Mayor Ed Murray grinned a lot this morning in the lobby of the Bush Hotel in Chinatown/International District, where supporters from the Yesler Community Collaboratory and other groups as well as staff and press watched as he signed legislation that will allow developers to build higher, and require them to build a certain number of subsidized housing units, in the downtown and South Lake Union neighborhoods.
The legislation will implement the next step of the mayor’s HALA housing affordability plan, a major legislative accomplishment of his first term. Now, as he hunkers down to campaign for a second one, the mayor stands accused in a lawsuit of sexually abusing one or more underage teenagers decades ago. This morning’s conference appears to have been his first press-accessible appearance since he initially denied the allegations on Friday. (Tuesday, Murray’s lawyer presented a doctor’s note which appears to contradict one of the key pieces of evidence implicating him in the lawsuit.)
The mayor was full of smiles, perhaps to counter the unflattering images of his face relaxed into a creepily neutral expression that accompanied news accounts of the lawsuit last week. Murray didn’t even mention the suit until a reporter asked him about it during Q&A, at which point he reiterated the argument he published in a guest editorial in The Stranger this morning: the suit and allegations are character assassination by strategic homophobes, nothing more.
Seattle Councilmember Sally Bagshaw was actually the first person at this morning’s conference to mention the lawsuit—or rather, obliquely refer to “some of the thing’s we’ve all been reading about.” Heretofore, the only public statements issued out of council were a letter from president Bruce Harrell saying that no one will say anything and blogpost from councilmember Kshama Sawant saying the allegations should start a larger conversation about sexual violence.
Today, Bagshaw departed a little from that scripted silence.
“I want to recognize and tell you from my heart,” she said, “we have excellent leaders in this government. We have people who are working hard to make our city the best it can be for the right reasons: to make our city a place where all of us can live. I want you to know that I have faith in this mayor. I have faith in his vision, I have faith in his commitment to make this city the best place it can be for all of us.”
And, she added, “As a former prosecuting attorney, I can tell you this: I have faith that truth and fairness ultimately will win out” when a court of law weighs the allegations against Murray.
When Murray returned to the podium, he wasn’t grinning. “I, uh, I lost my place,” said the mayor, his eyes slightly glassy. “Thank you so much.”
Assessing emotions in public figures is always difficult, because they’re sort of like actors, trained through campaigns and public meetings to calculate their own affect based on the audience and situation they’re in. So this flicker of unscripted humanity between two politicians with a history of publicly praising each other—was it real, or theater? Or both?
Bagshaw’s public affirmation of the embattled mayor certainly signals he’s already regained some of the political capital he lost when news of the suit broke last week. Her vote of confidence could inspire others to follow.