What would it take for labor unions, one of the city's most powerful interest groups, to reconsider supporting Mayor Ed Murray?
Apparently, allegations from three men (plus one lawsuit) that the mayor sexually abused them as teenagers when he was in his 30s aren't enough.
The Stranger called every union on Murray’s endorsement list, finding none that are seriously reconsidering their endorsement of Murray, who has denied the allegations of abuse and pledged to continue running for re-election.
In total, Murray has 19 union endorsements, according to his website. Of those, nine unions indicated they have no immediate plans to revisit their endorsements (the rest have not yet returned our calls). Some labor groups hedged, saying their membership hadn’t yet discussed the allegations as a group. Others defended the mayor.
“We have a president followed by millions of evangelicals that have not changed their support for the president based on his repeated behaviors, recorded and factual, that he flat out denies and everyone looks the other way,” said David Westberg, business manager for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 609, which represents custodial, environmental, grounds, nutrition, and security workers in Seattle Public Schools. “Certainly, the president has nowhere near the record of accomplishments Ed Murray does. I think, if in American politics, all’s fair, we need to give Ed Murray the same consideration the president has received, which involved a lot of flexibility in terms of support.”
Westberg said his union, whose endorsement of the mayor was announced by the mayor’s campaign Monday, has no plans to revisit its endorsement and plans to “give Ed Murray the same support he’s given working people in city of Seattle and that’s a lot."
“I don’t believe the allegations impact Ed Murray’s viability as a progressive mayor of a progressive city like Seattle,” Westberg said. “I believe they’re trumped up allegations—and you can quote me on that.”
Other unions were more measured. “It needs to be more than accusation,” said Dale Bright, political director for Laborers' Local 242, which represents hod carriers and general laborers.
“It’s an allegation, not a fact,” said Philip Lindquist, director of government affairs for the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 5, “and until something is proven with some substance—we don’t vote on accusations.”
The Service Employees International Union 775 and the King County Labor Council, two of the city’s most prominent labor groups, held a similar line. “We have no current plan to reconsider this endorsement,” said SEIU 775 President David Rolf in a statement. Rolf called Murray “a strong mayor for working class Seattle," citing the minimum wage and other issues.
A spokesperson for the union said the organization wouldn’t “get into hypotheticals” about scenarios in which they'd rescind support for the mayor. King County Labor Council communications director Kamaria Hightower said her group has “not done any reconsideration” of its endorsement.
Winning the support of labor unions is usually an important bellwether in any mayoral race. An endorsement can signal that the union will donate money and mobilize its members to vote for their chosen candidate and maybe even do some door-belling for them. In Seattle, labor's sway has been unpredictable. In 2009, Mike McGinn won a surprise victory without much backing from labor. Then, in 2013, labor split. That year, Murray beat McGinn with the help of donations from about two dozen unions, most of them giving the maximum contribution allowed by city law ($700). In the last round of city council elections in 2015, unions made up 12 of the top 20 donors, maxing out to their favored candidates.
In some cases—like 2015's race between incumbent Council Member Tim Burgess and lefty challenger Jon Grant—unions will back the establishment incumbent over a challenger who promises to be more worker-friendly, avoiding the risk of ending up on the wrong side of an incumbent who has a strong chance of being re-elected. That appears to be remain true, even when the incumbent is embroiled in what may be the city's biggest political scandal ever.
In a civil lawsuit filed April 6, 46-year-old Delvonn Heckard alleges that Murray raped and molested him over multiple years, paying him $10 to $20 for sex while Heckard was a teenager and Murray was in his 30s. Two other men who are not involved in that lawsuit—Jeff Simpson and Lloyd Anderson—have made similar allegations against Murray. Murray has denied the abuse allegations.
As news continues to break about the case, Murray’s camp remains in full “Everything is fine!” mode, mocking former mayor and newly announced mayoral candidate Mike McGinn, taking credit for an idea that wasn’t Murray’s, and issuing press releases about new endorsements.