A spokesman for the Seattle Colleges said the decision not to have Seattle Mayor Ed Murray speak involved “a lot of factors,” including the length of the ceremony, the number of speakers and an effort to limit “the amount of things that can go wrong.”
Mayor Ed Murray will no longer be the keynote speaker next month at a commencement ceremony for the Seattle Colleges.
The mayor was slated to headline the June 16 ceremony at Safeco Field, the first ever to include students from all four Seattle Colleges locations. But a decision was made this week for him not to attend, spokesman Benton Strong said.
Strong wouldn’t say whether the change was related to fallout from a lawsuit filed last month accusing Murray of child sexual abuse decades ago. The mayor has denied the allegations in the lawsuit and similar claims by three men who are not plaintiffs in it.
“Mayor Murray will not be speaking at the Seattle Colleges commencement. His office worked with Seattle Colleges on the decision based on their needs and the demands of the mayor’s schedule,” Strong said in a statement.
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A spokesman for the Seattle Colleges, Earnest Phillips, said the decision not to have Murray speak involved “a lot of factors,” including the length of the ceremony, the number of speakers and an effort to limit “the amount of things that can go wrong.”
The decision was finalized Tuesday and the student-speaker portion of the ceremony will be extended to include the time Murray was going to speak, Phillips said.
The spokesman said he couldn’t say whether the lawsuit was a consideration.
Filed by Delvonn Heckard on April 6, it alleges Murray sexually abused him over several years, beginning in 1986 when Heckard was a 15-year-old high-school dropout living on the street. The accuser is now a student at Seattle Central College.
“With the mayor not speaking, it allowed us to extend the student portion, making students the focus,” Phillips said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them — the focus should be on the students, and nothing else. Let’s give it to them.”
Louise Chernin, vice chair of the Seattle Colleges board of trustees, echoed that explanation. Murray spoke at a Seattle Colleges event last week, she noted.
“I would imagine everything weighed in,” Chernin said. “I do know there was a long conversation about having more students speak.”
Heckard on Wednesday said he hadn’t heard anything about the decision not to have Murray speak at the ceremony.
“The school hasn’t contacted me about it,” he said.
Heckard says he struggled for years with addiction to crack cocaine. His criminal history includes dozens of arrests and convictions on charges such as theft, drug possession and prostitution.
Now in recovery and self-help programs, Heckard is studying at Seattle Central College to become a chemical-dependency counselor, he has said.
The Seattle Colleges serve more than 50,000 students each year across four locations — Central, North, South and the Seattle Vocational Institute.