Could Seattle Mayor Ed Murray mount a successful write-in campaign for a second term? Some political consultants see a path, but Murray would face serious obstacles.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says he’s still not sure whether he’ll pursue a write-in campaign to keep his job.
A day after a sexual-abuse lawsuit against him was dropped — at least for now — Murray said he hadn’t had time to seriously weigh his options.
“We’re taking a little time to heal, and we’ll look at it … take a serious look at it,” he said in a brief phone interview.
It may seem improbable, but some see a path to victory if Murray dares.
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With 21 candidates on the Aug. 1 primary ballot — and perhaps six considered serious contenders — the top two vote-getters could advance to the general election with fewer than 24,000 votes, estimated Marco Lowe, an aide in two mayoral administrations who teaches political science at Seattle University.
“The mayor has something going for him: He is the sitting mayor,” Lowe said.
Monisha Harrell, a Seattle political consultant, said “there might be people who will support him because they feel he was wronged, and that it will feel like righting a wrong.”
Still, Murray would face substantial obstacles, including the possible refiling of the lawsuit by Delvonn Heckard, the Kent man who claims Murray raped and molested him, paying him for sex as a teenager in the 1980s.
Heckard and his attorneys insist their withdrawal of the lawsuit this week was strategic, and they have vowed to refile the case after Murray leaves office in January.
Three other men, including Jeff Simpson, Murray’s onetime foster son, also have accused Murray of sexual abuse they said occurred decades ago. None has retracted their claims, which Murray has denied.
In ending his re-election campaign this past month, Murray said he did not want the mayoral race to be centered on the allegations against him.
“The mayor’s race must be focused on … issues, not on a scandal, which it would be focused on if I were to remain in,” he said at the time.
Successful write-in campaigns, though rare, have happened around the country and in Washington state.
In 1994, Republican Linda Smith won a primary as a write-in candidate in a southwestern Washington congressional race after the presumed GOP front-runner dropped out. She went on to defeat Democratic incumbent Jolene Unsoeld in the general election.
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In 2002, Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams was forced to run as a write-in for his second term after a scandal erupted over potentially fraudulent voter signatures on petitions required for him to be on the ballot. He successfully made it through the primary and was re-elected.
And in 2010, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska won re-election as a write-in candidate after losing in the Republican primary to tea-party favorite Joe Miller.
“If Lisa Murkowski did it, it makes everything possible,” Harrell said. “I joke, but Murray is an easier name to spell than Murkowski.”
Voters wanting to re-elect Murray would need to spell his name correctly on the August primary ballot, according to King County Elections. However, if Murray files as a declared write-in candidate by the July 14 deadline, elections officials would count any commonly recognizable spelling variation of his name.
If Murray finished in the top two in the primary, his name would appear on the general-election ballot in November.
He also could bypass the primary, and seek write-in votes in the general election.
Murray has toyed with a possible write-in campaign before. In 2009, Murray, a state senator at the time, publicly considered running as a write-in after then-Mayor Greg Nickels placed third in the primary election, leaving two first-time candidates, Joe Mallahan and Mike McGinn, competing in the general election.
Murray ultimately decided not to run.
He also would have practical problems restarting his campaign after ceasing fundraising and seeing his political team move on to other mayoral campaigns. And there isn’t much time, as ballots for the election will be mailed in mid-July.
“We’ve always known him to be very pragmatic. He clearly still has the desire to serve, but, you know, does he have the resources?” Harrell said. “Even beyond the money, do you have the team?”
Murray still has about $165,000 in his mayoral campaign account as of the end of May, according to state Public Disclosure Commission reports. After subtracting debts owed, he had about $90,000 available.
In a low-turnout primary, that could be enough to target key supporters.
“With this much money with that few voters needed, there is no doubt if he does a write-in it will affect the outcome,” Lowe said.
At the very least his candidacy could divide support for former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, who has quickly emerged as the leading fundraiser and has picked up many of Murray’s supporters.
Former state Rep. Jessyn Farrell, who gave up her state House seat to raise money for her mayoral campaign, said any talk of how a Murray write-in would impact the race is “very theoretical at this point.”
“I think the biggest threat would be to Jenny Durkan because they have the greatest overlap in terms of supporters,” Farrell said.
A Murray ally, Farrell released a statement Wednesday in reaction to the withdrawal of the lawsuit in which she decried the “politics of personal destruction.”
But Farrell resisted the idea of dropping her own candidacy if Murray should get back in the race. “We have a lot of momentum, and I am in to win,” she said.
Information in this article, originally published June 15, 2017, was changed June 16, 2017. Information was added to explain that if Mayor Ed Murray were to file as a declared write-in candidate, elections officials would count any commonly recognizable spelling variation of his name.