Ed Murray was a leader for gay rights, forged a reputation as a sharp Olympia dealmaker and went on to become an effective, if temperamental, Seattle mayor. But his legacy will be defined largely by the sex-abuse allegations that ultimately drove him from office.

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Had Ed Murray’s political biography been written early this year, it might have begun this way:

A Western Washington native and self-described social-justice Catholic whose father worked in a steel mill, Murray forged his political know-how as a gay-rights activist. He sharpened it as a deal-making state lawmaker and wielded it as a temperamental but effective mayor, helping to raise Seattle’s minimum wage and its national profile.

Instead, the 62-year-old will be remembered as a once-important leader disgraced and destroyed — despite his vehement denials — by multiple allegations of child sex-abuse in a sad scandal that tested his city’s progressive values.

Already accused by four men of abusing them decades ago, when they were teenagers, Murray resigned Wednesday after ayounger cousin went public with a fifth claim.

Ed Murray investigation

The mayor’s public undoing, which dragged on for months, was agonizing for survivors of abuse who were shaken by each new allegation, legal maneuver and headline — while wondering what more it would take for Murray to exit.

And stubborn support for Murray among Seattle politicos added to the anguish, said Danni Askini, executive director of the Gender Justice League and herself a survivor of child sexual abuse.

“It just became evident that folks were going to watch and wait because they saw it as political and didn’t want to end up on the wrong side of it politically,” she said, mentioning that homophobic stereotypes complicated the situation.

So, there’s relief as Murray recedes from public view — along with disappointment and unease as others in civic life try to understand what happened, account for how they reacted and move on.

Jamie Pedersen, a Democratic state senator, said some of his Seattle constituents have demanded that he retract past statements in which he called Murray a good lawmaker and mayor.

Pedersen has refused, he said in an interview, describing Murray as “a human being, just like the rest of us … made of a unique combination of attributes and faults.”

Murray’s lasting work should be recognized, Pedersen said.

“I would strongly disagree with the idea that his legacy of public service can be erased by these allegations — even if they are true,” he said. “There are a whole lot of people in Washington who enjoy employment and nondiscrimination protections that they would not have had — or wouldn’t have had as quickly — but for his leadership.”

Though Pedersen said people can judge for themselves how to weigh Murray’s accomplishments against the abuse claims, a former deputy mayor harbors no illusions about the assessment most people will make.

“Ed will be remembered first in people’s minds for the scandal and the resignation rather than the legacy of the work he got done,” said Tim Ceis, who served under Mayor Greg Nickels.

Murray’s accusers say what he did to them matters most.

“I would really like for him to admit it and to take responsibility …” Jeff Simpson, Murray’s former foster son, said in April. “I don’t necessarily think that he destroyed my life, but I believe a lot of the problems I have stemmed from this.”

Decades in government

Murray’s plunge from power came from Seattle’s highest perch, a position the Aberdeen-born politician reached after more than two decades in local government.

That career began in 1988, when Murray — then a Capitol Hill-based activist — managed a campaign for Cal Anderson, Washington’s first openly gay lawmaker.

Murray went on to serve as an aide to City Councilmember Martha Choe; then in 1995, after Anderson passed away, he ran for his mentor’s vacant state Senate seat.

Though he lost the race to Rep. Pat Thibaudeau, he won an appointment to replace her in the state House, then replaced her again in 2006 in the state Senate.

Representing a super-progressive Seattle district while in Olympia, Murray became known as a determined advocate for gay rights, a sometimes-abrasive personality and an astute political operator who was able to hammer out compromises between Democrats and Republicans.

Serving as House budget chair and then transportation chair, Murray brokered deals on auto-emissions standards, gas-tax increases and a major transportation-construction package.

In the Senate, he championed an incremental strategy on gay rights, winning approval for an anti-discrimination law in 2006, a domestic-partnership law in 2008 and marriage rights for same-sex couples in 2012.

It was “a road map for how to pass civil-rights legislation” for the rest of the country, said Monisha Harrell, executive director of Equal Rights Washington and a niece of Bruce Harrell, who became Seattle’s temporary mayor Wednesday.

“He wrote that blueprint,” she said.

Elected mayor in 2013 in a bruising contest with then-Mayor Mike McGinn, Murray set about making good on a campaign promise that helped him win union support — boosting Seattle’s minimum wage.

The mayor drew on his legislative experience, under pressure from activists, and brought business and labor together to strike a landmark agreement.

Other challenges proved tougher. Though he no longer needed to wrangle with Republicans, as he had in Olympia, Murray wrestled with a homelessness crisis.

The mayor declared an emergency and boosted spending on homeless services but took heat for his haphazard sweeps of homeless encampments. Some voters called the sweeps cruel while others demanded they be stepped up.

Results were mixed on housing, with another mayoral panel taking up the issue as rising costs displaced many Seattle residents. Murray backpedaled on a plan to increase density across zones now reserved for single-family houses. But he advanced a program that paired taller buildings with a requirement that developers help create low-income apartments.

“Pretty painful”

In an interview Thursday, Murray talked about his political career, saying he tried to help others.

Referring to a city-subsidized preschool program he helped launch, he said, “Kids will have dramatically different lives because of what we did.”

“People get married every day in this state who never had that opportunity,” he added, citing his work on gay rights.

But ambition was also a driver. “You do things because you care about making lives better and because, as a politician, you’re competitive and you want to be the person who gets things done,” Murray said.

“My legacy, outside the things in my personal life, was the most important thing to me,” he said. “I realize I’ve lost that now, and it’s pretty painful.”

Murray maintains he’s the victim of vicious lies and of unfair media coverage that assumed he was guilty from the start. He has never been criminally charged.

“Because of the one-sided, McCarthyist reporting against me, I believe I’ll be remembered for the accusations,” said Murray, who said the initial allegations against him were politically motivated.

His accusers all said their primary reason for coming forward was accountability, not politics.

“I don’t care if he’s a Republican or Democrat or Socialist or Communist or a Social Democrat,” said Joseph Dyer, the cousin who came forward. “I don’t really care. All I care is that he molested people and he needs to pay for it, period.”

Murray said he plans to spend time away because Seattle deserves a clean break. “(Former Mayor) Charlie Royer told me that on his first day out of office he packed up his car and went on a road trip … He left for several years,” he said. “I’ll end up somewhere on the West Coast, out of town.”

Peers struggled

As Murray’s career unraveled this year, his peers in local government tried to square the allegations with due process and their political and personal allegiances.

“I want you to know that I have faith in this mayor,” Councilmember Sally Bagshaw said at a news conference with Murray in April, speaking to her experience working alongside him rather than addressing the claims about his past. “I have faith in his vision. I have faith in his commitment to making the city the best place it can be for all of us.”

The next month, Murray ended his campaign for a second term.

In an interview Friday, Bagshaw looked back.

“Some folks have said, ‘Why didn’t you get more aggressive on the front end?’ ” she said. “The answer to that was — to keep our eyes on the ball for the city’s business.”

But Bagshaw added, “Clearly, we’ve learned how hard this has been on survivors. It has been really hard on the city family.”

And in an email Saturday, she wrote, “I am deeply burdened by the hurt and division all of this has caused … Friends and strangers have written and called me, sometimes in tears.”

Murray’s “denials became more and more implausible,” Bagshaw wrote. “Had we known in April what we learned serially over these past five months, the mayor’s immediate resignation would have been the only course of action to take.”

Rejecting the notion that the council might impeach Murray, Council President Bruce Harrell in July called the claims secondary to the mayor’s job performance.

“The measurement by which we should also consider all of our actions is what’s in the best interest of the city and is he showing up every single day,” Harrell said.

“I don’t want to be judged for anything 33 years ago,” Harrell told reporters the same day.

Taking over as Seattle’s temporary mayor, Harrell was asked about his remarks. He struggled to explain.

“If any kind of heinous act is committed … and if the healing, if you will, of the victim is part of the process of revealing that, certainly a person should be judged,” he said.

“But I hope that we become a city that evaluates most people now on what they are today, who they are today,” Harrell added.

In the end, a politician who described himself as devoted to helping marginalized people was toppled by allegations that he had preyed on some of society’s most vulnerable.

That contrast was illustrated in June, when Murray proposed a new Seattle law barring landlords from screening prospective tenants based on their criminal histories.

In the months prior, Murray had attacked the backgrounds of his initial accusers, men with records of criminal convictions and drug abuse. He had referred to one as “troubled” and detailed the convictions of another accuser, his former foster son, in an Op-Ed.

“His extensive criminal history is very relevant,” Murray wrote, adding, “This criminal history proves he cannot be trusted.”

The Seattle LGBTQ Commission called Murray’s responses “harmful and inappropriate,” particularly to LGBTQ people, sexual-abuse survivors and people with criminal histories. And the commission in July urged Murray to step down.

Instead, he stayed long enough for the council to approve the tenant-screening law, with an exemption for adult sex offenders.

Only they can still be denied housing based on their criminal histories. Signing the law was one of Murray’s last major acts as mayor.