It was about a post I wrote on Tuesday on the city budget Mayor Ed Murray has drafted. I pointed out that although Murray's talked a lot about gender pay equity—and although he slammed his predecessor on the campaign trail over the issue—he hasn't actually allocated any new money to address the city's pay gap. (As you may recall: City employees are two-thirds male, and men make an average of 10 percent more than women, according to a city study that came out last summer.) Every last dime set aside for pay equity work in Murray's budget actually comes from a $1.4 million allocation that former mayor Mike McGinn put in his last budget.
Yesterday, Murray called me up to tell me that my post was "absolutely wrong on every point." He was yelling and rambling a lot, but I think his arguments boil down to this: He says he's still waiting on some studies, he might add more money later, and some unspecified money is already set aside in reserves to maybe deal with this issue. Also, he knows all about this because of his "generation," he has a whole list of female employees who can vouch for his commitment to equity, and he's better than the last guy. Oh, and also, he dropped an f-bomb. But more on all that later.
First, Murray started off by correcting me on how, exactly, he'd attacked McGinn on the campaign trail. I'd said he criticized McGinn for the pay gap itself, but Murray countered that "when I attacked McGinn... it was over the fact that he had over 70 percent of his cabinet members who were male." It's true, Murray did level that critique against McGinn. But it's not like he didn't also bring up that pay gap at city hall—here's an example of Murray doing that, and here's another, both of which I cited in my post. In fact, the Seattle Times spanked Murray in an editorial at the time for unnecessarily politicizing the issue, saying that Murray had "accused McGinn of failure and demanded a task force to study the issue—which McGinn already had done" and that Murray and fellow candidates should knock it off, since they all had the same position. Sorry dude, but I do not concede the point.
Murray also told me he's "corrected the cabinet," that "52 percent of [his] executive team is women," and that "the two highest-paid people in the office are women," referring to his two deputy mayors. (A note: His policy director, Robert Feldstein, who's listed as a mayoral office staffer, actually makes the same salary as those two women.) He went on: "I am leading on equity and race. This office is almost half people of color. I've hired the first woman police chief, and I had a socialist woman on council trying to prevent her salary from being what it is." (Relevance? Not totally sure here.)
But that's not even what my post was about.
If Murray wanted to demonstrate that I was "absolutely wrong on every point," then where's the additional money for a parental leave program or pay equalization or something else? Did I miss something? His office has freely admitted, since the budget came out, that there's no new money in there, though his spokesperson said on Tuesday that they might add some dollars in future supplemental budgets, after they get two big studies back from consultants.
Murray echoed that line, reminding me that the two studies are due to be finished by the end of this year—one is on pay equity and one is on parental leave—and that he's "waiting on" those studies before allocating any money for their recommendations. He added that "we have set aside money in our budget for various issues to deal with labor costs," and that could potentially go to address pay equity.
"I'll be very honest, and this is probably going to hurt the city and cost us more," he continued. "In every budget, there's money set aside for labor issues, money in there unspecified, because we're entering into labor negotiations... I've put more money aside in reserves that could be utilized for this on top of the money that existed." But without more studies, he won't specify any funding for pay equity.
We went back and forth a bit; I reminded him that his predecessor budgeted money for pay equity in advance of studies and task forces, so that it would definitely be available when the time came, and that money set aside to address labor issues wasn't necessarily money set aside for pay equity. It might end up getting used to address salary inequities, but you can't argue that the budget contains new dollars for a specific issue when it doesn't contain new dollars for a specific issue.
Then he kind of lost it, which he's famous for in local media and political circles. ("Did he yell at you today?" members of his minimum wage committee reportedly texted each other, according to the Seattle Times. One reply: "No, my day must be tomorrow.") My day must have been yesterday, because on the phone with me Murray started yelling: "I put money into fucking reserves that are there. They're there!" He said "the reason you don't call those out is because you have to enter into labor negotiations." But I should trust, I guess, that some of his reserve money is intended to address pay equity, even though he won't say anything about that, because it's a secret. But he'll still tell me about it on the record. Or something.
Here are the other things he said to refute my original post:
• "I think it's unfair to start shooting when I've done two things—I've done three
things," Murray told me. "One: I've made this a major focus for this administration." (You have?) "Two: I reserved money in the budget, unspecified, for many issues." (Right, nothing is specified for gender pay equity.) "Three: We're working with Jean Godden when those reports come out." (Jean Godden who said on Monday said she was "a bit disturbed about the fact that we don't seem to have any additional funding" for gender pay equity.) Murray concluded this jag with: "I just feel your article is unfair."
• He actually started listing female employees who he said would back him up on his commitment to gender and race equity. "If you talk to Susan Coskey, who I replaced a white man with, if you talk to Patty Lally, who I replaced a white woman with," he told me, they'll say "this is a friggin' core issue for me. I have watched my five sisters struggle through this issue. My generation is different from your generation." Coskey, if you're wondering, is his personnel director, and Lally the director of the civil rights office.
Look, this is not the first time Murray has called up a reporter to yell about writing he felt maligned his character. His temper is one of his hallmarks. Perhaps his ability to get red-faced and harangue people helps him in certain situations. But if he's trying to say that coverage of his work is incorrect or unfair, it would suit him to come armed with, y'know, real substance instead of just volume. Like a single example of a factual inaccuracy, or a case where someone hadn't already called his press people and gotten the mayor's comment on the matter.
At least it gave me an idea for a new Halloween costume! I'm dressed up today as Mayor Murray, and I'm running around our office shouting at people. It's so fun!