Mayor of a Different City
Ed Murray Says He's "Not Running to Be a Progressive Mayor." Why Not?
On August 6, in a halting, stiff primary victory speech at the Crocodile, mayoral candidate and state senator Ed Murray said two things that I found to be very troubling. First, he announced that to make Seattle work, "we need to bring liberals and moderates together." Second, his speech's big money shot was this line: "I am not running to be a gay mayor of Seattle. I am not running to be a progressive mayor of Seattle. I am running to be an effective mayor of Seattle." (At press time, Murray held a 1.5-point lead over Mike McGinn, sending the two to face off in November.)
I want to be perfectly clear, right up front, that what I'm about to write has nothing to do with McGinn. This is about the fact that I feel that Murray seemed to be running for the mayor of a Seattle that no longer exists.
You can argue that the rhetorical staging of Murray's quotes indicate that Murray considers himself a progressive—he is, after all, gayer than a unicorn at a glitter party—but the speech itself was packed with supporting evidence that refuted Murray's theoretical progressivism, including an assurance that in order to achieve "integrated transit," Seattle had to compromise. That basically means we'd have to kowtow to car-loving parts of Washington State that do not have Seattle's best interests in mind.
Seattle is the liberal heart of a state that last year led the nation by voting to legalize marijuana and same-sex marriage. Could anyone seriously claim that those are not progressive causes? Last week, just shy of 35 percent of all primary voters—traditionally a more conservative bunch than general election voters—decided to send Kshama Sawant, a socialist, to the ballot against incumbent council member Richard Conlin this November; Conlin couldn't even clear 50 percent of the vote. Do you really think this is a moderate city?
We don't live in Old Seattle anymore; this is not a city for NPR tote-bag liberals who put Clinton/Gore bumper stickers on their cars and then quietly vote down every property tax that crosses their ballots. This is not a city that can continue to wait patiently for conservatives to come around to our way of thinking on transit.
After the speech, I asked Murray consultant Sandeep Kaushik if the win meant that the ugliest race in Seattle history had just begun. (Murray said recently that if he and Mayor McGinn both made it through the primary, "I think this is going to be the ugliest campaign Seattle has ever seen.") Kaushik, who's already been part of the Murray campaign's ugly tactics of smearing the mayor while dodging issues, shrugged: "I don't know. Ask the mayor... Ask The Stranger." After that, I ran into Washington State Democratic Party head Dwight Pelz, a big Murray supporter, and asked him if he thought we were about to see the ugliest mayoral race Seattle has ever seen. "Top three," he said. Mayor McGinn, Pelz went on, will be like a "Mama Grizzly [protecting] her cubs." When I asked if the grizzly bear imagery was meant to compare Mayor McGinn to Sarah Palin, Pelz replied "maybe." Then he laughed, and said "yes."
Establishment Democrats can lay out all the self-fulfilling prophecies they want, but I don't think Murray even necessarily believes what he said on Tuesday. Murray didn't push for same-sex marriage for all those years in Olympia because it was a moderate idea. It was a progressive idea that he had to sell and sell until the moderates had no choice but to cave, sometimes out of sheer shame. I'm disappointed that Murray would now use the words "progressive" and "liberal" as if they're pejoratives.
This isn't the Seattle of the past. We start debates on the minimum wage and fast food workers' rights and pot and gay marriage here in Seattle that inspire conversations around the rest of the country. We are the bluest of blues. We're tired of having to wait for the dumbest kid in the class to catch up to us so that we can move on to the next lesson. We want to write our own goddamned lesson plans. We want to make our own world. And to do that, we need a mayor who doesn't shy away from the word "progressive," and we definitely don't need a mayor who insists that liberals have to capitulate to "moderates" in order to get stuff done. That may have been Seattle 15 years ago. It's not Seattle now. It's not the city that Seattle's going to be.
We want to be the torchbearers for the great, weird, beautiful American progressive movement. We've got the voters, and we've got the enthusiasm. Why is Murray so ashamed of us? Doesn't he see what's right in front of him? What, after all, is he so fucking afraid of?