Seattle Mayor Ed Murray threatened to stop cleanups and pull police off enforcement in a text exchange with a City Council member critical of his plan for The Jungle homeless encampments.

Share story

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray threatened City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw that he would stop cleaning up and protecting the city’s streets if she attempted to hamstring his plan to clear out the Interstate 5 homeless encampments known as The Jungle.

That’s the picture painted by text messages last month between Murray and Bagshaw, which The Seattle Times obtained Monday via a public-records request.

“This is Ed Murray could you call me” the May 21 text exchange began.

The mayor then added, “If you do a resolution on homelessness restricting our ability to deal with the rapes and other violent crime and the bike chop shops down there in the jungle, I will stop all clean ups throughout the city and pull police off enforcement. We are losing the ability to control our streets.”

Most Read Local Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Bagshaw replied, “Is this really from you Mr. Mayor?”

And Murray answered, “Yes.”

The weekend exchange continued over several hours as the mayor, on his way back to the city after a trade mission to China and Japan, tried to reach Bagshaw and stop her from slowing down and restricting his plan, which called for a few weeks of outreach to residents of The Jungle and then for them to be cleared out.

Bagshaw and other critics on the council had been discussing a resolution aimed at protecting residents of The Jungle from being pushed out.

But she held off as the next week began, instead telling members of the media and public that she had begun working with the mayor’s office.

Those negotiations resulted May 31 in a resolution carrying Murray’s blessing. By then, the mayor had already held a news conference admitting challenges with his plan.

The resolution sets out additional guidelines for how the long-troubled site should be addressed, including the mayor and council agreeing that no one should be removed until outreach workers have made contact with every person living there.

It calls for the mayor to give the council at least three business days’ notice before removing people unwilling or unable to accept help.

The Jungle has received extra attention since January, when a shooting left two people dead and three others seriously injured.

Soon afterward, an assessment counted more than 200 tents and other structures there amid unsanitary and dangerous conditions.

Murray on Monday didn’t immediately explain what he meant by, “I will stop all clean ups throughout the city and pull police off enforcement.”

In a statement, a spokesman for the mayor said Murray “has deep respect for Councilmember Bagshaw.”

The spokesman, Jason Kelly, added, “They enjoy a productive working relationship and the mayor looks forward to continuing to partner with her on how to improve the city’s response to homelessness.”

In an interview, Bagshaw brushed off Murray’s texts, attributing them to fatigue.

“I really just chalk this up to eight-hours time difference and being tired and in the airport,” she said.

When asked about the mayor’s apparent threats, Bagshaw said, “Seriously, I thought he was tired.”

But the council member said she’d never had such an exchange with another official before.

Bagshaw said she’s gotten along well with members of Murray’s staff since the text exchange.

“They’re been great,” she said. “We all worked together. Three days later we had a two-hour negotiation session on the resolution.”

She acknowledged she hasn’t yet spoken to the mayor himself, however.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold said she had a similar interaction with Murray in person in January.

During a discussion about encampment clean-ups, the mayor responded to her sharing her views by threatening to call off encampment-management efforts altogether, she said.

“I was shocked,” Herbold said. “I said, ‘I hope that’s not where this discussion takes us. It’s not where I want to go.’ We weren’t really that far apart.”

With regard to The Jungle, also known as the East Duwamish Greenbelt, Kelly said: “With a plan for meaningful offers of shelter, and medical and chemical dependency services on the table, the mayor was exasperated about the difficulty in developing a consensus on how to move people out of the very dangerous situation in the I-5 East Duwamish Greenbelt. The mayor was committed to the idea that every resident in that area receive personalized attention during this initial phase of intensive outreach.

The significant time difference between Asia and Seattle further complicated communications.”

The spokesman said the resolution the council approved last week ended up being consistent with the city’s policies for unauthorized encampments and with Murray’s plan for The Jungle.

Former Councilmember Nick Licata, who worked with both Murray and Bagshaw until last year, said Monday he never received text messages from the mayor like his council colleague did last month.

But Licata, citing Murray’s reputation as a sometimes hothead, said he’s not particularly surprised by nature of the exchange.

“You know, he doesn’t deny that he has lost his temper from time to time,” Licata said. “Certainly, stories have drifted out from his time in the state Legislature. If anything, I’ve heard less about those sort of eruptions since he’s been mayor. I think he’s really tried his hardest to control his spontaneity.”

Murray’s political partnership with Bagshaw may have contributed to his strong reaction. Licata said the mayor may not have been so upset had the council member drafting the resolution been one with whom he more frequently clashes.

“Sally and he have had a pretty close working relationship,” Licata said. “In some ways, he may have taken it more personally. That may have been the trigger.”

The former council member also said Murray may have been feeling the weight that comes with being an executive.

“Everything falls on his shoulders,” Licata said. “That’s not to excuse an outburst, however.”

Here’s a transcript of the text-message conversation provided by the Seattle Legislative Department:

Saturday, May 21:

MAYOR ED MURRAY 7:27 p.m.: This is Ed Murray could you call me at (phone number)

CITY COUNCILMEMBER SALLY BAGSHAW 7:34 p.m.: Tomorrow ok? Otherwise (9:30)

MURRAY 8:16 p.m.: If you do resolution on homelessness restricting our ability to deal with the rapes and other violent crime and the bike chop shops down there in the jungle I will stop all clean ups throughout the city and pull police off enforcement. We are losing the ability to control our streets.

BAGSHAW 9:02 p.m.: Is this really from you Mr. Mayor?

MURRAY 9:12 p.m.: Yes.

9:54 p.m.: Still trying to reach you. Time difference and we are coming back early so (traveling) all day tomorrow

10:04 p.m.: … we are coming back early which means I will be on a plane all day. So I need to speak with you this evening Seattle time. I am getting media (claims) that you are leading a council effort to stop our efforts in the jungle. I am stunned so I should talk with you before I respond.

Sunday, May 22:

BAGSHAW 3:45 a.m.: … I am still gathering information and community comments. I will definitely share a draft with Mike Fong, Scott, Anthony, Maggie and Leslie for their input as well. Have a safe flight.

MURRAY 3:47 a.m.: I assume it is 4am in the morning so I won’t call now. I am absolutely taken aback by your lack of collaboration. Don’t get it.

4:11 a.m.: So I will stay up until I hear from you.

1:29 p.m.: Still waiting to hear from you.

10:46 p.m.: Scott Lindsey said you won’t speak with me because I will yell at you. I have always been with staff when I meet with you and I have never yelled at you.

10:46 p.m.: I have been forceful in my profound disagreement with you on how to approach homelessness, based on the consultants critique of the city.

10:46 p.m.: I am now going to skip a flight in an attempt to reach you.

10:46 p.m.: Sally I don’t know what is going on, but for the sake of the city will you please speak with me?

BAGSHAW 10:56 p.m.: I just tried to reach you. I am planning to meet Hyeok and Mike and Scott early Monday.