Surrounded by supporters, staffers, and family members, Mayor Ed Murray announced at the Alki Beach Bathhouse on May 9 that he will no longer seek re-election. His last day in office will be December 31.
Murray’s announcement came as several men allege the mayor sexually abused them when they were teenagers in the 1980s. The “scandal,” Murray said, “is hurting this city.”
“It hurts those who have been victims of abuse, it hurts my family, it hurts Michael,” he said, referring to his husband, Michael Shiosaki.
Murray has watched his political career crumble in the last month. The Seattle Times first reported on April 6 that a 46-year-old Kent man, Delvonn Heckard, filed a civil lawsuit alleging Murray raped and molested him when he was a teenager. Two other men made similar allegations but are not involved in the suit. (Those two men know each other but say they don’t know Heckard.) About a month later, a fourth accuser came forward. He says Heckard introduced him to Murray, who paid him for sex. It’s unclear whether he was under the age of consent at the time of the alleged sex. Murray has denied all the sexual misconduct allegations against him and reiterated his denials during his remarks at Alki Beach.
“The allegations against me paint me in the worst possible historic portraits of a gay man,” Murray said, as some of his supporters cried. “The allegations against me are not true, and I say this with all honest and with the deepest sincerity.”
Murray said the child sex abuse allegations against him would only distract mayoral candidates from debating important city issues, including the homeless crisis, affordable housing, and economic growth.
During the last five weeks, the mayor attempted to discredit his accusers by citing their criminal histories and claimed that the allegations amount to an anti-gay conspiracy. He’s also taken a combative stance toward local media, criticizing the Times for reporting the lawsuit.
Murray’s handling of the allegations sparked condemnation from political and LGBTQ leaders who argued that the attacks on his accusers alone should have disqualified him from holding public office. Murray’s critics also argued the constant airing of sexual assault details during the mayoral race could make survivors vulnerable to re-traumatization.
In dropping out, Murray has shaken up an increasingly competitive mayoral race. While his campaign said he did not lose any endorsements in the wake of the allegations, local political insiders clearly smelled blood.
At least three serious challengers—former mayor Mike McGinn, urban planner Cary Moon, and state Senator Bob Hasegawa—have jumped in the race since the allegations surfaced. (They joined lawyer and educator Nikkita Oliver, who took on Murray before Heckard filed his lawsuit.) In response to Murray’s announcement, Oliver and her newly formed Peoples Party said they respected Murray’s decision. “However,” their statement read, “we hope this announcement does not become a reason to stop talking about vulnerable youth and homeless youth.” Moon and McGinn took their message a step farther, both calling on Murray to resign, rather than serving out the rest of his term.
Murray’s departure from the race leaves open a spot for a new candidate who could potentially inherit some of his endorsements. Expect one of Murray's political allies, like Council Member Bruce Harrell, Council Member Lorena González, or Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim, to announce their own campaign soon. Former US Attorney Jenny Durkan has also indicated that she’s considering jumping in the race.
Before announcing his decision to drop out of the mayoral race, Murray’s speech focused on his career. He staged his speech in the neighborhood where he grew up, “a poor kid…who had never even heard the word gay.”
As a former state legislator, Murray became best known for his work on LGBTQ civil rights issues and marriage equality.
Jaime Pedersen, a state senator representing Murray’s former Capitol Hill district, stood behind the mayor as he made his announcement. Afterward, he told The Stranger that he felt “heartsick.”
“If the allegations are true, it’s terrible,” Pedersen said. “If the allegations aren’t true, it’s terrible.”
Pedersen first met Murray in the 1990s, when both men pushed early efforts for marriage equality. Later, Murray and Pedersen worked together on domestic partnerships and marriage for same-sex couples.
Murray was “smart, focused, determined, [and] bare-knuckled,” Pedersen said. “He’s very ambitious. I think that’s a quality he really values.”
Like in the halls of the capitol, Murray is known in City Hall for his thin skin and his temper. He's thrown tantrums at staffers, city council members, and former Stranger reporter Anna Minard.
In 2013, he beat incumbent mayor Mike McGinn running a campaign promising more collaboration in government in contrast to the contention that marked his predecessor’s term. In some ways, Murray delivered on that promise. Soon after taking office, he created a task force to craft a $15 minimum wage proposal. As the city faced a housing affordability crisis, he convened another group to tackle that issue. Known as HALA, that task force brought together developers and affordable housing advocates to recommend ways the city could increase density and affordability. While some argue that plan doesn't go far enough, the collaboration resulted in the first requirement in Seattle for developers to fund affordable housing in exchange for rights to build taller structures.
Cautious of angering special interest groups, Murray often sought middle ground on controversial issues. His administration increased spending on homeless shelters and services, but also increased sweeps of homeless encampments. He refused to sign groundbreaking legislation allowing Uber drivers to unionize, but didn’t veto the bill either either. Recently, after significant public pressure, he said he supports a tax on high earners.
Sometimes cast as a radical in his legislative days, Murray more closely resembles a moderate in Seattle. As mayor, he won support from both business and labor. He made enemies among homeless advocates and anti-homeless neighborhood activists. And he openly criticized socialist city council member Kshama Sawant almost as often as he did President Donald Trump.
Until the allegations surfaced, Murray looked poised to comfortably ride that middle road to re-election. He amassed a long list of endorsements and raised nearly $400,000 four months before the primary election. According to Murray’s campaign, none of his endorsers rescinded their support in the wake of the allegations. Still, it had become clear the mayor would not shake the allegations. In recent weeks, two polls have gauged voters’ views on the allegations and several potential challengers. The Stranger has not seen the results of those polls.
“He was looking at trying to be mayor, trying to run for mayor, and trying to address the most serious allegations imaginable,” said Nicole Grant, executive secretary-treasurer of the King County Labor Council, which endorsed Murray. “Something had to give.”
As Murray finishes out his time in office, journalists and insiders will wonder about his political future. LGBTQ activist and survivor Danni Askini says that focus is harmful. “That is part of rape culture: centering consequences of abuse on the alleged abuser,” Askini said. “That is the piece that’s really difficult as a survivor to be witnessing.”
As he finished his speech, Murray called his tenure the “absolute opportunity of a lifetime.” Murray then hugged his husband and supporters and walked off the stage. He did not take questions from reporters.
This story has been updated.