Allegations of child sexual abuse against Seattle Mayor Ed Murray have changed the political landscape, though some say it’s too soon to discuss campaign consequences.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray stepped to the podium, glanced at his notes, then raised his eyes to face a row of cameras.
The day before, a lawsuit by a Kent man who says he was sexually abused as a teenager by Murray decades ago had shaken the city.
“I have never backed down and I will not back down now,” the mayor said Friday, vowing to continue his campaign for re-election this year.
Though Murray’s gaze and words were defiant, the lawsuit and similar allegations by two other men have wounded the mayor in a race he was widely expected to win. Amid talk of new challengers, there’s no doubt the political landscape has changed.
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How much? That’s an open question, and it’s one many in Seattle aren’t ready to talk about, even with the filing deadline for mayoral candidates less than two months away.
Some observers are calculating their next moves, while others are reeling from hurt and confusion. No City Council members have issued public statements.
“People need to give this a little time,” said John Wyble, a longtime Seattle political consultant. “These are allegations. Let’s see if we can find out more information.”
Wyble added, “We’re not at the point where we should be discussing politics.”
Some scrambling and strategizing has already begun, however. In an emailed statement shortly after The Seattle Times reported on the claims against Murray, political operative Heather Weiner cited them as a factor in this year’s mayoral contest.
“We’ve been working with a viable, resourced potential challenger for a couple of months now,” said Weiner, a partner at the Moxie Media consulting firm.
“Our firm has been leading a process to help this potential candidate examine whether it would be in the best interests of the city to run against Murray,” Weiner added, not naming the prospective challenger. “Again, she has not yet made a decision, but this development may push up her decision-making timeline.”
Nick Licata, who served 17 years on the City Council before bowing out at the end of 2015, said he hopes people in Seattle withhold judgment as the case plays out.
He said he hopes the city’s leaders don’t allow the claims against Murray to distract them from civic challenges, such as homelessness. But expecting the allegations to have no impact on the mayor would be naive, the former council member said.
“The unfortunate political reality is that issues rarely drive the pace and character of political campaigns. They more often turn on personality,” Licata said.
“Given the atmosphere, with these allegations in the air, I suspect that wannabe mayors are recalculating their chances … I’m sure it’s happening as we speak.”
Whether the claims are true or not, Murray is damaged, Licata said.
“You’re stuck with that story as the defendant,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult for anyone in that position to try to change the dynamic.”
Dan Savage, editorial director of The Stranger and a longtime gay-rights activist, said on KUOW that he felt sad for Murray, whom he has known for years, and the accusers, if they were victimized. But he added: “I don’t see how Ed survives this politically.”
“In sync with city”
Before news of the lawsuit broke, Murray’s week was shaping up relatively well.
An announcement Monday that he was scrapping a plan for a $275 million property-tax ballot measure drew criticism from some corners. But abandoning the controversial plan meant he wouldn’t need to defend it to skeptics on the campaign trail.
The world’s largest boring machine — nicknamed Bertha — broke into daylight Wednesday, completing the digging of the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement tunnel.
And the federal monitor overseeing Seattle’s court-ordered police reform issued a glowing report Thursday morning, praising a reduction in use of force by officers.
The abuse claims halted that momentum, with Murray abruptly canceling a news conference where he and others had planned to tout the police-reform report.
The attorney who represents the man suing Murray — identified in the lawsuit as “D.H.” — kept the heat on the mayor Friday. Lincoln Beauregard pushed for depositions to begin soon and slammed Murray for not taking questions from reporters.
Yet Eugene Wasserman, president of the North Seattle Industrial Association and an avowed Murray supporter, said he expects the Democrat’s political career to survive.
“He obviously feels he can weather it,” Wasserman said, arguing that the mayor can draw on a reservoir of goodwill earned during a relatively successful first term.
Murray has struggled to handle homelessness, catching flak from homeowners over unauthorized camps and from civil-rights activists over the city’s sweeps of those camps.
And the mayor seemed at sea when he proposed and then quickly withdrew a plan to allow duplexes, triplexes and stacked apartments in single-family neighborhoods.
But Murray, who rose in the state Legislature as a champion of gay rights, also can boast of progressive wins during his first term as mayor, having led the city to a compromise on raising the minimum wage and having persuaded voters to expand bus and light-rail service.
Recently, he emerged as a national leader of sorts in the left-wing resistance to policies emanating from Washington, D.C., suing President Donald Trump to preserve Seattle’s status as a so-called sanctuary city not involved in immigration enforcement.
In a televised exchange with Murray on Wednesday night, visiting New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio admitted “a great deal of envy” for Seattle’s accomplishments.
Murray’s politics are in sync with the city, said Wasserman, who in 2015 ran a losing campaign against a Murray-backed property-tax levy for transportation projects. “Even when I don’t agree with him, most of the population does.”
Murray has a substantial head start on prospective opponents, thanks to more than $305,000 in campaign contributions. Other declared candidates, including safe-streets activist Andres Salomon and educator Nikkita Oliver, have raised far less money.
“Between the unions and the developers, he has all the cash,” Wasserman said.
In a statement Friday, Oliver offered no comment on the abuse allegations, instead calling for a conversation about how the city can better help vulnerable young people.
“We have no interest in politicizing tragedy,” she and the Seattle Peoples Party said in a statement. “Hopefully we as a city will stop to consider the serious issues this story uncovers.”
Representatives for Murray have suggested the lawsuit is politically motivated — timed to undermine the mayor’s re-election bid at a crucial juncture.
“These false accusations are intended to damage a prominent elected official who has been a defender of vulnerable populations,” personal spokesman Jeff Reading said Thursday.
The founder of Beauregard’s law firm, Jack Connelly, has supported anti-gay causes, Tina Podlodowski, who chairs the Washington State Democratic Party, noted Friday on public radio. Beauregard has said Connelly has had no input in the case.
If Murray were to resign, City Council President Bruce Harrell would be called upon to serve as acting mayor. If Harrell declined, the council would select another member.
The council may remove a mayor “for any willful violation of duty, or for the commission of an offense involving moral turpitude,” according to the city charter. The mayor would be entitled to a hearing, and two-thirds of the council’s members would have to agree.
Though the allegations will continue to generate political buzz, the upsetting nature of the claims has dominated initial reactions, with observers worrying about the case provoking prejudice against survivors of sexual abuse and against gay men.
“It’s a sad situation for everyone. I don’t think anyone knows what it means just yet,” said Tammy Morales, a South Seattle community advocate. “People are still stunned by the news. I do think the claims should be investigated to give the alleged victims and the mayor due process. Abuse of any kind should never be tolerated, and anyone who is using this as an excuse to spout anti-LGBTQ rhetoric should be ashamed.”
Danni Askini, executive director of the Gender Justice League, said her thoughts are with survivors, including those for whom Thursday’s news triggered personal trauma.
“This is going to be a very difficult time,” Askini added, urging leaders to publicly state general support for survivors, making no comment on the allegations against Murray. “Other survivors should know they’re not alone.”
As for political consequences in Seattle, she said, “I’m not interested in any of that right now. It pales in comparison to the impact this has on people’s mental health.”