A fallen giant

Ed Murray’s personal reputation is unlikely to survive allegations of sex abuse, but his political achievements will remain historic

After accusations of sexual abuse by five men, Mayor Ed Murray, is finally resigning.

His resignation does not leave me angry or self-righteous; it makes me sad.

On Thurs., April 6, The Seattle Times reported three credible allegations from survivors who claim that when they were teenagers Murray sexually abused them. A fourth man came forward in May. Today, the Times reported Murray’s cousin also accuses the mayor of sexual abuse.

Is there anyone left who doesn’t believe Murray is a serial offender?

Back in April, The Seattle Times’ Danny Westneat insightfully noted, “There is no due process in politics.” And that’s why, Murray had to step down.

In 1997, when I was the news editor at The Stranger, I first met Murray. It was the second year of his first term as a member of the state House of Representatives. Murray and Dan Savage, The Stranger’s sex-advice columnist, had been speaking in hushed tones about Initiative 677—a ballot measure for LGBTQ equality.

Savage became a vigorous opponent of the measure, believing it was political folly. I-677 lost by nearly 20 points.

While Murray kept a low-profile during the I-677 campaign, it became clear over time that he had a very different approach to achieving legal rights for LGBTQ people. Over the next 15 years, I watched in awe as Murray quietly and resolutely faced down homophobia. Murray led the passage of law after law that expanded LGBTQ rights. In 2006, as HistoryLink states, Washington “added ‘sexual orientation’ to existing prohibitions on discrimination in employment, housing, lending, and insurance”; 2007 brought us same-sex domestic partnerships; in 2009, a new law granted “gay and lesbian couples all of the state-provided benefits that married couples have”; And finally in 2012, same-sex marriage became the law of Washington state.

Murray’s legislative achievements are the most remarkable lawmaking that I have ever witnessed up close.

Throughout most of those 15 years, I interviewed Murray regularly on a variety of topics. He was frequently convinced that people were conspiring against him–including me at one point. Is that evidence of a guilty conscience?

In 2013, I happily voted for Murray to become mayor of Seattle. I never expected, however, what followed. In 2014, Murray had an annus mirabilis—a miracle year. In a mere 12 months, he significantly advanced social justice in Seattle. First, he led the passage of the $15 minimum wage. Next, he signaled his serious commitment to police reform, an effort that has continued to bear fruit. Third, he passed a ballot measure that is providing quality free preschool to poor and working-class children. Finally, ending 24 years of institutional resistance to homeless encampments, he embraced authorized tent cities, a policy that continues to help the poorest among us.

Over the last two years, I’ve disagreed with Murray over sweeps of homeless people and the so-called “Grand Bargain” of his affordable-housing policy. That has done nothing to destroy my admiration of his earlier achievements.

And neither have the allegations of sexual abuse. Whatever the outcome, Murray will always be a Washington political giant to me. But the reports of the private side of this public servant have become overwhelming to anyone looking at the situation rationally.  It appears Murray has committed heinous acts.

Credible allegations

In general, my sympathies always lie with survivors. I have seen up close the agony that sexual abuse has wreaked in dear friends’ lives. When survivors come forward and speak their truth, I listen. Do my friends’ tragedies prejudice my views? Undoubtedly. Could I be wrong therefor? Absolutely, I take that as a given.

But, I also trust the source of these allegations’ publication.

The Seattle Times’ Jim Brunner and Lewis Kamb, who reported the story, are two of Seattle’s finest reporters. I met them both in the mid-1990s, a couple of years before I met Murray. They were both fresh out of the University of Washington and bursting with talent. I was fortunate to work with them briefly at The Stranger before they moved on to bigger things.

The Stranger won its first ever journalism award when Kamb exposed the financial shenanigans of Seattle’s chapter of Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS (DIFFA). Brunner’s chilling, nuanced profile of one of Washington’s longest serving prisoners is an article I’ll never forget.

Ever since, I have followed their careers and read every story of theirs that I have seen. I don’t recall either of them ever having a significant correction — certainly never when it has come to something as important as the accusations against Murray. I trust their bullshit detectors.

Moreover, Brunner and Kamb are backed up by The Seattle Times’ newsroom that has won 10 Pulitzers. The paper has fearlessly reported on sexual abuse by former U.S. Senator Brock Adams and alleged sexual harassment by former Governor Mike Lowry.  The Times does not take lightly the decision to report such stories. I trust its news judgement.

There are many narratives about the allegations against Murray in local media, the comment sections and social media. Many of them are homophobic. Others go on the defensive claiming the media is “gay bashing,” carrying out “a right-wing hit job,” or indulging in “salaciousness.” Still others try to explain away Murray’s alleged behavior as a product of those earlier times.

I disagree with all of these, but don’t have space to address them here.

Mostly, I am glad the story is leaving the public eye.

I hope Murray finds peace with himself, his accusers, his family and his God.

And I hope his accusers get the justice that they seek.

Questions, tips, comments: georgehowlandjr@gmail.com

Award winning journalist George Howland Jr has been hired by Seattle Displacement Coalition to write for Outside City Hall about city politics, housing, homelessness and land use. He works under his own editorial direction. The Displacement Coalition plays no role in choosing his specific subjects or editing his copy.


About George Howland Jr

Since 1977, George Howland Jr. has lived in Seattle and written reportage, opinion pieces, memoirs, fiction and book and music reviews. He has worked at Real Change, Seattle Weekly and The Stranger. Email: georgehowlandjr(at)gmail(dot)com
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