After months of denying accusations of sexual abuse and firmly resisting calls to resign, Mayor Ed Murray Tuesday announced he would be stepping down from his office immediately following revelations of yet another accuser.
On Tuesday morning, shortly before Murray was to appear at a press conference to discuss plans to refurbish KeyArena, the Seattle Times published a story detailing the accusations of Joseph Dyer, a cousin of Murray’s, who says Murray abused him when he was in his early teens.
Joseph Dyer is the fifth man to accuse Murray of abuse in the 1970s and 1980s; Dyer told The Seattle Times that Murray came to live with his family in the mid-1970s. During that time, Dyer says, Murray slept in the same room and at night would force him to have oral sex. Dyer and his mother, Maryellen Sottile, say Dyer told Sottile about the abuse after Murray moved away, but that they are coming forward now in support of other men who say Murray molested them.
Murray denied the claims, calling them “bizarre beyond belief” and suggesting that they stem from a family schism that dates back to a dispute over “a common-law marriage between his sister and Sottile’s brother,” in the words of the Times.
Yet it quickly became clear that this episode would not follow the pattern of previous revelations in the scandal that has consumed City Hall for the better part of the year—that being a flurry of calls for the mayor to resign followed by inaction by the mayor and City Council.
Mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan, a Murray ally who had resisted calling for resignation, did so shortly after the Times story published; her opponent, Cary Moon, has been calling on Murray to resign since May and reiterated her stance. According to Publicola, Councilmember Tim Burgess, who had previously been against the council removing Murray from office, met with Murray on Tuesday morning and advised him to step down.
“I told him that I felt he should resign, that the accumulation of the accusations was just too much to bear. And for the interest of the city and for him personally, he should step aside,” Burgess told the news site. “Just the accumulation of these individuals, and now we have a family member who’s stepping up and saying that, it just made it unbearable at this point.”
Shortly after 1 p.m. Tuesday, the announcement came.
In a short statement, Murray maintained his innocence, but said the accusations were hurting the city. “While the allegations against me are not true, it is important that my personal issues do not affect the ability of our City government to conduct the public’s business,” he said.
Council President Bruce Harrell will become acting mayor after Murray’s resignation; he has five days to decide whether to fulfill the rest of Murray’s term. In a written statement Tuesday afternoon, Harrell said, “I intend to make an announcement within the five days on my intentions…The City and continuity of governance comes before all other factors.” If Harrell declines, council will select another councilmember in his place within five days. Once one of the councilmembers have been elevated to the Mayor’s Office, council will have 20 days to select and appoint a new, interim councilmember who will sit on council until a special election can be held next year. The interim mayor will be replaced as soon as the upcoming general election’s result is certified in late November.
According to a memo on mayoral succession prepared by Harrell’s office earlier this year, it’s not clear whether the councilmember who takes the interim mayor position will be able to return to their council position afterwards. “There does not seem to be Washington case law on this issue,” reads the memo, “and resolution of this question involves an interpretation as to whether a ‘vacancy’…is created under such circumstance.”
Kshama Sawant was the only councilmember who spoke with reporters about the succession plan Tuesday. “I don’t want to be mayor,” she said in response to a question about succession, and declined to opine on whether the interim mayor should be Harrell, Burgess, or someone else. “I commend all individuals and organizations…who showed courage and leadership in calling on Murray to resign,” Sawant said in a written statement. “Unfortunately, the majority of the City Council failed to show any such leadership.”
Dyer, Murray’s cousin, also had sharp words for the Seattle establishment that had stood by Murray for months as more and more evidence of abuse emerged.
“From the news reports, and my attorneys, it is my understanding that Seattle’s elected leaders, such as Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, former mayors, and others, have spoken in favor of Murray remaining in power. I learned that the leading mayoral candidate, Jenny Durkan, accepted Murray’s endorsement and was unwilling to expressly call for his resignation. For a childhood sex-abuse victim, this is very damaging,” Dyer writes in a signed declaration.
In July, after the Times revealed new documents showing an Oregon social worker found accusations against Murray to be credible, Councilmember M. Lorena González called for Murray to resign, or if he didn’t, for the Council to remove him. However, the Council needs a supermajority to remove a mayor, and it quickly became clear that González did not have the votes to remove Murray; Bagshaw, Harrell, Burgess, and Councilmember Debora Juarez all spoke against the Council moving to remove Murray.
“The allegations in the newspaper yesterday are 30 years old,” Bagshaw said after González broached the subject of impeachment. “I hope we can avoid grandstanding on this … At this point, I would like to give the mayor some space to work through this.”
“It’s been my impression that the mayor is showing up for his job every day,” said Harrell. “The mayor is entitled to a hearing, due process, an attorney, and we would be in a situation to make factual and legal determinations of something that occurred 33 years ago and in another state—which is a tall drink of water, by the way.”
A week later, with removal efforts at a standstill, four former mayors also spoke up in favor of Murray. “We firmly believe Mayor Murray should continue to lead the city through the remainder of his term,” read a letter co-signed by former Seattle mayors Wes Uhlman, Charles Royer, Norman Rice, and Greg Nickels. “A transition merely months before electing a new mayor would be messy and time-consuming, and would present serious challenges to the day-to-day operations of the city.”
Dyer, in his declaration, decried people framing calls for resignation as irresponsible grandstanding. “Speaking out confidently in favor of removing Murray from is office is not ‘grandstanding’—it is the right thing to do,” he writes.
Tuesday night at a candidate debate on housing and homelessness, Moon and Durkan were asked by moderator Enrique Cerna whether Murray’s decision to resign was the right one, or whether it should have come sooner.
“I called on Mayor Murray to resign back in May,” replied Moon, “because I believe sexual abuse and the triggering effect that conversations around the abuse have on survivors is too harmful to our citizens and our residents for Mayor Murray to continue staying in office. I asked him to resign in May. I’m sorry it took so long, I’m glad he did resign today, and I think the main reason is his defending his actions resulted in demeaning and victim blaming for the many young people who came forward—years later, but they were young when it happened—and I think that using the bully pulpit of the mayor’s office to defend yourself and to demean and victim blame is a misuse of public trust, and I wish he had resigned sooner but I’m glad he did today.”
“I’ve been very clear that before the primary I had a conversation with the mayor,” replied Durkan, “and told him he needed to look very carefully at whether he could continue to lead this great city of ours, and if he couldn’t, he should step down. This morning it was clear to me that he could no longer lead as mayor, and I called on him to resign, he chose to do so, and I think that was the right decision, because I think the city needs to focus on some very important, critical issues, particularly the ones we’re going to talk about here tonight. The issues of homelessness, affordability, transportation. This election is not about who’ll be mayor for four years. It’s about what our city will be like for the next generation. So I’m glad we can put those issues behind us and focus on what really matters to our city.”
The subject of Murray’s resignation did not come up again during the debate.
The Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, which as been deadlocked with Murray over contract negotiations for years, responded to the news of Murray’s resignation with a written statement that said in part, “SPOG had high hopes for Ed Murray since he had a strong labor background while a member of the Washington Legislature. Unfortunately, those hopes were never realized.” The statement made no mention of sexual violence.
The Seattle LGBTQ Commission, which had previously called for Murray to resign, responded to news of his resignation with a written statement that said the Commission “is relieved that the ongoing trauma caused by Mayor Murray’s behavior is hopefully coming to a close now that he has resigned.” The Commission singled out Danni Askini, Nikkita Oliver,González and Sawant for their “true leadership” in pressing for the resignation.
Casey Jaywork is a reporter at Seattle Weekly; firstname.lastname@example.org
Daniel Person contributed to this report.