A lot can be done in 100 days. It’s enough time for a leopard to gestate; twice enough for the creation of a domestic ferret. If you set your mind to it, you can circle the globe by hot-air balloon at least four times.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who on April 10 will celebrate his 100th day in office, can surely appreciate what can be accomplished in such a relatively short period. Just look at his track record: He’s already set out to tackle the minimum wage and income inequality head-on. He’s forced an interim police chief into retirement and answered for his ill-prepared, bumbling replacement. He’s received a firsthand education on just how screwed up the SPD misconduct appeals process is, and has suffered politically because of it. He’s accidentally pronounced a living man dead, and replaced a press secretary shortly thereafter. He’s spoken at a Super Bowl victory parade, and managed to speak of Bertha, the stuck Highway 99 tunnel-boring machine, as little as possible. The list goes on. It’s quite impressive, really.
All this from a man with 18 years experience as a state legislator whom many derided as painfully slow and methodical in the lead-up to last November’s mayoral election. All this from a man who some people said was too Olympia, too incremental, and too embedded in the political machine to be a good fit for Seattle. All this from a man more accustomed to wielding his power behind caucus doors; a man who often quotes Bobby Kennedy; a man who—in front of the cameras and public, at least—lacks charisma and, apparently, the ability to blink.
There’s no doubt Murray has notched accomplishments in his first 100 days. But how exactly did his nearly two decades in Olympia affect his governing style and approach? According to close observers, the tell-tale signs of a savvy state legislator can be seen in some of the new mayor’s most high-profile moves.
Take the minimum-wage debate. Largely (if not entirely) spurred by Kshama Sawant’s successful City Council bid and the groundswell it produced, wage inequality has been one of the key issues Murray’s administration has had to confront. And true to the mayor’s Olympia-bred reputation, he’s taken to it predictably. He formed a 23-person committee comprising business and labor leaders, gathering stakeholders to jockey for a minimum-wage hike that works for all. On his third day in office, Murray called a press conference to announce an executive order directing city department heads to develop a comprehensive plan for raising the minimum wage for city employees, signaling that speed was of the essence. All the while, he’s largely managed to avoid alienating the local business community as part of this push.
“You build the relationship, you know. That’s how you get stuff done,” says onetime state Republican Party chairman Chris Vance of Murray’s ability to work behind the scenes with legislators of differing viewpoints and across party lines. “Inter-politicking is a skill. Olympia would have taught him that.”
In short, Murray has methodically and thoughtfully brought people to the table, promoting collaboration while demanding progress as opposed to endless talk. In the spotlight, he’s recognized the importance of appeasing constituents; behind closed doors he’s made sure key players on both sides are invested in the outcome.
“One thing you see in the legislative process in terms of problem-solving is creating a stakeholder process,” says political consultant (and former deputy mayor under Greg Nickels) Tim Ceis, who, it must be noted, helped raise money for Murray’s election. “I think Ed has shown he’s going to use that technique a lot.
“It’s a style he honed in Olympia,” Ceis continues. “I think it comes very natural to him . . . In a city like Seattle, I think people appreciate that.”
Sure, people in Seattle like to be included—it’s hard to argue otherwise—but voters also appreciate results, and that’s where many said Murray’s “slow and incremental” approach, on full display during his years-long effort to legalize same-sex marriage, might falter.
But as Vance notes, there’s an element of speed to working in Olympia that Murray perhaps didn’t get enough credit for. Having himself moved from the state House of Representatives to the King County Council, Vance says Olympia’s pace is actually much faster than city government’s—one that Murray, having ascended to the chair of the majority caucus, is comfortable with. “In Olympia, they just finished a 60-day session,” says Vance. “It’s speed, speed, speed. . . . That’s the atmosphere Ed Murray has been operating in for 18 years. It has to have had an impact.”
Ceis may have been a Murray supporter last November, but longtime Seattle political consultant Cathy Allen was not, working instead on Peter Steinbrueck’s mayoral campaign. Even so, Allen says she’s been won over by the new mayor—specifically by the people he’s surrounded himself with.
“I thought if you were part of the political system, that you would act like the political system,” Allen says of Murray. “I am convinced that this guy has put together a group of not-the-usual suspects, and that in itself is refreshing, and catching people pleasantly off guard.” Asked for examples, Allen identifies Mike Fong, whom Murray named deputy director of his newly created Office of Policy and Innovation. Though Fong has a long history working at City Hall, according to Allen he’s known as “a worker” and not someone who “has a political resume as long as his arm.”
She also identifies Kathy Nyland, a longtime aide to Sally Bagshaw who now works in neighborhood outreach; and former community organizer Rahwa Habte, now a youth outreach manager. “If anything, they were people who worked in policy despite the politics,” Allen says. “All positive people whom you would not categorize as scheming, agenda-filled, or people likely to deliver to some special interest.”
While Murray’s best Olympia qualities have been exposed by his handling of the minimum-wage debate, perhaps the opposite can be said for the way he’s dealt with the city’s police department. Having promised during his campaign to work effectively—unlike McGinn—on Department of Justice-mandated reforms, Murray’s police dealings have nevertheless seemed just as embarrassingly clumsy, coming off like a business-as-usual comedy of errors.
In January, Murray replaced since-retired interim chief Jim Pugel—whom reformers have continually applauded for his efforts to shake up the SPD status quo—with Harry Bailey, a Seattle police officer for 35 years. Bailey emerged from retirement only to stumble badly through the reversal of misconduct findings against six officers, including one who had threatened to harass Stranger news editor Dominic Holden.
All this has resulted in a continuing PR nightmare for Murray that’s necessitated an awkward and baffling string of public apologies and clarifications—from a mayor invested so heavily in the notion that he’s a leader capable of orchestrating Seattle’s police-reform efforts. Needless to say, it hasn’t looked good. Acting quickly to assert control and position himself to get credit for police reform in the eyes of voters—moves that may have served him well in Olympia—Murray likely contributed to his biggest Seattle gaffe to date.
If there’s one thing Murray has in City Hall, however, it’s a coalition of supporters—which he’s made Olympian efforts, in both senses, to maintain. It’s something Mike McGinn never managed to achieve—or, perhaps more accurately, a skill the former mayor never understood the importance of. So far it’s serving Murray well. Because of the relationships he’s worked to forge with the Council, Murray’s City Hall colleagues seem inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt for any early missteps.
“I think the collaborative part of it is maybe an outgrowth of Olympia. You don’t get anything accomplished if you don’t get it through both houses. He certainly understands the legislative process,” says longtime councilmember Jean Godden.
Nick Licata, the Council’s longest-serving member—now on his fourth mayor—agrees. Though he’s been highly critical of the police-misconduct appeals process, when it comes to the botched reversals, he’s reluctant to place blame at the new mayor’s feet. “He’s still in learning mode,” Licata says.
One thing seems certain: With Murray’s first 100 days now officially in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to shift out of learning mode. As every new mayor learns, the honeymoon period only lasts so long. Murray’s is probably over.