After The Seattle Times on Thursday published allegations that Mayor Ed Murray decades ago paid a minor for sex, a strange sound filled the offices of public officials across the city: silence. No press releases, no official statements, no comments. No one in power had anything to say.
By Friday afternoon, city leaders had recovered from the allegations’ shock enough to begin commenting, in the form of non-comments. “I’m trying to stay focused on doing work that is before the council on Monday and is so important for the future of the City,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold when asked by Seattle Weekly to comment on the council’s overall legislative agenda given the recent allegations against Murray.
Later that evening, Murray’s electoral challenger Nikkita Oliver posted her own non-comment on the Peoples Party Facebook page. “The Peoples Party has no interest in commenting upon the specifics of the allegations against Mayor Murray,” she wrote. “Obviously, both the allegations and his decision not to resign will affect the Mayoral race profoundly…We have no interest in politicizing tragedy.”
However, Oliver continued, the allegations should raise larger questions about sexual abuse and assault, which are “a rampant problem in our society…Hopefully these allegations will be the reason to raise a conversation about how to make structural changes that will benefit and protect vulnerable young people…
“The Court of law will make decisions about those allegations. But whatever the outcome, we cannot stop there. It is not enough to give in to this political feeding frenzy and not question why any child is vulnerable in the first place.”
Monday, City Council President Bruce Harrell issued a press release saying that he won’t say anything. The release appears to also speak on behalf of the entire council. It manages to refer to the Murray allegations without actually mentioning them. “My colleagues and I have no intention of commenting on matters of pending or potential litigation,” Harrell wrote in part. “Our city cannot afford to be distracted. There is a judicial process that will address the serious allegations that this situation has presented, and we will respect that process and the rights of all parties involved. All accusations of abuse require a thorough investigation. It is in our human nature to immediately want answers, but I ask we not cast aspersions to the parties involved before we have all the facts through the judicial process.”
Of course, what people say publicly and what they plan behind closed doors are different. There was already some chatter last week about challenging Murray’s re-election in light of the allegations. As the Times’ Dan Beekman reported over the weekend, Heather Weiner of Moxie Media said in an emailed statement, “We’ve been working with a viable, resourced potential challenger [to Murray for mayor] for a couple months now…She has not made a decision, but this development may push up her decision-making timeline.”
Expect that kind of chatter to become more public, said John Wyble, who consulted on Mike McGinn’s unsuccessful re-election campaign in 2013. Wyble was quoted in the Times piece saying, “We’re not at the point where we should be discussing politics.” But that was Friday, he told Seattle Weekly today. This is a new week, and he expects things to get political, fast. “There are a lot of people talking about getting in [to the mayor’s race] now,” he said, adding that some potential candidates have been in contact with him.
He predicted that a well-established candidate will announce either late this week or early next. “That’s not because someone I’m talking to is planning that,” said Wyble. “But I get the sense that people are going to sit there and go, ‘The clock is ticking. Do I want to be the seventh person in, or the first person in?’”
Wyble noted that prior to the allegations, Murray was in a strong position, making it politically risky to criticize the direction the city is going. That’s now changed. “Whether the allegations are true or not, those frustrations with the mayor have more voice,” he said. “It’s out there. You just talk to people and they ask, ‘Are we going in the right direction here?’”
That question might get more of an airing now.
Dan Person and Josh Kelety contributed to this story.