On the top floor of Seattle's City Hall, just beyond the reception desk and secured doors that mark the mayor's office, is a long hallway carpeted in a pattern of interlocking squares, all of them differing shades of gray. At one end of this hallway are photographs of the city's mayors going back a hundred years. At the other end, during the administration of Mayor Ed Murray, was the Mayor's Gallery.
This gallery was created in 2014, the year that Murray, then 59 years old, took the helm of this city after representing Seattle for 18 years in the state legislature. The gallery's mission was to showcase emerging local artists of color who lacked art-world representation. Long after Murray resigned in September 2017, just three months shy of completing his first term, the gallery's final installation remained. Most likely it was overlooked in the surreal chaos of the political moment. Unique in Seattle's history, Murray's downfall was brought about by accusations that he had sexually assaulted or abused five young men, three of them young men of color, when he was in his 20s and 30s. For anyone who had the time to stop and ponder it, the exhibit that Murray left behind offered a series of acrylic-on-canvas paintings, most of them focused on young men of color.
The titles of these paintings, already moody, took on a new aspect in the wake of the accusations against Murray. They became a disturbing reminder of the secrets the former mayor was alleged to have carried with him for decades regarding events that, in his repeated telling, never actually occurred. The Delusions of Desire, read the title card for one painting, a whimsical image of a young Black boy. The title of another, also featuring a young Black boy: The Heart That Waits, Wonders.
Other titles in the Mayor's Gallery seemed to unintentionally track the course of the Murray scandal and its mind-bending turns: The Playhouse of Infinite Forms, Of Tenacious Hope and Tempests, The Quickening Pace of Passing Time, The Altar of Empty Offerings.
Murray did not personally curate his gallery—that was done by the Office of Arts & Culture. Even so, as the mayor's office passed from Murray's hands to a quick succession of two interim mayors, the paintings' continued presence seemed a marker of how distracting the turmoil gripping the seventh floor had been. The peak of this turmoil lasted from April to September of 2017, as Murray clung to power while facing a drip, drip, drip of damning allegations published in the Seattle Times. During that six-month period, apparently no one, while walking or running down this particular hallway, had been able to pause, consider what was hanging on its walls, and think, Let's remove these paintings.
The first set of accusations, published in the Seattle Times on April 6, alleged that Murray, in the 1980s, had sexually assaulted a Seattle teenager who was addicted to drugs and was accepting money from Murray in exchange for sex. In addition, the April 6 report aired allegations, known to the Times for years but until then not published, that described Murray abusing two teenagers who had been in the Oregon foster-care system in the 1980s, including one young man who was Murray's foster son. Next, on May 2, the Seattle Times published allegations that Murray had paid a second drug-addicted teenager in Seattle for sex during the 1980s. Finally, on September 12, in an allegation that ended Murray's time as mayor that very same day, the Seattle Times published accusations that Murray had repeatedly molested his cousin in the 1970s, beginning when that cousin was 13.
During Murray's final hours in office, inside a room along the hallway that held his gallery, the departing mayor—still denying all accusations, but acknowledging the political reality—said a quick goodbye to his weary and upset staff.
"I know you don't believe me," Murray told the people who had worked for him through the scandal. "I wouldn't believe me at this point."
Walking out of that meeting and toward his own spacious office overlooking Elliott Bay, Murray would have found himself staring directly at his gallery's most prominently featured painting. It was a reimagining of Edvard Munch's The Scream, with the major change from the original being that the person screaming was now a man of color.
On September 19, exactly one week after Ed Murray left the mayor's office for the final time, I found myself walking down this discomforting hallway. I would walk it repeatedly over the course of the next 71 days as part of a temporary job that surprised me when it was offered—and surprised me even more when, after I laid out certain conditions for taking the job, it was still on offer.
The proposal was that I leave journalism for 10 weeks to work as a speechwriter and policy adviser during the short administration of Mayor Tim Burgess, the second person to be bumped up from the city council's second-floor chambers to the mayor's office on the seventh floor. (The first person bumped up, Council President Bruce Harrell, decided he didn't want the job for more than five days.) I considered the offer, but countered: If I were to take a temporary job in the Burgess administration, there would have to be a clear understanding, shared widely and publicly, that I would later be writing a story based on my time at City Hall.
That was fine with Burgess, whose long career as an elected official would be ending soon after the people of Seattle chose their next mayor (the fourth in one year). Burgess, freed from the pressures of reelection, told me, and others, that he viewed my temporary job as an experiment in greater transparency. There was also an interesting irony in the mix: He'd launched his own run for mayor in 2013 promising seasoned, steady leadership, but dropped out before the filing deadline as Murray gained momentum.
We came to a written agreement, accepted by Burgess and stored at City Hall in an employment memo. "No one in city government will have any editorial control over the direction of the story/stories I write about this experience," the memo read. I promised to work hard, take my job in the mayor's office seriously, and follow the city's ethics code regarding "confidential information." But, I also made it clear: "I have made no guarantees about what I will write after this 10-week period."
Before Ed Murray, Seattle's current City Hall, which opened in 2003, had seen only two other mayors: Greg Nickels and Mike McGinn. The building was constructed as a kind of emblem of openness, all glass and steel and accessible public plazas, with a "river" cascading down from the building's grand entrance through an opening in the wall and toward a public gathering space on Fourth Avenue.
My arrival had been pitched as a way of expanding such notions of transparency, but not everyone thought this was a good idea. That included, importantly, many members of the mayor's staff, a group of about 50 dedicated and exceedingly driven public servants who occupy the windowed offices and interior cubicles of City Hall's sixth and seventh floors. They serve at the pleasure of the mayor, which, by the time I arrived, meant almost all had served at the pleasure of Murray—who personally hired a lot of them—then Harrell, who issued four executive orders in five days, and now the more deliberative Burgess, who could often be found sitting at Murray's old desk reading complex bureaucratic memos, music from Classical KING FM playing on his Alexa speaker. What would happen to the mayor's staff next was anyone's guess, and a source of considerable anxiety.
The sixth floor of City Hall holds the mayor's policy and budget shops, a kind of cocooned citadel, in one person's telling, where long-term institutional knowledge resides. The seventh floor is more chaotic and political, at once a stage for public pronouncements and a space for strategizing. It holds the mayor's large personal office—private bathroom, long meeting table, comfy chairs for informal chats, traditional wooden desk, modern standing desk, long bookshelf—plus offices for deputy mayors, senior advisers, and support staff. In any administration, the staffers on these two floors are the people who brief the mayor, defend the mayor, restrain the mayor, and turn the mayor's instincts and ideology into workable policy, all while responding to the fire hose of requests, demands, petitions, and breaking news stories. These people are not spotlight-seekers, which is part of why they're in their jobs. They care about the public good, they're intensely intelligent, and, quite naturally, they value the freedom to speak freely, in private, as they discuss explosive city issues.
Most of them were as surprised as I was about my new gig, and a good number saw my presence as contrary to their interest in getting important things done with a maximum of discretion and a minimum of fuss. In particular, they wondered whether—after six months of withering public scrutiny because of the allegations against their former boss—they had now been dragooned into some kind of new reality show in which their every utterance would be chronicled in the pages and pixels of a local paper.
I had agreed that "in all conversations with city employees, the default presumption will be that the conversations are not to be quoted," and that if I eventually did want to quote staff working on the sixth and seventh floors, I would need to interview them "at a time after November 28, when I am no longer a Mayor's Office employee." Still, there were concerns.
I was—understandably—kept out of many meetings and conversations. I was iced out during many an elevator ride, too, the most extreme example being an elevator ride during which a staffer, seeing me enter, held a yellow legal pad over their face as if I were walking around the building wearing a hidden camera. (I was not.) Some people just studiously avoided me and, if they wound up in my proximity, never, ever spoke. One impressive example of this was a mayor's office employee who rode in on the same light-rail train as me, but always avoided eye contact.
On my first day, a particular interaction foreshadowed the underlying, awkward dynamic. I was meeting someone when, during a normal bit of small talk, they offhandedly apologized for their messy office. Instinctively, unthinkingly, I responded, "Hey, I'm not judging."
This was met with cold silence.
The silence said to me: Yes, you are. Don't pretend you're not.
Over time, however, the chill thawed, and this article is informed by what I came to learn over the course of my 10 weeks working in the Burgess administration. I had stepped onto the seventh floor with an open mind, not knowing what I might find when I walked through the mayor's office door—or exactly what I would write about. What I'd found inside was a thicket of lingering trauma and confusion over what the last six months had meant. I soon had many questions I wanted to ask people about the challenges of the Murray period.
In interviews conducted after I left the mayor's office, 11 people spoke to me about their experience working on the sixth and seventh floors during the harrowing Murray scandal. All of them talked on the condition of anonymity. In their line of work, speaking on the record—even in circumstances like this—might signal disloyalty, which could be a career-killer. Their voices represent many different levels of the Murray office hierarchy, as well as widely varying roles, but they all expressed some shared sentiments and experiences.
What they had worked through was unprecedented locally but increasingly common in virtually any organized (or disorganized) effort anywhere in America. It is an experience now painfully shared by, in just a few of the abundant examples, agents in Los Angeles, board members of the New York City Ballet, and officials at Michigan State University.
Here in Seattle, the source of the dilemma was that the leader of the sixth- and seventh-floor's endeavor, a powerful man who many city employees admired and felt proud to work for, suddenly stood accused of multiple sex-related crimes stretching over many years. He repeatedly told them, just as he repeatedly told the more than 700,000 people of this city, that the allegations were false. All of the alleged crimes occurred in the decades before he first ran for public office, but it was also true that they were impossible to dismiss. At the same time, these alleged crimes ultimately would not—or, due to the statute of limitations, could not—be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
Faced with all of this, a diverse group of about 50 idealistic, detail-oriented, and highly skilled individuals found themselves humbled by a challenging predicament—a predicament that, over the same period, started to become quite familiar in this country. Who do I believe? And, depending on who I believe, what exactly do I do?
The pace of the Burgess mayor's office seemed impressively fast at first—but whenever I said this out loud, staffers rolled their eyes and told me I just didn't know. Murray had a motor on him that never stopped, I was told. That was one way he'd amassed serious accomplishments and the 64 percent approval rating that, before the scandal, left him nearly certain to win a second term—and, potentially, four more years of job security for his staff.
On one seemingly hectic early-Burgess day, there were reports of an underground fire at a park in West Seattle; two council members reviving the controversial idea of an employee "head tax"; remarks that needed to be prepped for an award ceremony celebrating longtime city employees; and, as always, future remarks to write and other fast-arriving events that needed to be read up on. Each one of these obligations, and many more, sat in their long-negotiated spots on the mayor's shared calendar, which everyone in the office watched on the internal office network the way traders watch a stock ticker—following the mayor's hour-by-hour movements, checking for what's newly "put up" or "pulled down," anticipating what the mayor may need for events that appear on his calendar the next day, or the following week, or later in the month. A regular joke—in fact, pretty accurate—described the day-to-day as House of Cards meets The Wire meets Parks and Recreation (with some days being a lot more Parks and Recreation than others).
Whatever hustle-bustle I encountered in this environment, one former Murray staffer reminded me, it was "a walk on the beach" in comparison to a typical Murray day.
By all accounts, and by his own regular admissions over many years, Murray was a combustible, tempestuous presence, highly reactive, sensitive to slights yet always curious what people were saying about him. By way of explanation, he would sometimes winkingly remind people that, well, he was Irish Catholic. He was also a man of grand ambitions. He loved to quote John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. in speeches, and he instructed his staff to put high ideals above political careerism. "The one thing that he's always said to us," a former Murray staffer recalled, "and I believe he said this at an all-staff meeting—he said, 'Be committed to the good causes, the social services, and to the city. Because your boss will change but your commitments and your dedication won't.' And so he made it clear. He wanted his staff to have values and commitments beyond him—for something greater."
At the same time, Murray loved political fights. He kept score, held grudges, and was quick to go to battle stations. He'd get into it with council members, union leaders, journalists—all at the same time if necessary. One staffer liked to warn new hires: "If you can't see the humanitarian behind the monster, then it's not going to work out for you."
On the days when Murray was fired up (and there were lots of them), it was, according to this staffer, "like going through Fallujah."
Murray surrounded himself with people who fed off the chaos, the staffer said, and "no one had the ability to really pull it back and say, 'Hey, let's calm down and look at this reasonably.' There was no one to really talk each other away from the ledge, essentially. So a typical Fallujah day, I will tell you—I wake up about 5:30 a.m. every morning, and about 5:45, 6 o'clock, I'm out of the shower, I can feel it... and sure as shit, Eli, 6:30 a.m., 6:45 a.m., my phone starts dinging—boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, because all of the text messages are coming in. Then you walk in, 8:30 or 9 o'clock, and you can feel the tension in the air. Everyone is in the mayor's office. They're all locked down, door closed, strategizing about something. An hour or so later, they all come out running into their own offices, they close their doors, and they're on the phone."
Others in the office wanted to help, of course, but often no one outside the inner circle would know what was going on. A not-yet-reported police shooting? A council member causing real trouble? A news story that might damage the mayor? Then an order would go out: "Pull down everything. Pull down everything today, pull down everything tomorrow, reschedule everything."
In the annals of Fallujah-like days that imprinted themselves on the staff, April 6, 2017, stands out. More than seven months afterward, when generally prompted to talk about the beginnings of the scandal period, people I spoke to would recall that date exactly. It was the day the first Seattle Times story about Murray's alleged sex crimes broke.
The story was published around 3 p.m.—but long before that, the energy in the mayor's office had noticeably changed. People with strong emotional antennae picked it up immediately. Others heard from coworkers, "Something's happening." Still others were given a more direct heads-up: "Something's coming." In a visible sign of trouble, people were once again huddled in the glass-walled mayor's office, discussing what they knew the Times was about to tell the world.
"You just run through the rolodex of things," said one former Murray staffer who didn't know what was about to hit. Another staffer wondered: Is HALA, the mayor's Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, falling apart? Did something really bad happen with a department head? Then, shortly after 3 p.m., across the sixth and seventh floors, and all around the city, people's phones began buzzing with Seattle Times push notifications or texts from friends with links to a breaking news story. The headline: "Lawsuit alleges Seattle Mayor Ed Murray sexually abused troubled teen in 1980s."
"This was obviously a worst-case scenario," a Murray staffer said. "There are not a lot of worse things someone can be accused of, besides murder."
For a small number of people working in the mayor's office, this was not the first they'd heard of allegations like this.
In 2015, the year after Murray was sworn in as Seattle's first openly gay mayor, a letter arrived at the office from Lloyd Anderson, one of the men Murray allegedly abused in Oregon. It was sent through a digital portal designed for the general public, and it began, "hey ED, this is one of a few kids you molested..."
The letter described some of the abuse and named Murray's one-time foster son, Jeff Simpson, as an additional victim. "I want you to know," Anderson wrote, "that even after 20 years of marriage and two children and a halfway decent life I still have nightmares about what you did to me and Jeff."
A few days later, a second letter from Anderson arrived through the same portal.
"Seattle should know all about their mayor," he wrote. "You know what I am talking about. My confidants have told me that I should go to the press and I am inclined to agree with them. You should not be in the position you are in, even though you are a good politician and I agree with many of your positions... Ed, I am glad that you have made a difference and that you have done a lot of good, but does the good outweigh the bad? Let's ask the media. God bless."
Those who saw or heard about these letters were told they were connected to very old allegations that had been raised back in 2008 and had long since been fully investigated. There was nothing to them, the higher-ups said, pointing out that the allegations were peddled to the press when Murray was leading a long, ultimately successful, and highly contentious campaign to bring marriage equality to Washington State. "So I was like, 'Okay, these are kind of old claims coming up that have already been disproven,'" said one former Murray staffer who was advised not to worry.
"Many people in the inner circle knew about this," the staffer continued. "Sadly, in my case, I did, too, but just didn't think anything of it based on what I'd been told."
At the time the Anderson letters came in, one compelling part of the internal argument for ignoring them was that these allegations had not only been investigated and set aside by Oregon law enforcement, but by the Seattle Times, too.
This was true. In the April 6 Seattle Times report, which brought the old Oregon allegations to light for the first time (and merged them with an exclusive account of a new lawsuit related to Murray's alleged 1980s behavior here in Seattle), reporters for the newspaper wrote: "While the Seattle Times chose not to publish the 2008 allegations, the similarities between those claims and the new public case gave additional weight and relevance to the previous information."
The next day, April 7, the mayor's office staff gathered in the Norman B. Rice conference room—"NBR," in office shorthand. Named after Seattle's first African American mayor, it is a large, multipurpose space that holds the carved-wood "Corporate Seal of the City of Seattle" that local news junkies have seen, year in and year out, as the backdrop to countless mayoral press conferences.
It is also a favored place for private meetings of the mayor's staff. Murray was not around for this one, and the mood was heavy, tense, and bewildered. Already, people in the office had been asking each other the question that would continue to be of central concern for the next six months: "Do you believe it?"
A regular feature of life in the mayor's office is advance warning on any number of things that are about to rattle the city, and so a number of staffers were angry at having first learned about the allegations through the Seattle Times—especially when Murray and some in his high command clearly had advance warning. They wondered: "Why didn't you tell me? Why was I not included?" And then: "Oh, my job. What's going to happen to me? What's going to happen to my family?"
It was not just Murray's career that hung in the balance. It was the careers and livelihoods of the roughly 50 city employees whose days were inextricably linked to his, from handing him an umbrella before he stepped out into the rain to speaking on his behalf, arguing on his behalf, strategizing on his behalf, and even, in the case of the ever-present Executive Protection Unit, risking their lives on his behalf.
Mike Fong, Murray's chief of staff at the time, led the NBR meeting. Staffers were told the mayor denied everything (as he already had to the Times, "vehemently"). They were also told this whole issue would now be compartmentalized, touched only by outside lawyers and consultants. The office would still function as normal, and anyone who got questions about the accusations—an inevitable reality—should refer those questions to the mayor's outside team.
A few days later, Murray addressed staff members and told them the allegations were not true.
The people who worked directly for the accused mayor were now supposed to carry on as they had the day before the allegations surfaced. Which was impossible. But perhaps necessary, some thought, a kind of noble fortitude in the face of an unfair attack. It was difficult a moment to navigate—and many understood that what felt like noble fortitude now could, with further damaging revelations, come to look like shameful enabling.
By disposition, the mayoral staff was, on the whole, far more analytical than reactionary. These are people who mostly prefer to stand on the hard bedrock of incontrovertible data while deciding a course of action. They are resistant to hyperbole and pressure, the go-to tools of the activist and campaigner, because they are exposed to both constantly. At the same time, they are keenly aware that politics has its own logic, atmospherics, and notions of justice.
As well, they understood that the subject of sexual abuse was incredibly, and appropriately, volatile. People feel their reaction to this sort of allegation on a deep and personal level—including people working in a mayor's office. It was known around the office that a number of people employed by Murray were themselves survivors of sexual violence. In addition, a Murray staffer told me: "Every one of us, me included, have friends and family who are victims of sexual assault, of all varying ages."
Still, when the allegations against Murray first surfaced, according to all 11 of the staffers I spoke with, the initial reactions around the office mostly ranged from skepticism to a studious commitment to wait for more information.
For one, there was the strenuous argument from the mayor and his supporters that this was all a political hit. The plaintiff who filed the lawsuit, Delvonn Heckard, had been presented in court filings as being "disturbed that Mr. Murray maintains a position of trust and authority." Heckard himself said plainly and publicly that he understood his accusations against the mayor meant "his career is probably going to be over." The timing of the lawsuit also raised suspicion. It was filed shortly before the deadline for Murray to decide whether he would formally declare his candidacy for reelection—or not. That, as one Murray staffer pointed out, "really did lend itself to the narrative that this was politically motivated."
There was also the uncomfortable moment when, in response to Heckard's claim that he'd observed a "unique mole" on Murray's scrotum during their encounters, Murray produced a current doctor's report saying he had no such mole. In addition, there were wildly sensational accusations from Heckard's lawyer, Lincoln Beauregard, who alleged that senior Murray staff had engaged in a spectacular "cover up" at Murray's home in the summer of 2016. The details were confusing, a tangle of verifiable fact and unproven assumption, but the broad insinuation appeared to be that Murray, on gay pride weekend, had stiffed a male prostitute who got angry and caused a scene. The small group of staffers who were with Murray at his home that night described a totally different and far more sedate situation: casual evening drinks after a gay rights organization fundraiser, interrupted by a knock on the door. A couple no one knew wanted to come in and use the bathroom and the phone. They grew "slightly pushy" when—because of security concerns—it was suggested they try a restaurant nearby, and in response, Murray called the police "out of an abundance of caution." Beauregard's "cover-up" claim was never proven, nor were his apparent insinuations, and he was soon fined and sanctioned by a King County Superior Court judge for "flagrant" ethics violations.
"I believed in giving Ed the benefit of the doubt," said one mayoral staffer, speaking of their reaction during this period. "There were enough holes in some of the claims that were made—claims that were kind of tangential to the main accusations—that it gave me serious doubts about the truth of those accusations."
Yet another staffer told me, "I was in a place of not believing Lincoln Beauregard."
This person had spent a sleepless night after the Seattle Times story first broke, wondering: "Do I stay in this office?" But Beauregard's behavior made this staffer doubt the man's case. If Beauregard was willing to publicly charge the mayor's staff with an unproven "cover-up," what else was he willing to do and say without proof?
Then, in early May, Beauregard released a handwritten declaration from a man in jail, Maurice Lavon Jones, who claimed Murray had paid him for sex in the 1980s, at a time when Jones was addicted to drugs. Beauregard accompanied this declaration with a jailhouse photo of himself and Jones, in which both of them were smiling broadly. Many found the photo to be more in the tenor of a Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes announcement than a serious accusation lodged against an elected official. It made Beauregard look like "an ambulance chaser," a Murray staffer told me.
"I didn't trust his counsel," continued the Murray staffer who'd spent the sleepless night.
That didn't mean, however, that the staffer completely trusted Murray.
"I always sort of thought that the truth was probably somewhere in the middle," this person said. "That it wasn't true that Murray had engaged in behavior that was truly nonconsensual with Delvonn Heckard, and also that it wasn't true that Murray didn't know him. That the truth was somewhere in the middle. That they did know each other. That they probably engaged in quasi-sexual relationships, and Murray knew that he didn't have anywhere to stay and didn't have food and so would give him money. So, sort of survival-type transactions. That had really been my thought on this. That was not great behavior, but I didn't know if it was the same as molesting your foster son. And then I also figured the story with the foster son—I couldn't believe that in Murray's 20-plus, going on 30, years of public service that this had never really—if there were merit to this story—that no one had actually done their due diligence and looked into it. I had a hard time believing there was truth to it."
Still another Murray staffer said the Times stories "painted a picture of a man I didn't know."
But, this person added, "I wasn't necessarily shocked by it, because I understand that people are multifaceted. People don't always show all of their true selves to folks."
Outside of City Hall, judgment came more swiftly. There were calls for Murray to immediately resign, either because the people demanding his resignation believed his accusers or because they felt Murray had gone too far in defending himself by wielding his accusers' criminal histories as a weapon with which to attack their credibility—or for both reasons.
These calls were mostly confined to online comments until Murray wrote an April 14 editorial for The Stranger's blog, in which he argued that the criminal history of one of his accusers "proves he cannot be trusted." Soon after, the executive director of Gender Justice League, Danni Askini, called on Murray to step down, arguing that "no one, not these alleged survivors, not Mayor Murray, and certainly not the rest of the city should be subjected to the pain, trauma, and humiliation of this case playing out on a daily basis in the press for weeks and months to come."
By the end of April, three serious candidates had jumped into the mayoral race. Murray's reelection, which had once seemed assured, was now in serious doubt. More candidates would soon jump in with them. By early May, two of those candidates, adopting the argument that the ugliness of Murray's battle with his accusers was simply too harmful, added their calls for Murray to resign.
It became an anguishing situation for the mayor's staff—although, as more than one Murray staffer pointed out, any anguish they were feeling "really pales in comparison" to what Murray's accusers said they'd experienced.
Still, it was not easy to go out in public and have people tell you about how your depraved boss needs to step down. Equally dicey was when, at certain community events, people would sometimes come up and loudly encourage Murray to keep fighting back. It was also becoming difficult to prevent the mayor's routine public appearances, in normal times designed for nose-to-the-grindstone visuals, from becoming opportunities for the media to ask him about the latest scandal developments.
On April 18, for example, Murray staged a press event in which he personally paved a pothole in order to call attention to a broader push to smooth things over on Seattle's roads. "Pothole Palooza," this was called. Less than two weeks had passed since the first Times story broke, and reporters at the event, not any more interested in potholes than usual, took the opportunity to ask scandal-related questions.
In private, Murray's staffers were being confronted with questions, too.
"It definitely puts stresses on a lot of your friendships," said one, "because some people say, 'Why not just quit?' Or people start talking to you about Nikkita Oliver and all these other candidates who are now vying for your jobs and everything you've been working for, and talking shit about everything you've done—and that's all been triggered by the fact that this guy has a terrible past. It just makes you question everything you've worked on. It's really bewildering... It was a weird combination. You felt that someone died. You felt super insecure about your job. And you felt really isolated. And, frankly, you felt kind of embarrassed to say you worked in the mayor's office."
Following the same protocol used for the aftermath of shootings and other traumatic events, counselors were available to Murray staffers who needed help processing the unfolding allegations.
No one was forcing any of them to work for Murray, but the wide range of pay and experience in the mayor's office now became a factor influencing decisions. Senior mayoral staff can make more than $100,000 a year, some closer to $200,000. More junior staff generally earn less than $100,000 annually—some significantly less. A number of Murray staffers I interviewed began crafting escape plans during this period, and these staffers held both higher- and lower-level jobs in his administration. But they all acknowledged that the lower one was on the pay scale, the higher the stakes.
"I'm hoping," said one such staffer, "that most readers will understand that there's not a lot of us who have the luxury to make those decisions"—meaning, decisions around quitting or not. "The idea of walking away wasn't something that we could do."
"I am like everyone else," said another staffer. "I live in this city but I don't get paid a lot. I don't come from a wealthy background. I need to pay rent. I need to pay my bills. I need to save money. I need to be prepared for a rent hike that may displace me. All the same issues that everyone is talking about and angry about, I also experience. People are telling you to quit, and you're like, 'Yeah, I'm trying. I'm trying to find something else...' But for me, it was tough, because working in the mayor's office was the best job I've ever had. It was the most hellish and the most difficult, but I loved working there. And not because of Ed Murray. It was because of the information you got, the policies you got to work on, the people you got to meet. It was just fun. You're working on the stuff that is important to the city that you love. It was great. And to have it have that stink on it was tough. I'm frankly not over it."
"I love my job," said yet another, "and it's something I expect to retire from. So it never occurred to me to leave... It seemed more just like something I had to weather, and look forward to the next mayor."
On May 9, Murray announced that everyone should, in fact, plan on having a new mayor. He would not be running again.
"It tears me to pieces to step away," he said. "But I believe it is in the best interest of this city that I love." Now the race to replace him was wide-open, and soon there were additional candidates announcing their runs, including the person who would eventually succeed him, Jenny Durkan, a former US Attorney and the first out lesbian to hold that post. Durkan's path through local politics, and particularly through local Democratic and LGBTQ circles, had intertwined with Murray's at points over the years, and she actively sought and proudly trumpeted his endorsement of her candidacy.
Even as Murray declared he wasn't running, he announced his intention to finish out his term. Under that scenario, the mayor's office staff could at least count on being employed by Murray through the summer, through the holidays, and perhaps into the first days of the New Year. At that point, a lot of them would move on to other jobs. If not, the new mayor might well force them out, just as Murray had forced out many of their predecessors.
But Murray's decision failed to end the public upset around his continued leadership of the city. He was disinvited from events. Letters to the office—never entirely free from vitriol, and often raising Murray's sexuality in hateful ways—now became next-level scathing. Down on the second floor, council members found themselves spending a considerable amount of time explaining, defending, and revising their positions on whether the mayor should resign.
"Ed's claim that this would have no impact on his ability to run the city was bullshit," said one staffer. He was still facing Heckard's lawsuit, which meant looming depositions and perhaps an eventual court battle. "He would try to get things done," the staffer continued, "but he was fully focused on [the scandal] and nothing else. While the city kept running because the department directors kept things running, and staff kept things going, he wasn't the effective mayor that he thought he could still remain."
Morale continued to decline. "It's a terrible feeling," another staffer told me, "to have to go to work every day and have to think about, 'Okay, what's going to come out today?' That feeling is very exhausting over time... It slowed down my job and it completely killed my motivation to represent that office and that person in the community."
Then, on June 14, Heckard announced he was dropping his lawsuit against Murray and would be refiling it at a later date. Murray held a press conference at City Hall that same day. Standing before the carved-wood seal of the city, he described the lawsuit as a "painful experience"—for him, for his family, for the people of Seattle, for survivors of sexual abuse, for the "vulnerable people who seemed to be exploited by an attorney with a publicity agenda," for the LGBTQ community ("who were subject again to the most despicable stereotype of who gay men are"), and for city employees. He apologized to anyone hurt by his aggressive response to the accusations. He decried "this political effort to end my public career" and he sought to turn the page, talking about his push for affordable housing and police reform, highlighting his administration's lawsuit against the Trump administration over the constitutional rights of immigrants, noting his status as a champion for both progressive ideals and "fixing potholes." He also seemed to intentionally stoke speculation that he might now run for mayor on a write-in campaign.
The first question from a reporter: "Sir, does the withdrawal of this lawsuit vindicate you?"
Murray's response: "I believe that the lawsuit was—yes, I believe the withdrawal of this lawsuit vindicates me, yes."
His claim of vindication became the headline.
Captured widely on video, it also became part of the collected, universally accessible cache of public denials that would become his final undoing.
If there was any relief in the mayor's office after that June 14 press conference, it was short-lived. A month later came another story in the Seattle Times: "Seattle mayor sexually abused foster son, child welfare investigator found in 1984."
This was another one of those days that made a Fallujah-style impression.
One staffer summed up the sharp turn for the "roller coaster" this way: "The case gets dropped, and it seem like, 'Well, there you go.' Even if you felt like maybe something had happened, or maybe there's a side of the mayor you didn't know or want to believe existed, you know, there's not a case here. And then you turn around and get the report on the Oregon documents. It's like, 'Oh shit, there is something there.'"
For most of the Murray staffers I interviewed, this Seattle Times story, centered on newly unsealed documents from the State of Oregon, marked the precise moment they lost faith in the possibility of Murray's innocence, the moment they abandoned the theory that a sinister combination of opportunism and complex historical revisionism could be solely responsible for the four accusations against their boss.
Describing the situation between Murray and his one-time foster son, Jeff Simpson, the Times quoted a Child Protective Services caseworker's 1984 assessment: "In the professional judgment of this caseworker who has interviewed numerous children of all ages and all levels of emotional disturbance regarding sexual abuse, Jeff Simpson has been sexually abused by... Edward Murray."
As a consequence of that finding, state officials had decided Murray should never be allowed to be a foster parent again.
In addition, the Times reported that an Oregon prosecutor who had declined to charge Murray in that case—leading to a regular Murray talking point about how law enforcement had shelved Simpson's bogus allegations—actually wrote a memo saying something different and more complicated. "It was Jeff's emotional instability, history of manipulative behavior, and the fact that he has again run away and made himself unavailable that forced my decision," the prosecutor's memo read. "This in no way means the District Attorney's Office has decided Jeff's allegations are not true."
Murray said he was unaware of the CPS worker's findings until the Times told him about them in July 2017, several days before the article came out, and that he would have appealed them if he'd known.
At City Hall, Murray staffers pored over the documents. Here, finally, was some kind of bedrock to stand upon. Beneath all the "he said, he said," beyond all the grandstanding declarations of righteous omniscience on social media, beyond the demands that Murray do this or that based on what someone in the present moment chose to believe about decades-old claims—here, finally, was a contemporaneous account by someone just like them: a public servant.
"There was just no doubt," a Murray staffer told me. "It was 100 percent, this happened. Once I saw those Oregon documents, then it all just snapped together. I was like, 'Yep, I believe every last accuser now'... That was signed, sealed, and delivered. That was the turning point. That article."
Another staffer, the one who at first "believed in giving Ed the benefit of the doubt," described a faltering of that initial belief. "There was a credibility to it," this staffer said of the Oregon report. "Or at least the appearance of a credibility that was easy to not afford to some of the other sort of spokespeople who were making those accusations."
But, this person added, "As much as I became a bit more skeptical, I also think that context is incredibly important here. The fact is that Ed was a young gay man in the '80s, and the state and the foster-care system most likely made a lot of assumptions based on that status of his. I think, although I maybe began to doubt him a little bit more, I didn't necessarily—I guess I would say I still took it with a grain of salt because there was a lot of context there. Again, I don't know the truth of Jeff Simpson. And I know he clearly had a difficult childhood and that makes understanding where somebody's coming from more complicated. And I know that, too, a social worker's report is going to be full of all sorts of narrow assumptions and biases."
Another staffer added similar caveats.
"It's really hard to know exactly what happened between him and these guys," this person said. Having come to believe there was something real behind the Murray allegations, this staffer also cautioned: "I just don't know to what degree that was, and whether all these allegations are true, or some or none are true, or they're true but not to the extent that has been alleged."
A significant number of Murray staffers, in almost the exact same words, told me that by this point there was one thing they were certain about: "You don't really know people."
The thing was, many people, particularly LGBTQ staffers who had been excited to come work for Murray, did think they knew him.
"We all looked up to him," said one gay staffer, "and we had a certain image of this career politician in our mind." Another described feeling really excited to look into the mayor's office and see "someone from my own community... someone who got stuff done, who's a champion nationally and internationally for gay rights."
Murray understood the historic heaviness of the transformation in public perception that was now under way. During a local television interview not long after the first allegations were reported, he said that if he didn't forcefully counter the charges, he would soon be viewed as an "unemployable pedophile."
It should be noted that although Murray himself used the term "pedophile," and while he's correct that "pedophile" often gets deployed as a kind of catch-all descriptor for adults who prey on those under the age of consent, the technical definition of a pedophile is narrower: someone who's attracted to prepubescent children. Across all of the allegations against Murray, he was consistently accused of something else: sex crimes against young men in their early and late teens. Experts have other "-philias" for this type of behavior, but regardless of the descriptor one might attach, one thing this behavior would certainly constitute is statutory rape. Another thing it would constitute: abuse of trust and power.
In any case, as Murray bitterly noted at his press conference after Heckard's lawsuit was dropped, the descriptions of him in the allegations tracked closely with "the most despicable stereotype of who gay men are." That stereotype, long in the making and reinforced with gusto by anti-gay religious leaders, casts gay men as sexual predators who take advantage of the young and the vulnerable. It's been used to prevent gay men from becoming teachers, from staying close to their families, and from adopting children and creating families of their own. And—to this day in some countries—it is used as a justification for locking gay men up, torturing them, and even executing them.
One gay staffer who talked to me said, "I've heard that flung at me in a derogatory way—'You're just a pedophile.'"
Murray, in one of his early statements about the scandal, said categorically: "I have never had sex with a minor." But if you were a gay Murray staffer, and you now came to believe that Murray had indeed committed the crimes he was accused of, a logical next step might be to wonder whether something extra diabolical was before you: a sexual predator cynically exploiting liberal revulsion at an anti-gay stereotype in order to shield himself.
This was hard to fathom, given that Murray had spent his entire political career going to the mat for LGBTQ equality, often at great personal risk. But there it was. By entering politics as an out gay man, and through his decades of consequential public service, he had literally helped to bury a stereotype whose ugly history he was now invoking as a useful tool of deflection—assuming all the allegations were true.
Which some on his staff now did.
"You're like, 'Huh, now you just set us all back, dude,'" said one staffer. "This is the worst stereotype that our community has been trying to overcome for decades. And it's just so false. But here you go, as a big champion, and you just live up to it. And also the hubris that it takes to—knowing that this is in your background—to put yourself into a public position and then double down on it all... You knew all this was true. And you entered into a life championing LGBTQ rights and equality, knowing that one of the worst stereotypes of gay men is that we're pedophiles—while you yourself were. And you finally got caught. You just so damaged our community and reinforced so many people's thoughts about us. It was just—I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about it."
Around this time, a mental shift in allegiance, from "I work for Mayor Ed Murray" to "I work for the people of Seattle," occurred among all of the 11 people I spoke with. Although they did continue to serve at the pleasure of Murray, this new emphasis represented some additional truths. The people of Seattle, through their tax dollars, pay the salaries of the mayoral staff. The people of Seattle, through their votes, elected Murray. The people of Seattle, then, constitute a higher boss—the boss's boss.
One person also decided around this time to make good on their escape plan. "I felt like it was not a healthy environment for me to be in anymore," they said.
Others stayed put, but refocused themselves. "I thought that the work that I was doing mattered," said one such staffer, "and so I wasn't ready to just jump ship because I thought that it was important to the citizens that the mayor's office continue working. But I did have an exit strategy and I developed how I was going to get out. And that was where I was. And I hadn't shared that with anybody. It was just that I had a plan for getting out, sooner rather than later."
Feelings of betrayal hardened.
"Not only did you do it—I have zero doubt," said one staffer, describing their thoughts about Murray during this period, "but you lied to my face to try to get me to participate in your whole cover story and your cover-up. And to get me on your side. It really hurt. It felt like a huge betrayal."
Another: "I feel like he has lied to the public for his entire career, and I would have never gone to work for a guy—in a million years, I would have never gone to work for a guy—who has done what he did."
If I later ended up experiencing some frosty elevator rides at City Hall, they appear to have been toasty in comparison to the encounters Murray had at this stage of events.
One staffer recalled boarding the elevator one evening to leave the office and finding Murray and his security team already inside. The staffer looked at Murray and tried to figure out whether to smile at Murray, do anything, say anything. The staffer decided to say hello to the mayor's bodyguards, who said hello back.
Murray just looked at the floor.
There was another depth to some of the feelings of betrayal, one that went beyond identity and suspicions of being manipulated, down toward something that is difficult to describe but core to the experience of a lot of people who end up working at City Hall. To understand this thing, consider the case of Dan Nolte, a spokesperson for the city council who Burgess brought up to join the seventh-floor communications team during his 71-day administration.
Like me, Nolte arrived up on seven after Murray resigned and, like me, he departed as Durkan arrived. This made him willing to share one on-the-record anecdote.
In his early 20s, Nolte got his first paid political job working for a high-energy 2006 Democratic congressional campaign on the Eastside—14-hour days, going door-to-door trying to get people to volunteer, "the camaraderie you build with your colleagues in pursuit of a mission for somebody you believe in." He loved it. His candidate lost by just a few thousand votes, but Nolte wanted more.
But it was November. There was no more campaigning in sight. He was broke, too—so broke he started budgeting $1 per meal. "A lot of Top Ramen. A lot of canned soups and things like that." If he ate out, it was a 99-cent McDonald's hamburger.
One day, he heard he could donate plasma for cash. When he had his finger pricked to test for communicable diseases, he was told by a nurse, "I'm sorry, you are too malnourished to be able to give blood right now."
What rescued him from this state was not a career change—politics was his thing, for sure—but rather a new opportunity to work on a local campaign, then another, then another. That led to work at City Hall and, eventually, work on Burgess's failed 2013 mayoral run.
Not every single person who came to work for Ed Murray in the mayor's office had a similar backstory, but it seemed that pretty much everyone I encountered on the seventh floor would have let themselves become too malnourished to give plasma—and at times at City Hall had worked to points of exhaustion that might be similar—if it meant being able to keep going in a job that not only made a political difference but, ultimately, meant being a force for good in hundreds of thousands of people's lives.
Now imagine being a person like this—a person who derives deep meaning and purpose from rising to a position of bureaucratic power in order to help others—and then the politician you're working for, whether through unlucky fate or unresolved personal demons, goes and crashes the whole high-minded effort into the ground.
That's the hard-to-describe feeling.
On September 12, the Seattle Times published the story that definitively ended Murray's political career.
"A younger cousin of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray on Tuesday became the fifth man to publicly accuse the mayor of sexual abuse, saying Murray repeatedly molested him as a teenager in the 1970s."
"That morning," a Murray staffer told me, "things moved very quickly."
On this final Fallujah-style day, the mayor had been scheduled to travel to Lower Queen Anne for a long-awaited announcement about the redevelopment of KeyArena, but that event would be canceled. (Later, during the Burgess administration, despite pleas that he stay away, Murray, silent and wearing a black coat and gray hat, would show up at a mayoral press conference near KeyArena. He explained he was "a private citizen now," but some wondered if this might have been some kind of attempt at righting, or at least adjusting, the trajectory of his last day in power.)
Inside the mayor's office on the morning of September 12, Murray huddled with a few senior aides. He'd been given notice the Times story would be published in a couple of hours, and the question was, by now, familiar: What to do?
The senior staffers told him he needed to resign.
In response, Murray wondered if he could eke out a little more time. It seemed he understood his tenure as mayor was over. Still, he wanted to try to fiddle with the precise moment it would end.
The mayor's annual budget speech was in less than two weeks. It would have been the last major act of his term, a final opportunity to address the people of Seattle and the city council. Could he make it to the budget speech?
No, he was told. You are resigning today. This is it.
Murray didn't require a ton of convincing.
But he did need to be told.
The Seattle Times story dropped just after 11 a.m.
Once again, the buzz of push notifications. Once again, the anger felt by some who were not given forewarning.
Staffers who'd remained unsure of how to answer the "Do you believe it?" question now considered the latest revelation.
"Damning," said one.
Murray had occasionally spoken in public—including during his "vindication" press conference—about his family's familiarity with the pain of sexual abuse. According to the Times, Murray's cousin "got angry watching video of Murray appearing before the media to deny some of the other men's allegations."
Murray denied these new allegations, too. Speaking to the Times, he also painted a picture of warring family factions, one of which he believed was against him: "I guess they see me down and out, and they want to finish me off."
"I know enough about Ed," another staffer said, "to know that, again, in the context of his life—young gay man in a large Catholic family that has its own host of troubles—you know, family dynamics can be really fucked up. And that's not to say that he did it or he didn't do it, but I think even that scenario, there's kind of a context there. Again, I don't know the truth of this. That nephew knows the truth. Ed knows the truth."
But, this person continued, "Divorced from the truths of the situation or not, he was totally fucked."
Before too long, Murray would walk the hallway holding the Mayor's Gallery. A large number of his staff would be gathered in "Historical," the name for another one of the seventh floor's conference rooms. During the Murray administration, the walls of this conference room were lined with black-and-white photos sent up from the Seattle Municipal Archives. They showed the city from some of its earliest days: the unreconstructed mud flats along Elliott Bay, a group of Lake Washington bathers in bygone, very conservative swimwear.
It was a short meeting.
There were far more people than chairs, so many staffers crowded in around the edges of the room, standing. Murray apologized for what they'd been through. He praised his staff's abilities and thanked people for their work. He again said the allegations were not true. He added: "I know you don't believe me. I wouldn't believe me at this point."
To staffers who were present, Murray looked alternately solemn, tense, and pained.
Someone suggested noting his accomplishments, and so they were listed: The $15 minimum wage, the affordable housing agenda, an education summit, the Move Seattle Levy...
People clapped, but Murray looked like he just wanted to get out of there.
So did staffers who were variously numb, sad, or simply at their wit's end with him.
"You're just like, 'Okay, see ya, Felicia," said one.
Soon Murray was headed home, his days at City Hall in the rearview mirror, his power surrendered, his moment over.
Exactly one week later, I showed up on the seventh floor and met with Burgess. My first assignment: write a new budget speech. Quickly.
As I learned my way around, I also learned how much the six months of scandal continued to weigh on everyone. It was impossible not to notice. Exactly how much it would affect their careers remained to be seen, but one immediate effect was that staffers who had expected to be employed by the Murray administration into the early days of January 2018 now, under city rules dealing with mayoral resignations, faced November 28, 2017—just a few days after Thanksgiving—as the new mayor's swearing-in date (and their likely termination date).
As is common in periods when one group sees itself about to wash out of City Hall while another group washes in, there was a lot of open talk about future plans, jobs that might be available elsewhere in the city, things that might be done to curry favor with the next mayor in the hopes of finding a good new gig. Most people correctly assumed the new mayor would be Durkan, who, after Murray's resignation, had quickly disappeared his endorsement from her website.
A similar attempt to wriggle free of Murray was now going on among the mayor's office staff, many of whom, as they thought about next steps, were deciding to list "Seattle Mayor's Office" on any future résumés, rather than "Seattle Mayor Ed Murray."
As the weeks of this transition period went by, it was also impossible not to notice how, in the wider world, other powerful men were now rapidly falling to allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and many other styles of predation: Harvey Weinstein, Garrison Keillor, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, John Conyers, Russell Simmons, Al Franken, Louis C.K., Leon Wieseltier.
All of those men, and more, were accused and lost positions of power during the weeks between Murray's resignation and Durkan's swearing in.
As they reflected on their time in the midst of the Murray scandal, and the decisions they made along the way, the people I interviewed shared moments that changed them.
"Ed was the canary in the coal mine of powerful men being taken down," one staffer told me. "I think there's a collective sentiment now that we're at this point of no return, where it's not okay for men in power to do these things to the people around them. And as much as Ed's story is maybe a little different—he wasn't accused by people who'd worked with him—I think there is very much a reckoning happening nationally. So I think having gone through an experience that has a facet of all of that, I think it sensitizes me and other people who were there to hopefully be vigilant about the spaces we work and live in moving forward."
For another staffer, it was the sudden awareness that, "Oh my god, I participated in rape culture... Someone came forward with a sexual-abuse claim and my first reaction was 'Eh, seems a little sketchy to me.'"
This was the person who now believes "100 percent" that every allegation against Murray is true. Most people I talked to were not in the same place.
While a majority of them believe something did indeed happen between Murray and a number of his accusers, a majority also told me they still don't "100 percent" believe every accusation that has been levied.
Some of them cope by just flat-out refusing to judge. "Only he and God know what the truth is," said one such person.
"The crazy thing about this whole scandal," said another, "is that it never even made it to court. The entire process was in the media." This staffer wished there could be a kind of "truth and reconciliation" process.
"For the victims, for Ed, for this entire city."
On my last day as a temporary speechwriter, and Burgess's last day as temporary mayor, I rode to South Seattle with him in a Black Toyota Highlander SUV—a hybrid, of course—that was driven by his Executive Protection Unit. Nolte was in the car, too. It was a cold night, but the lights of the city were pretty and I was enjoying my last moments, seated in an inner ring of a relatively small circle that, for a brief period best marked in weeks (10) or days (71), helped lead this city. We were headed to watch Durkan formally become mayor at a ceremony held in a small Ethiopian community center.
It was quiet in the car.
The quiet left space for thinking. Earlier in the day, in the now-emptied mayor's office, I'd been shown a drawer in the wooden desk that's been signed by mayors dating back to the 1950s. Gordon Clinton, Wes Uhlman, Charles Royer, Norm Rice, Paul Schell, Greg Nickels, Mike McGinn.
Mayors come and go. Power comes and, inevitably, goes. Memory morphs into history, but in the end, what do we remember about any of these people?
What will people remember about Murray, who signed the desk with a flourish that underlined his name, but also noted his not-quite-four years: "2014–2017."
One weird and unforgettable day of my temporary job had involved helping to scratch Murray's name off mayoral signing pens in an unsuccessful attempt to repurpose them. Given how far a lot of people now wanted to be from anything that said "Mayor Edward B. Murray," I was surprised to later find a remarkable amount of compassion for him among his former staff.
"Something that I think is lacking in all of these conversations," a staffer said, "is the piece of this—and it relates a bit to what I said about the context of Ed—where this stuff happens in cycles. And the people who assault other people in this way, I guarantee you they were deeply hurt in their own lives, whether sexually or in other traumatic, violent ways. And I think as much as we need to believe the victims, we also need to understand that the assaulters need healing, too. And as a society, we can't move forward unless we are treating all of the people involved with compassion and letting people be the complicated humans that they are. That's something that I think about a lot—both with respect to Ed, but also with these stories that are coming out. Like, what was Harvey Weinstein's childhood like that he became such a horrible monster? He was probably hurt very deeply by a lot of people. Or his father. Or somebody primary in his life who he was deeply traumatized by, and then he takes it out on other people... If we think as a society, 'Oh you're terrible, we're going to throw you away,' without having some kind of conversation about 'What does healing look like for the victim and the victimizer?' then these cycles just continue."
"It's easy to pronounce judgments and make quick and decisive decisions in situations like this," said another staffer. "But I think it's incredibly, incredibly more difficult to give him compassion. Most people say that he doesn't deserve it. You hurt a child, or you hurt someone, then you don't deserve compassion. I don't believe that...
"There is one more thing I want to share," this person continued. "It was Mayor Murray who, through sheer frustration and exhaustion on my part—trying to understand what he wanted, trying to come up with a product that would please him, working for him—he was the one who taught me to look at people beyond simply what they're presenting to you."
This staffer recalled sitting in Murray's office one day during his term—the orange cranes of Harbor Island out the window in the distance, the King County Courthouse nearby—and watching the mayor wrestle with a difficult problem. He started talking out loud about various executives he'd looked to for advice, the management books he'd read. "You began to see a glimpse of a man who was struggling for something," this staffer continued. "Who wasn't the mayor. You saw someone who was almost vulnerable and frustrated—he was just beyond himself. It was in that moment that I realized that most of the time we have a tendency to see him through one lens, which is that he is the mayor—at that moment, he is one of the most powerful and influential people in this city, there's just no other side to him. And he was the one who taught me to look beyond that."
Murray, this person said, "taught me to see people for the multiple personalities they could have. I'm not saying that's his personality, or all the allegations lodged against him are true, but it's just one of those things. I think from working with him I've learned to accept people for all that they are: the good, the bad, and the ugly."
At this point, in a strictly legal sense, Murray has fought his accusers to a draw.
Back in late October, as the mayoral election loomed and Burgess busied himself with the "head tax" fight that was flaring in the city council chambers, Delvonn Heckard had refiled his case against Murray. The City of Seattle was now an additional defendant, with Heckard claiming the city had abetted Murray's "slandering" of his accuser. On December 30, when few people were paying any attention, the City of Seattle, a month into Durkan's tenure, settled Heckard's lawsuit for $150,000.
In response, Lincoln Beauregard told the Seattle Times, "My client is delighted to have some closure. The situation with Murray is imperfect, but we think we did a lot of justice." Murray, in a statement, continued to deny Heckard's accusations, apologized for "any statements that were interpreted as an attempt to 'blame the victim,'" and acknowledged again that the lawsuit had been painful for "my former staff because"—and here he severely limited the possible sources of his former staff's pain—"the allegations were untrue."
"It's kind of interesting that he's still maintaining innocence," said one former staffer.
How that all gets recorded over time is simply unknown, and perhaps the only thing Murray could now do to influence the final verdict involves a path that's hard to precisely imagine but that he may have time to explore: the kind of "truth and reconciliation" process one of his staffers wished would occur.
Harrell, never one to miss a "Thank you and good night!" opportunity, had signed the wooden mayor's desk with a centered message about his five days in charge that was broken into five lines: "Bruce Harrell, 2017, A YEAR TO REMEMBER!"
Burgess had signed the desk simply: "TBurgess, 2017."
This car ride was the last moment anyone would address him, with real meaning, as mayor.
That meaning has something to do with power, sure, but in the long view it is probably more connected to deeds, honor, character, and knowing when to say "Enough."
On the way back from the Durkan swearing-in, it was again mostly quiet.
It remained so as we drove through several neighborhoods and then raced, one last time, toward City Hall, where our moment, too, was now over.