As Mayor Ed Murray faces allegations that he paid four men for sex when they were teenagers, at least three of them underage, he's vowing to keep campaigning for re-election. That means his campaign will likely focus on downplaying the allegations and convincing voters to stick by his side.
Stranger readers tell us that a new telephone poll of Seattle voters includes questions about the allegations against Murray, though it's unclear whether the mayor's camp or some one else funded the calls.
Devin Glaser was watching mayoral candidate Cary Moon's online town hall last week when he got the call. At first, the man on the other end of the line asked easy questions, he says: Is he registered to vote? Did he plan to vote this year? Who would he vote for if the race was between Murray, Moon, former mayor Mike McGinn, and Peoples Party candidate Nikkita Oliver?
"Then the interview veered into weird territory that made me stop and ask the person who was actually funding the poll," Glaser says. The pollster said he didn't know.
The pollster continued, asking specific questions about the allegations against Murray, Glaser says, and "it was pretty clear the goal was to message test how to respond to the claims."
Here's Glaser's account:
The interviewer would tell me something about the accusers or the allegations and then ask me if that information made me think the allegations were “much more credible, slightly more credible, less credible, much less credible.”
I only jotted down a few notes, but to paraphrase, they asked things like:
"If you were to hear that the accusers had troubled childhoods, would this make you think the allegations were much more credible, slightly more credible, less credible, much less credible."
"If you were to hear that the allegations centered around a description of the mayor's genitals, would this make you think that...."
"If you were to hear that the mayor's doctor examined and the description didn't match"....
“If you were to hear that the law firm representing the claimants held anti-gay and anti-trans beliefs, …”
“If you were to hear that the original complaints were investigated by the Seattle Times and not published…”
Glaser says the caller also asked if he thought Murray should drop out of the race. (He does.)
Murray's campaign declined to comment on whether it paid for the poll, and campaign finance records don't provide any answers either. The next deadline for campaigns to report donations and spending is Wednesday, so we won't know until then how Murray's campaign has been spending its money since the allegations surfaced early last month. Representatives for Murray's three most viable challengers—Oliver, McGinn, and Moon—said their campaigns did not pay for the poll. The New Jersey number that called Glaser came from MAXimum research, a national market research firm based in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. The company did not return a call for comment on who paid for the poll.
Collin Jergens described a similar call from a New Jersey number. After a pollster asked whether he'd heard about the allegations and whether he found them credible, Jergens says the caller listed a "long list of arguments on both sides."
Among them: That Murray's accusers have described the layout of the mayor's old apartment and cited physical descriptions of his anatomy, lending the allegations credibility; That "the lawyers representing the accusers supported anti-gay causes," suggesting they are politically motivated; "The mayor would not have attacked the accusers so strongly if he were guilty"; and "The mayor has been successful raising the minimum wage, etc. and this is just a way for his political opponents to undermine him."
(We've written the questions as Jergens best remembers them, not verbatim from the pollster.)
Glaser works as policy and political director for Upgrade Seattle, which advocates for city-owned internet service. Jergens is communications director at Fuse Washington. Both spoke as individuals, not on behalf of their organizations.
Meanwhile, another telephone poll seems to be testing potential new challengers to Murray.
Three people, including Jergens, Rebecca Deehr, and one person who asked not to be identified, tell The Stranger they received a poll by phone in recent weeks asking about the four leading candidates already in the race—Murray, Oliver, McGinn, and Moon—and about five other potential challengers:
• Maud Daudon, president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce
• Jenny Durkan, former United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington
• David Frockt, Washington state senator
• Lorena González, Seattle City Council member
• Dow Constantine, King County executive
One person says the number on this call was from Las Vegas; the other said the number was a 206 area code but the caller said they were from Las Vegas. Murray's campaign declined to comment on this poll. Christian Sinderman, a political consultant who has worked with Murray, González, and Constantine, said he is "100 percent not involved in this poll." Two other political consulting firms in town, Moxie Media (which is working with Moon) and Win Power Strategies (McGinn's consulting firm), each said they're not running the poll.
Rumors in local political circles suggest that the Chamber of Commerce, which has yet to endorse a mayoral candidate, may have something to do with the poll. ("Check with Chamber," Sinderman advised me.) UPDATE: A report filed with the City of Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission Thursday shows that the Rental Housing Association of Washington paid the Chamber’s political action committee—Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy—$2,500 last month for candidate polling.
Perhaps the business community is unhappy with Murray and started looking for a center-right candidate to challenge him? Or at least they're looking to spook Murray into looking out for their interests?
The Chamber did not respond to The Stranger's requests for comment.