Mayor Ed Murray’s challenge, now that he’s facing sexual abuse allegations, is that politics isn’t like the courtroom. Verdicts are often rendered in the political realm long before the facts or legal rulings are in.
I have no clue about the truth of the sensational abuse allegations leveled this week against Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.
But I do have a sense I’ve seen this sad movie before.
Spoiler alert: It typically ends without the public learning the truth one way or another. But in the rough calculus of politics, it also typically ends with the politician fading away.
Long ago I covered two top politicians who battled allegations like these, and they were so consumed by it they eventually chose not to run for re-election. Neither resigned, nor did they ever admit to doing anything wrong. But both knew they were going to lose and so left the public scene.
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U.S. Sen. Brock Adams was probably already doomed back in 1992 before accounts were published that he had drugged and then sexually abused several women, which forced him from his re-election campaign. He was polling at 26 percent, in part due to an older allegation that had drained his political mojo.
Later reporting described him as walking “through his Senate duties like a zombie.” His seatmate, former U.S. Sen. Dan Evans, said Adams became “disoriented” and “not attentive to duty.” Months before the new allegations hit, a rising state senator named Patty Murray had already filed to try to take him down.
This is what often happens with these scandals. There is no due process in politics. The political world renders its own verdicts before any legal findings are in.
It happened again with then-Gov. Mike Lowry in 1996. He was accused of sexually harassing his deputy press secretary. Though it was settled out of court without any lawsuits being filed, it hung over him to the point that fellow Democrats began urging him not to run for re-election. One of the most energetic governors we’ve had was perceptibly dulled. Like Adams before him, he served out his term but never recovered.
On Friday I went to the law offices of McNaul Ebel Nawrot & Helgren to hear Ed Murray deny the troubling allegations against him. He gave a brief statement — he was rehearsed but relatively relaxed — in which he sweepingly denied the abuse claims made against him in a Kent man’s civil lawsuit on Thursday.
He would not take questions on the matter, and suggested he won’t in the future, either. This may be legal operating procedure, but it’s rarely sustainable for a public official. Obviously these allegations are germane to whether city voters should re-elect him. Yet even during the election, we can’t ask about them?
Also, tellingly, the question shouted to him by a TV reporter after the mayor said he wouldn’t be taking questions was about how he could keep doing his job well in the face of such a major distraction.
The distraction for the mayor is gargantuan: He’s accused of preying on troubled teens 30-plus years ago. The best he can hope is the lawsuit gets tossed in short order on some sort of summary judgment ruling, and the whole thing somehow recedes from the news.
More likely, though, is that it’s going to hang like a murky unresolved cloud, potentially creating a major leadership vacuum at City Hall. Murray was such a shoo-in for re-election that even this could be survivable — unless a big-name challenger, such as a sitting City Council member, enters the mayor’s race by the filing deadline May 19.
Then it’s Murray’s worst political nightmare. Voters are not jurors, and aren’t obligated to consider the balance of evidence. Or wait for all the facts.
As Adams and Lowry eventually sensed, the voters’ verdict can simply be that they want the cloud to go away.
Up above I called this movie sad. Saddest of all is that it isn’t a movie. Real lives and real pain are in the mix. No matter how this plays out, it’s going to be a difficult season for the real city at the center of it all.