Former Mayor Ed Murray’s retirement pay is significantly enhanced by the high salary he drew as Seattle mayor — the final stop on a more than two-decade career in politics. He resigned Sept. 12 after five men accused him of sexually abusing them as teenagers decades ago.
Former Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who resigned in September amid child sexual-abuse allegations, has started drawing public retirement benefits that will pay him $115,920 a year for the rest of his life.
His total retirement pay was significantly enhanced by the nearly $185,000 annual salary he drew during his first two years as mayor — Murray’s final stop along a more than two-decade career in Washington politics.
All told, Murray’s annual retirement pay easily will surpass earnings for 18 of his 21 years as an elected official, records show. It’s also about $35,920 more — or almost 1½ times greater — than Seattle’s median annual household income of about $80,000.
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Murray, who declined an in-person interview about his retirement, answered some questions through his attorney, Steve Fogg.
“Ed was a public servant not making a lot of money each year until he became mayor,” Fogg said. “His focal point was on being mayor and his public service, it wasn’t on retirement.”
Though seemingly comfortable, Murray’s retirement isn’t peculiar; he’s reaping benefits entitled to him under state law and pension plan rules.
Murray is among a small subset of Washington public employees who retire as dual members of pension plans from both the state and one of three large cities (Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane) that provide their own. That guarantees him two monthly pension payments for life. And, because his state and city benefit plans are “portable,” they can be used to help each other maximize retirement benefits.
Both of Murray’s pensions are calculated in part based on his highest average monthly pay for any two consecutive years along with the total number of years worked.
Murray, who turned 62 in May, qualified for his state pension at age 60. When he resigned as mayor, he chose January 1, 2016, as the effective date of his state retirement, giving him two full years of city pay — or an average $15,405 per month — to calculate his state pension benefits. He also received a one-time retroactive retirement payment of $83,025, records show.
His 18 years of state employment, in turn, helped Murray qualify for a city pension. With less than four years as Seattle’s mayor, Murray otherwise would not have met his city retirement plan’s five-year employment requirement to become fully vested.
The former mayor downplayed his financial prospects during the scandal that last year that derailed his political career. Between April and September, when the mayor resigned, five men accused Murray of paying for sex or sexually assaulting them as teenagers decades ago.
Murray denies all the allegations.
The city late last year agreed to pay $150,000 to settle a lawsuit with Delvonn Heckard, the only accuser to take legal action. Heckard included the city as a co-defendant in his lawsuit, which he refiled in October. The complaint contended Murray used his public office and city resources to defame Heckard, his lawyers and other victims by describing them as politically-motivated liars. Under the settlement, Murray did not pay any money, but covered his own legal costs.
“Nothing but my legacy”
In May, shortly after he announced he wouldn’t seek re-election, Murray told The Seattle Times’ editorial board that, “except for a tiny pension, I have nothing but my legacy …”
Along with his two pensions, Murray and his husband, city parks executive Michael Shiosaki, 56, own two homes — one on Seattle’s Capitol Hill assessed at $876,000; the other in Seabrook, a beach community on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, assessed at $505,600. Shiosaki earned about $147,300 in 2016 and has been enrolled in a city pension plan since 2001, records show.
Murray said through his lawyer that he didn’t know last year how much his retirement benefits would be when he characterized a dim financial future for himself.
“He really wasn’t aware of what his ultimate pension would look like until he resigned,” Fogg said.
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But records show Murray kept informed about his pensions over the years by requesting official estimates based on his changing work circumstances, including a calculation from the state’s Department of Retirement Systems dated three days after his election as mayor in November 2013.
At that time, the agency estimated a state pension for Murray of about $71,400 based partly on his anticipated city salary as mayor through his eligible retirement age of 60.
Murray also requested and received formal estimates for his city pension a few weeks after Heckard’s sex-abuse allegations emerged in April, and again in July, on the day Seattle City Councilmember M. Lorena González publicly called for his resignation, according to records and interviews.
Two-week job pays off
When he was 21, Murray landed a temporary clerk-typist’s job at the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) in Olympia, records show.
He started work in December 1976 — a few months after leaving New York, after officials at a Catholic children’s group home where he had worked accused him of abusing a boy, according to two of his cousins.
The L&I job lasted only two weeks, but that’s all it took to qualify Murray for enrollment into Washington’s Public Employees Retirement System Plan (PERS1). He contributed $14.83 toward retirement from his total earnings of $247, records show.
Murray’s enrollment in the state’s first PERS plan came just under the wire: Nine months later, the state closed that plan to new employees, replacing it with the less generous PERS2 plan.
By 1977, Murray had left L&I and moved to Portland, where he attended college and worked at a group home for troubled kids.
Nearly two decades passed before Murray returned to an eligible job covered by his existing state retirement plan, when he won appointment to the state House of Representatives in 1995. For the next 18 years, Murray worked as a state lawmaker — 11 years as a representative and seven years as a senator — positions covered by his pension plan.
Under the old PERS plan, retirees like Murray who worked in elected jobs get to use a higher multiplying factor than most state employees — 3 percent instead of the 2 percent allowed under newer plans — when calculating pension benefits for those jobs. The old plan also lets members retire five years earlier than later PERS plans.
Still, Murray’s relatively low pay as a part-time state lawmaker largely limited his potential retirement benefits for most of his political career. While in the Legislature, Murray at times improved his income — and, in turn, his retirement outlook — by working second jobs also covered by his pension plan.
The King County public health department hired then-Rep. Murray in 1996 as a temporary program coordinator — a position he held until 1999. His prospective retirement pay also increased significantly while a senator from 2009 to 2013, when he simultaneously worked as a neighborhood outreach coordinator at the University of Washington — a PERS-covered job created amid deep budget cuts.
Moonlighting during that time helped Murray more than double his annual state earnings, which peaked at $97,739 in 2010. The second paycheck also would have boosted Murray’s yearly retirement pay by 98 percent to about $48,170 by the end of 2013, when he ran for mayor.
Ultimately, Murray’s increased pay from the UW job didn’t factor into his pension. Instead, his salary as mayor — which grew to more than $193,000 in 2016, his last full year on the job — was used to calculate and dramatically enhance his retirement benefits.
Had he never been mayor
As a state senator in 2008, Murray was earning about $42,000 annually when Jeff Simpson, his former foster son, alleged to some reporters and lawmakers that Murray had sexually abused him years earlier in Portland.
At the time, Oregon officials could not locate a 1984 state child-welfare investigation that concluded Murray had abused Simpson when the media asked for Simpson’s foster records. News organizations, including The Times, didn’t report about Simpson’s allegations then for lack of corroboration, and Murray’s political career continued.
After more allegations surfaced against Murray last year, Oregon officials found the 1984 records, releasing them in July. The Times’ reports about those records prompted Jeff Reading, Murray’s personal spokesman, to privately encourage González in calling for Murray’s resignation. Reading texted González that “we would not have Ed as mayor” had the Oregon records come to light in 2008.
At that time, Murray’s annual retirement pay would have amounted at most to $16,680 — about $99,240 a year less than what he’s paid in retirement today, according to calculations based on his pension data.