.

“We stand at a crossroads, we can follow the example of other cities and become unaffordable,” Murray said in his State of the City speech. “Or as elected leaders, we can take deliberate action to address the decline of the middle class.”

Many new mayors that Co.Exist has looked at have not directly addressed the challenges of climate change early in their terms, but Murray is an exception, calling it out in his speech as one of two “central issues of our time” that Seattle must be ready to address.

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He talked about transportation policy as the main lever that mayors hold to tackle the issue, saying he wants to see three out of four Seattle residents using public transit, carpooling, biking, or walking to their destinations. (He said he’s readying to announce a new bike share program launching in 2014.) Seattle will also be busy building new seawall infrastructure to handle the rising tides brought by climate change, among other major infrastructure projects, like seeking federal funding to build a new streetcar.

Citing scientific evidence, Murray takes the issue seriously, as many mayors have in a way that U.S. federal legislators have not: “Climate change is the most significant issue we have ever faced as a species. Evidence of its impacts is quickly growing,” he said.

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About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire

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