We are losing the ability to control our streets, Mayor Ed Murray wrote Council Member Sally Bagshaw in a text.
"We are losing the ability to control our streets," Mayor Ed Murray wrote Council Member Sally Bagshaw in a text. City of Seattle

After Mayor Ed Murray unveiled a plan to clear the homeless encampment under the I-5 freeway known as the Jungle, the mayor issued a threat to City Council Member Sally Bagshaw if she proposed an alternative approach with a stronger focus on connecting the homeless to social services: "I will stop all cleanups throughout the city and pull police off enforcement.”

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The implication was clear: If Bagshaw moved forward with a competing plan, police would pull back under the mayor’s orders, and the council member would take the blame for resultant crimes.

When Bagshaw did not respond to some the mayor’s texts, Murray tried to encourage her to call him by claiming he's never yelled at her before.

The texts highlight an irony in liberal, uber-polite Seattle. Its mayor is well-liked by voters (he had a 70 percent favorability rating last year), but in the corridors of power, he is notorious for bullying and expletive-laden outbursts when he doesn’t get his way. That attitude apparently extends to longtime members of the city council, a co-equal branch of city government.

The texts were obtained through a public records request filed by The Stranger. The exchange, which played out over a May weekend, is at the bottom of this story.

Murray released his Jungle-clearing plan on May 17, arguing that the area is too dangerous to remain open. A city assessment reported high levels of violence there, including sexual assault, and Murray’s office says there have been 92 calls for emergency response in the Jungle since the start of the year. The plan called for all of the Jungle’s estimated 200 to 400 homeless residents to be cleared from the area under I-5 in about two weeks, and for the Union Gospel Mission to offer shelter and services in the meantime.

Homeless advocates blasted the idea. "I'm anticipating a very low success rate of getting people into services and shelter because they don't have the right people, they don't have the right timeline, they don't have the resources,” Real Change Director Tim Harris told KUOW.

Bagshaw, a third-term council member, is known for her focus on homelessness. She began working on her own resolution laying out a different vision for clearing the Jungle, with more time for outreach and a heavier emphasis on linking homeless people with shelter.

On Saturday, May 22 at 8:16 p.m., Murray texted her with an implicit threat.

"If you do a resolution on homelessness restricting our ability to deal with the rapes and other violent crime and the bike chop shops down there in the jungle," Murray said, "I will stop all clean ups throughout the City and pull police off enforcement. We are losing the ability to control our streets."

It’s worth noting that a rumored “stand-down” order for police to stop enforcing the law against homeless people has long been a bugaboo for anti-homeless neighborhood activists in Ballard and Queen Anne. Murray officials, council members, and police have repeatedly denied that any such order exists. When asked if the mayor could “pull police off enforcement” of crimes committed by homeless people, a Seattle Police Department spokesperson said in an email, “No… SPD remains committed to investigating reports of criminal behavior and taking appropriate enforcement action, regardless of the housing status of those involved.”

Bagshaw responded incredulously (or jokingly?) at 9:02 p.m.: Is this really from you, Mr Mayor?

When Bagshaw didn’t respond to some the texts, the mayor all but promised not to yell at her:

"[Public safety advisor] Scott Lindsey [sic] said you won't speak with me because I will yell at you," Murray wrote. "I have always been with staff when I meet with you and I have never yelled at you."

By the end of the weekend, Bagshaw told Murray she'd tried to reach him and planned to meet with his staff the next day.

On May 23, Bagshaw announced she was putting off a council vote on her resolution about the Jungle for a week to give the mayor's office more time for input.

But by then, Murray was apparently ignoring Bagshaw. The next afternoon, he announced a press conference about the Jungle scheduled for the next morning. “Any idea what the mayor will announce at 11am tomorrow?” Council Member Mike O’Brien texted Bagshaw on May 24. “Have you been chatting?”

“Mayor has ignored me all day,” she responded. Later, she added, “I think the mayor will talk about his plan to clean up and make a very strong statement against the council.”

“I fear he will escalate this,” O’Brien responded. “That would not be good.”

The next day, May 25, Murray backpedaled from the two-week timeline.

Finally, on May 31, Bagshaw’s resolution was unanimously approved by the city council in a 9-0 vote. The resolution calls for extensive outreach before Jungle residents are ultimately required to leave the area permanently. “I have real concerns about the quality of shelter that's available,” Bagshaw said.

Bagshaw did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the exchange.

In a statement, Murray’s spokesperson Jason Kelly did not answer questions about Murray’s threat to “pull police off" enforcement. “The mayor was exasperated about the difficulty in developing a consensus on how to move people out of the very dangerous situation in the I-5 East Duwamish Greenbelt,” Kelly said. Murray has “deep respect for Council Member Bagshaw," he added later, and “they enjoy a productive working relationship."

If Bagshaw was worried about the mayor's temper, she wouldn't be the first. His outbursts are well known, dating back to his days as a state senator in Olympia. During the $15 minimum wage discussions, Murray reportedly blew up at members of his task force when they couldn't strike a deal. And in 2014, Murray called former Stranger reporter Anna Minard to shout at her about a story she'd written.

There’s something to be said for assholes who get things done. Still, it would be one thing for the mayor to merely be angry with Bagshaw for not collaborating more closely with him. It’s another thing for him to threaten her—for questioning his administration’s short timeline for clearing the Jungle—by claiming he’ll get police officers to stop enforcing the law.

“Murray is a bully,” one city council staffer who wished to remain anonymous told The Stranger. “He yells at his co-workers all the time, and most people become afraid of him.”

Beyond being thin-skinned, Murray's aversion to public disagreement also undermines the way local government is supposed to function. The executive branch and city council operate separately, providing checks on each other. When the two branches are so cozy that every policy from either side has already been vetted by the other behind closed doors, groupthink can take hold. When council members are discouraged from publicly disagreeing with the mayor, the public is left out of the real discussion.

Here’s the text exchange. Nine days later, the council passed its resolution on the Jungle:

Saturday, May 21

Ed Murray 7:27 p.m.: This is Ed Murray could you call me at [number]

Sally Bagshaw 7:34 p.m.: Tomorrow ok? Otherwise 19:30

Murray 8:16 p.m.: If you do a resolution on homelessness restricting our ability to deal with the rapes and other violent crime and the bike chop shops down there in the jungle, I will stop all clean ups throughout the City and pull police off enforcement. We are losing the ability to control our streets.

Bagshaw 9:02 p.m.: Is this really from you Mr. Mayor?

Murray 9:12 p.m.: Yes.

Murray 9:54 p.m:. Still trying to reach you. Time difference and we are coming back early so tracking all day tomorrow

Murray 10:04 p.m.: …we are coming back early which means I will be on a plane all day. So I need to speak with you this evening Seattle time. I am getting media calms [sic] that you are leading a council effort to stop our efforts in the jungle. I am so stunned so I should talk with you before I respond.

Sunday, May 22

Bagshaw 3:45 a.m.: ...I am still gathering information and community comments. I will definitely share a draft with Mike Fong, Scott, Anthony, Maggie, and Leslie for their input as well. Have a safe flight.

Murray 3:47 a.m.: I assume it is 4am in the morning so I won't call now. I am absolutely taken aback by your lack of collaboration. Don't get it.

Murray 4:11 a.m.: So I will stay up until I hear from you

Murray 1:29 p.m.: Still waiting to hear from you

Murray 10:46 p.m.: Scott Lindsey [sic] said you won't speak with me because I will yell at you. I have always been with staff when I meet with you and I have never yelled at you.

Murray 10:46 p.m.: I have been forceful in my profound disagreement with you on how to approach homelessness, based on the consultants critique of the city.

Murray 10:46 p.m.: I am now going to skip s [sic] flight in an attempt to reach you.

Murray 10:46 p.m.: Sally I don't know what is going on, but for the sake of the City will you please speak with me?

Bagshaw 10:56 p.m.: I just tried to reach you. I am planning to meet Hyeok and Mike and Scott early Monday.

Has the mayor bullied or yelled at you or someone you know? Send us a tip: news@thestranger.com.