The Seattle Times dropped a bombshell yesterday: Several men are accusing Mayor Ed Murray of sexually abusing them and paying them for sex when they were teenagers. A spokesman for Murray denied the accusations, saying Murray is the victim of an attempted election-year shakedown.
The extensive Times piece details the accusations of three men: Jeff Simpson, Lloyd Anderson, and a man only identified as “D.H.” D.H., who now lives in Kent, filed a lawsuit on Thursday against Murray, claiming Murray “raped and molested him” starting when D.H. was a 15-year-old drop out in 1986 in Seattle. Simpson and Anderson claim to have never had contact with D.H.
The news has scrambled the city political landscape, leaving a number of questions hanging in the air above City Hall. With time will come more clarity. But here is what we know right now.
What are the legal repercussions for Murray? The alleged abuse occurred nearly 30 years ago, well beyond the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution. If this moves forward in the courts, it will be as a civil suit with plaintiff D.H. suing defendant Murray for “damages in an amount to be proven at trial.” As the Times reports, “For civil cases, victims of child sex abuse are able to bring claims in Washington for years and well into adulthood, depending on when a victim recognizes the impacts such abuse has had on their life.”
Do the accusations seem credible? The Times reports that it first heard accusations of abuse by Murray in 2008, but chose not to run with a story—presumably because they couldn’t confirm the details. What the reporters note is striking about the lawsuit is that the accuser notes personal details about Murray that line up with the previous accusations, despite claims that the victims were unaware of one another. Specifically, he notes the color of Murray’s pubic hair (red) and an unusual bump on his genitals (though the previous accusers said the bump was on his scrotum and D.H. his penis.) Beyond that, D.H. correctly recalls Murray’s address at the time of the abuse, and his telephone number (though the phone number, at least, can currently be found online.)
What’s motivating the lawsuit now? Is it political? That’s Murray’s contention—his personal spokesperson suggests that the lawsuit is a “shakedown,” and that by coming so soon before the 2017 election is meant to exact maximum damage. D.H. himself says politics plays a role, but in a different way. Addressing why he’s bringing the suit now, D.H.’s lawsuit states the recent death of his father “prompted moments of reflection and introspection.” “These moments of reflection, and awareness that Mr. Murray maintains a position of authority, prompted the filing of this lawsuit in an attempt at accountability…” Later in the lawsuit, his lawyers write: “Natural speculation would lead some people to believe that D.H.’s actions are politically motivated—which is not exactly true. In this regard, D.H. is disturbed that Mr. Murray maintains a position of trust and authority, and believes that the public has a right to full information when a trusted official exploits a child” (Note: None of the alleged abuse occurred when Murray held office.)
What’s the next step in the lawsuit? If D.H.’s lawyers have their way, it will be a deposition of Murray. In the suit, they request that Murray sit in the next 90 days for a deposition, in which lawyers will be allowed to ask Murray, under oath, about the accusations. “D.H. believes that it will be hard, if not nearly impossible, for Mr. Murray to deny the abuse,” The complaint states. The lawyers write that they plan to ask Murray directly whether he ever had sex with an under-age boy, ensuring that he would not be able to dodge questions by saying he doesn’t recall D.H. Murray has said he’ll vigorously fight the case.
What’s next in City Hall? The immediate question, from a governance standpoint, is whether Murray can continue to lead despite the ongoing distraction of these allegations. In the worst case scenario for Murray, more evidence or accusers come forward, spiraling his administration deeper into scandal, and he’s forced to resign from office. If this happens, City Council President Bruce Harrell would step in as mayor and a new councilmember would be selected.
If Murray resigned, Bruce Harrell would become mayor, or he could decline and the council would vote in a different council member.
— Erica C. Barnett (@ericacbarnett) April 7, 2017
At best for Murray, he’ll successfully fight off the accusations, but still lose an enormous amount of political capital and momentum. As Crosscut reports: “One Seattle City Hall veteran, who served under two previous mayors, said even a smaller crisis can take leaders’ minds off of everything else. “That is the real danger,” said the source, who asked not to be named. “I’m sure that [the mayor] is distraught and I’m sure that the staff is in shock.”
What’s going to happen in the mayor’s race? Until now, Murray had an air of invincibility around him going into this fall’s election. Labor and business groups have pledged support for his reelection, he has $300,000 in the bank, and some internal polling found him with a 60 percent approval rating in Seattle. The scuttlebutt was that several well-positioned candidates, including Kshama Sawant, sniffed at a run, but found the odds too long to try it. No longer. Along with People’s Party candidate Nikkita Oliver, who had quickly gained traction in the race even prior to the scandal, there are sure to be other serious challengers to step forward now that Murray appears damaged. Moxie Media, which consults on campaigns, claims that they have been working with a “viable, resourced potential candidate for months now.”
Meanwhile, local political consulting firm Moxie Media would like you to know they're working with a potential Murray challenger: pic.twitter.com/SwYSBDnCXq
— Heidi Groover (@heidigroover) April 6, 2017
The deadline for filing for office is May 17, so there’s a decent amount of time for the field to get crowded.
Did the Times tell the whole story? From what we can tell, the Times team did a hell of a job. They left out a few salacious details from the lawsuit, which is understandable. A few things that jumped out at us: By D.H.’s telling, there was at least one other “under-aged boy” who Murray paid for sex at the time he was paying D.H., in the mid-to-late ’80s. “D.H. recalled the other light-skinned boy from the Broadway area, where everyone would hang out,” the lawsuit states. The lawsuit also claims that D.H. and Murray have had interactions since the abuse, saying that Murray has accepted several collect calls from him over the years.
Are there national repercussions for this story? Some local and national conservatives seem to smell blood. With Murray having championed LGBT rights and fought Trump, there’s no doubt going to be some schadenfreude from the right. Here’s the dumbest Tweet we’ve seen on the matter:
Seattle liberals: Five Bill O'Reilly accusers… FIRE HIM!!!
Three Ed Murray accusers… political witchhunt!!!
— Dori Monson (@dorimonson) April 6, 2017