It’s maybe not fair, and it’s definitely not due process. But what ended Mayor Ed Murray’s campaign for re-election Tuesday is that, on balance, people kind of believed his accusers.
In the end, what brought Seattle Mayor Ed Murray down was simple, and possibly also a bit unfair: People believed his accusers.
I don’t mean believed them wholeheartedly, or even halfway. I have no real insight into whether the allegations he preyed on troubled teens long ago were 100 percent solid, completely fabricated, or somewhere in between.
But the accumulated weight of the testimonies of the four men was just too much. Not in a legal sense, as in beyond a reasonable doubt. In the sense of politics, which is sometimes all about doubts.
I had developed this feeling that Seattleites on balance believed the accusers before I arrived at Alki Beach on Tuesday. But there, as Murray delivered a gripping, mournful eulogy for his own career, I became more convinced of it.
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The crowd of die-hard Murray supporters was resigned, but for the most part they did not seem angry. The emotion was that of a passing, of the end of an era. It wasn’t that a terrible injustice had been done.
“My feeling is that it’s tragic if it’s true, and it’s tragic if it’s not true,” summed up state Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, a Murray ally who a decade ago succeeded Murray in the state Legislature.
The surprised look on my face prompted him to continue: “I know, a lot of people have asked me: ‘Why are you here if you’re not sure what the mayor is saying is true or not?’ My answer is that no matter what happened 30 years ago, what I do know to be true is that he’s been a great mayor for this city. We should have had another four years, maybe eight years, of his talent for this city. Now we won’t.”
Pedersen’s hedging is understandable, because who really knows? But it’s also damning. As I wrote when the scandal first broke, there is no due process in politics. The cold reality is that if your allies aren’t willing to prosecute your case in the court of public opinion, then you are death-sentenced to the political sidelines.
Nobody in the past month has forcefully defended Murray. A lot of people have said he is a good mayor, or have stood by him to testify that he can run the city. This is not the same as saying he didn’t do it.
One of the complicating aspects of this story is how old the allegations are. Pedersen, who like Murray is gay, said it’s been hard to talk about because there was an entirely different context about being gay 30 years ago that is almost impossible for people to understand today.
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Being gay was effectively illegal — in some places literally so. It drove gay men into the shadows in ways that were often harmful. To pay for sex, for example.
“It’s hard to recall from the perspective of 2017 how miserable it was to be gay back then,” Pedersen said. He said this context doesn’t explain away the allegations, though it might cast them in a different light.
For example, he said, if an accuser who claims he was 15 was actually 17 or 18 at the time — perhaps he didn’t remember the dates exactly because it was so long ago — then that seemingly slight change “could shift the story to what might have been, back then, a fairly normal thing that gay men might have been doing in the 1970s and ’80s.”
All of this is speculative, though, because Murray denied the allegations, in total. He’s also been accused of far worse than could be mitigated by the contexts of the time, such as abusing a foster kid.
About the stories of the four accusers, Pedersen concluded, “we’ll likely never know the real truth.”
Fair or not, politics abhors a vacuum like that. The case is easy to make that Murray was a strong mayor. Eighteen months ago I wrote that he was on such a roll that “Seattle is firmly Ed Murray’s city now.”
Suddenly, it isn’t. It’s the silence in Murray’s defense that made this decision for him. For something that sometimes seems so fickle, politics can be brutally resolute.