In a ceremony that featured calls for class struggle and an appeal to political pragmatism, Mayor Ed Murray, socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant and other elected city officials were sworn in at City Hall on Monday.
Many in the standing-room-only crowd of about 1,000 cheered and waved signs supporting a $15 minimum wage, the signature issue of Sawant and her supporters. But there also were many longtime friends and colleagues of Murray, Seattle’s first openly gay mayor and a veteran of almost two decades in the state Legislature. They greeted his arrival with a sustained standing ovation.
After Sawant took the oath of office, administered by Washington State Labor Council Vice President Nicole Grant, both women turned to the audience and raised clenched fists, a gesture that seemed to signal defiance of politics as usual and solidarity with working people.
In her remarks, Sawant, a former Seattle community college economics instructor, denounced the “glittering fortunes of the super wealthy” in the city, saying they came at the expense of working people, the poor and unemployed whose lives, she said, “grow more difficult by the day.”
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To an audience that included many Democratic Party activists and Murray backers, she accused Democratic and Republican politicians of serving the interests of big business, and said, “We have the obscene spectacle of the average corporate CEO getting $7,000 an hour, while the lowest-paid workers are called presumptuous in their demand for just $15.”
In contrast, Murray said Seattle is known globally for its entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and he pledged to find new ways to “partner with our business community so that we remain among the most economically competitive cities in the world.”
Murray pledged to make city government work to improve people’s lives, including addressing wage disparity and housing affordability. He also pledged to make Seattle’s Police Department a model of urban policing for the nation.
Murray spent the hours leading up to the inauguration in a series of symbolic public appearances. He breakfasted with homeless women and children at Mary’s Place, an emergency shelter. He and his staff and department directors toured the race exhibit at the Pacific Science Center. He attended Mass at the Seattle University chapel.
Murray took the oath of office from former governor and ambassador to China Gary Locke, on a Gaelic bible held by Murray’s husband, Michael Shiosaki.
The inaugural festivities also included a song by the LGBT choral group Diverse Harmony, and a poem by Washington poet laureate Kathleen Flenniken, who described a city where traffic could be brought to a stop by glaring sun as well as by icy roads. In a reference to former Mayor Greg Nickels and the city’s botched response to a bad snowstorm, the poet turned to Murray as she said, “Mr. Mayor, don’t plow your own street first.”
Some in the audience arrived almost two hours early to get a seat, or a place to stand, in City Hall. Parul Shah, a Sawant supporter, came from the Eastside with her 9-year-old daughter.
“I believe in what she stands for and I’m excited that the city believes in the same thing,” Shah said.
Claudia Gorbman, who was one of the first same-sex couples to wed at City Hall when it became legal in December 2012, said she came early to see Murray, a prime architect of marriage equality and gay rights in the state, get sworn in.
She also said she was intrigued by Sawant.
“Her uncompromising intelligence and idealism will be a shot in the arm for Seattle politics and will bring some important changes,” she predicted.
Also sworn in Monday were Councilmembers Mike O’Brien, Nick Licata and Sally Bagshaw, and City Attorney Pete Holmes.
After taking the oath of office from his sons, Elliott and Wyatt, O’Brien told the packed crowd, “I can feel the energy in the room. It’s going to be an exciting two years.”
Lynn Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes