Council Split On Mayor’s Fate Following New Abuse Revelations

Murray says: “I am not going to resign.”

M. Lorena González has called for Mayor Ed Murray to resign or be removed, following new evidence published on Sunday by The Seattle Time that he sexually abused a minor decades ago. A former Murray staffer and influential City Councilmember, González may be the decisive voice that pushes the mayor out of office. The mayor refused: “I am not going to resign,” he said in a written statement Monday afternoon.

The allegations against Murray first went public in April, when a man filed a lawsuit accusing Murray of sexually abused him during the 1980s. Other men had made similar accusations against Murray in the past, but the Times had decided the story was too thin to publish. Though he maintains his innocence, the scandal surrounding the allegations drove Murray to drop out of his race for reelection. When the lawsuit was dropped right after the primary election filing deadline, Murray claimed vindication. But on Sunday, the Times reported new evidence: the contemporaneous files of a Child Protective Services investigator who concluded (but did not prove) that Murray had sexually abused his foster son. “In the professional judgement of this caseworker who has interviewed numerous children of all ages and of all levels of emotional disturbance regarding sexual abuse, Jeff Simpson has been sexually abused by … Edward Murray,” CPS caseworker Judy Butler wrote in the May 1984 assessment, reported the Times.

Defending himself in the court of public opinion since the news broke in April, Murray has leaned heavily on the absence of corroborating evidence. “Most importantly, law enforcement had long ago investigated and declined to prosecute,” he wrote in an April 14 editorial in The Stranger.

But when her office declined to pursue charges against Murray, Deputy District Attorney Mary Tomlinson wrote that it was not because they were skeptical of the allegations but because of technical challenges, reports the Times. “It was [the minor’s] emotional instability, history of manipulative behavior and the fact that he has again run away and made himself unavailable that forced my decision,” Tomlinson wrote. “We could not be sure of meeting the high burden of proof in a criminal case — of proof beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty. However, this in no way means that the District Attorney’s Office has decided [the minor’s] allegations are not true.”

In a statement on Monday, González said that she does not presume the mayor’s guilt and remains proud of the work she’s done with him as an attorney and councilmember.

“I am, however, now deeply concerned about this Mayor’s ability to continue leading the Executive branch in light of the recently released documents,” González continued. “While the caseworker’s report is not proof of criminal guilt, the gravity of the materials in the findings and the continued attention these issues will receive, raise questions about the ability of the Mayor, his office, his Department heads and senior management to remain focused on the critical issues facing our city.

“As a result, I am asking the Mayor to consider stepping down as Mayor and to work collaboratively with a subcommittee of the City Council to craft an Executive Leadership Transition Strategy.”

Later that day, Murray declined in a written statement. “I continue to believe such a course of action would not be in the city’s best interest. That is why I am not going to resign, and intend to complete the [five and a half] remaining months of my term as mayor,” he said. “Seattle needs steady, focused leadership over the next several months. We have a lot of work to do. Establishing an effective transition between administrations takes months of careful planning and preparation – work that I and my team have already begun. We do not need the sort of abrupt and destabilizing transition that a resignation would create, likely bringing the City’s business to a grinding halt. Council action against me would similarly prevent the City’s business from continuing, only so I can again show these allegations from 30 years remain false.”

González anticipated he might decline to resign. From her statement: “If the Mayor continues to serve as Mayor, then by no later than July 24, 2017, the City Council should convene its own committee to determine if a transition in Executive leadership is merited under these circumstances.”

According to the Seattle City Charter, “The Mayor may be removed from office after a hearing, for any willful violation of duty, or for the commission of an offense involving moral turpitude, upon written notice from the City Council at least five days before the hearing. He or she shall have the right to be present, to the aid of counsel, to offer evidence and to be heard in his or her own behalf. Upon the affirmative vote of two-thirds of all the members of the City Council, acting as a court of impeachment, the office shall become vacant.” The mayor can also resign voluntarily, obviously.

Not all Councilmembers are yet on board with impeachment. During Council Briefing Monday morning, Bruce Harrell, Tim Burgess and Sally Bagshaw each cautioned against rushing into impeachment. “The allegations in the newspaper yesterday are 30 years old,” said Bagshaw 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.”

Asked later why he hasn’t joined González in asking the mayor to voluntarily step down, Harrell replied: “That’s a good question. Because I’m not asking him to step down. I don’t have to justify that for anyone. I make my decisions on what’s in the best interest of this city right now…I haven’t heard any of you say he is not doing his job every single day. That governs whether he should step down or not.”

“Decisions that the mayor makes about his future are at this point his to make,” said Burgess. “The process that’s outlined for the council to consider removing him, I think, is very clear [in the city charter] and premature at this point…Come January 1 we will have a new mayor. I think we just have to be very judicious and cautious.”

Councilmember Debora Juarez said that she is a survivor of sexual assault and urged caution. “Some people are quick to be a judge and a jury, and that’s not why we’re here,” she said. “I wasn’t raised to pass judgement on anybody…I refuse to allow any kind of darkness in my heart, and I refuse to allow anything that isn’t good, that doesn’t have light, to shape me and the people I work with.”

González isn’t the first public leader to call for Murray to step down. Mayoral candidates Cary Moon and former mayor Mike McGinn both declared their candidacies shortly after the allegations against Murray first published; both have called for his resignation, as has City Council candidate Jon Grant. The Times reports that Jessyn Farrell, who recently resigned from the state legislature in order to run for mayor, is now also calling for Murray’s resignation. Farrell had been seeking Murray’s endorsement a few weeks ago, and sent a press release of support for the mayor when the lawsuit was dropped. Murray, however, endorsed Jenny Durkan.

Monday afternoon, Nikkita Oliver and the Peoples Party also joined the chorus. “Of course he should step down,” she said in a press release. “This new information, combined with Murray’s complete lack of public acknowledgment or accountability about these findings, absolutely changes our thoughts about Murray’s current standing as Mayor.”

Oliver said that if Murray doesn’t abdicate, the Council should take him down. “Every system has failed to hold him accountable,” she said. “The continuous rehashing of this in a very public way, without any substantive pursuit of accountability re-traumatizes countless victims and survivors of sexual abuse. At this point, if he doesn’t hold himself to account, the burden falls on other elected officials and the city council.”

This post has been updated.