It was the final day of a United States that had never inaugurated Donald Trump as its president. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray walked into the lobby of the Capital Hilton with an uneasy smile. His first words to me: “It’s very weird here.”
Murray had come to DC for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, but this morning he’d been on the Hill meeting with members of Washington’s Congressional delegation. “The word everyone uses is ‘uncertain,’” he said. “I’ve never seen a transition in governments where no one knows what’s going to happen.”
The mood in the city all week has been dark, Murray said. He felt it, too.
“I woke up this morning going, ‘This is the last day of democracy as we know it,” he said.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors, which includes mayors from cities of 30,000 people or more, spent the week meeting at this unexceptional hotel on K Street and on several occasions publicly rebuking the president-elect.
On Tuesday, Vice President-Elect Mike Pence gave a speech at the conference, but Murray skipped it. “His LGBT positions alone are so abhorrent I felt like I would end up walking out,” the mayor said. Most notably, on Wednesday, the conference released a resolution calling on Congress and the incoming administration to continue DACA, the deferred action program for young undocumented immigrants. Murray was one of four mayors who submitted that resolution. (Another of the four: Tom Tait, the Republican mayor of Anaheim.) On the same day, both Murray and Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole spoke about Seattle’s policies on undocumented immigrants. “Mayors in cities big and small will continue to foster welcoming and secure cities for all of their residents,” the resolution reads, “regardless of who they are or where they come from.”
Since Trump’s election, mayors across the country have established themselves as the antithesis of the Republicans who now control Congress and, soon, the White House.
The day after the election, Murray, a former state lawmaker who may be a radical among his peers here but is considered a moderate at home, pledged unequivocally that Seattle would remain a Sanctuary City for immigrants. On Thanksgiving Day, he announced plans to spend $225,000 educating undocumented students about their rights in a series of events that will begin on Inauguration Day.
Here's @MayorEdMurray's message to @realDonaldTrump: "Stop demonizing us and work with us... Otherwise you will hurt this country." pic.twitter.com/VsveSuvObC
— Heidi Groover (@heidigroover) January 19, 2017
In trying to fight Trump from a mayor's office, Murray isn't alone. For at least two years, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has been trying to harness mayors into a coalition fighting for protections for immigrants and other policies. That work gained a new urgency with Trump’s win. “In conference calls and informal meetings,” the New York Times reported in December “mayors from Seattle to New Orleans have been discussing how to best position their cities as a kind of bloc of island nations, with shared concerns over the prospect of diminished federal support for urban centers, and of major shifts in policy on immigration, public safety and climate change.”
Indeed, cities overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton and they will be the hotbeds of resistance against Donald Trump. But for Murray, the mayor of one of the nation's fastest-growing cities, this situation represents both his biggest opportunity and his biggest risk for failure.
To truly be a Sanctuary City (an often-used phrase that actually has no standard definition), Seattle must also be a city that is affordable and accessible for vulnerable people. It must be a place that respects civil rights despite income level.
Questions about homelessness and housing affordability—whether Murray is doing enough to address those challenges, and whether he is caving to anti-progress naysayers in the process—have defined his first term. They will be central to his reelection bid this year.
More importantly, these questions will determine whether cities like Seattle and mayors like Murray can live up to their promises to lead the fight against Trump's agenda.
MURRAY ON THE NEED FOR DEMOCRATS TO CONNECT
As he diagnosed the failures of the Democratic Party, Murray repeated a familiar talking point among the infighting left: Democrats didn’t talk enough about jobs.
“Not just jobs, but good paying jobs,” Murray said. “We [Democrats] should congratulate ourselves for saving this economy, but we shouldn’t congratulate ourselves for closing the income inequality gap. That’s jobs, and for me that’s the missing discussion. It’s not about, 'Should we move to the center or should we move to the left?' We’re not talking about what people need to talk about.”
Take Grays Harbor County, Washington, where Trump was popular
“What I heard from folks [there] is their wages are poor, their housing stock is poor, they’re worried about education,” Murray said. “What are we working on in Seattle? Raising the minimum wage, affordable housing… pre-k. The same things. But they view us in Grays Harbor County as kind of self-righteous and elitist. We actually believe in the same things and somehow we’ve got to figure out how to connect with the other people who are suffering, who are being screwed by the system.”
MURRAY ON ANGRY POLITICIANS
I ask Murray, who’s notorious in Seattle political circles for his temper, if he has any advice for Donald Trump on controlling his anger. He doesn’t bite.
“You know, it’s interesting because when I’m here I realize—east coast, you know—in Seattle I’m considered kind of bold and here i’m kind of the meek, quiet mayor."
He pauses for a long time. “You know, I’ve never met the guy. I’m told that one-on-one he’s pretty pleasant… Which tells me, if that’s the case he’s a bully and most bullies are chickens, which means we need to confront him hard.
“You know, I’ve been in elective office for 21 years and people say things about you and you’ve just got to get over it. Every elected official I know at some point early on personalizes it, but as time goes on, you learn to let go of it. The disadvantage [Trump] has is he’s never been in public office.”