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Seattle Mayor Ed Murray looks at the race without him in it, and a future without a job

UPDATED: Sun., May 21, 2017

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is surrounded and embraced by supporters, some in tears, after reading a statement saying that he is dropping his re-election bid for a second term Tuesday, May 9, 2017, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is surrounded and embraced by supporters, some in tears, after reading a statement saying that he is dropping his re-election bid for a second term Tuesday, May 9, 2017, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / AP)
By Daniel Beekman Seattle Times

Ed Murray isn’t endorsing a candidate in the race to succeed him as mayor of Seattle. But he has some thoughts about what’s become a wide-open contest.

“Seattle is going to elect a progressive mayor – you walk out on the street and find yourself a progressive and you can elect them. But is Seattle going to elect someone that can actually do stuff?” he said during an extended interview Thursday with the editorial board of the Seattle Times, talking about the city’s left-wing politics.

“I can at least say I know how to get things done. I know how to get people in the same room, and most often get results,” added Murray, who this month abandoned his campaign for a second term.

“This city doesn’t need just someone who’s left. This city needs someone who’s left but can actually get things done.”

In ending his re-election bid May 9, Murray denied allegations that he sexually abused teenagers in the 1980s. But he said the claims, which surfaced last month, had become too much of a distraction.

Murray explained the decision to drop out of the race in more detail Thursday, citing poll results as an additional factor.

“I didn’t want to do it. But I also had to deal with two realities,” he said.

“One reality was, as you will soon learn, except for a tiny pension, I have nothing but my legacy and I would like to preserve it. And I have nothing but my good name and I would like to clear it. And the election was just going to be about sex and I don’t think that’s good for Seattle.”

The mayor said his approval rating had been above 60 percent before a Kent man last month sued him for alleged sex abuse.

Murray has strenuously denied the allegations in the lawsuit and similar claims by other men, and on Thursday he said he believes the Seattle Times has not adequately covered his side of the story.

“The other piece that got me there was a poll. It showed that people actually still have a really positive opinion of me, which is unusual in this city,” he said.

“But the electability was really low. Only 20 percent of the people believed the charges. The rest either didn’t believe it or were unsure what to believe … The electability numbers were a real challenge.”

Murray’s now-defunct campaign hasn’t publicly released poll results. But the race has moved on, quickly.

In all, 21 candidates filed with King County Elections, including former Mayor Mike McGinn, former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, state Sen. Bob Hasegawa, state Rep. Jessyn Farrell, urban planner Cary Moon and Nikkita Oliver, an attorney and educator.

None is Murray’s first choice, he said. The mayor said he wished his deputy mayor had joined the field.

“I don’t have a candidate,” he said. “If I could have chosen who I would have wanted to succeed me, it would have been Hyeok Kim.”

Kim did consider running but ultimately decided against it. Before joining the mayor’s office in 2013, she was executive director of the Interim Community Development Association, a Chinatown International District nonprofit.

“Hyeok has incredible skills dealing with some of the communities in this city that are in pain, particularly communities of race that are in pain,” Murray said.

“She’s incredibly smart. She’s a great crisis manager. She has a good relationship with business and she’s just dynamic on the stump.”

The voting period for the primary ends Aug. 1.

Legal bills

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission dealt Murray a setback Tuesday in his battle against the sexual-abuse lawsuit filed by 46-year-old Delvonn Heckard, shooting down a proposal by supporters of the mayor to set up a legal-defense fund.

To guard against any perception of corruption with Murray still in office, the supporters said they would operate the fund independently and solicit only anonymous donations.

But the commission voted to issue an advisory opinion that such a fund would not be allowed under Seattle’s ethics code.

“The way I break this down, we’re being asked to approve a mechanism to allow an elected official to solicit unlimited amounts of money from anonymous donors,” said Eileen Norton, the commission chair. “There’s no manner in which that fits into the state’s and the city’s attitudes towards transparency and accountability and disclosure.”

On Thursday, Murray said he couldn’t speak to the specifics of the opinion.

“I don’t understand the legal issues,” he said, “I do think there’s an issue of equity. I do think it has a chilling effect, if only millionaires are the people who can afford to defend themselves when they’re elected officials.”

Asked how he would pay for his defense without a fund, Murray expressed concern.

“Michael and I will put our house in trust with the law firm,” he said, referring to his husband, Michael Shiosaki, and their Capitol Hill home. “We feel so strongly that we are not going to be taken down that we will lose our home.”

‘My way of coping’

Murray, 62, said his political career will be over Dec. 31 and he worries he’ll be unemployable after leaving office. But he said his work is not yet done.

The mayor said his agenda for his final months in office includes further progress on police reform, choosing the site for a new sports and entertainment arena and rebidding the city’s homeless-services contracts for the first time in more than a decade.

Murray said his plans also include continuing to pass upzones paired with affordable-housing requirements and setting up a local-improvement district to collect money from property owners for a new park along the downtown waterfront.

He said he doesn’t expect the lawsuit to stop him from doing his job.

“I don’t think it takes away from anything that I can do as mayor,” Murray said. “This is the love of my life. It’s my way of coping right now with being in this situation.”

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