Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said the press secretary he reassigned in May “was not well-matched to the demands” of the job and vigorously denied allegations by Rosalind Brazel that she was subjected to discrimination. She has filed a claim with the city demanding at least $1 million in damages.
“Discrimination of any stripe runs counter to my personal and public values,” Murray said in a statement released this morning, “and neither race nor gender played a role in my decision to seek different skills and experience at the press secretary position during the first 100 days of my administration.”
Brazel, 42, was stripped of her role as the mayor’s chief spokeswoman in March, just three months into the job, and reassigned to another city department. She was terminated two months later.
“The first days of my administration were chaotic and pressure-filled, as my office worked to bring significant change to city government while immediately addressing a number of major issues facing our community,” Murray said. “In many ways, all of us were learning by doing, and there is no doubt that we all made mistakes – myself included.
The mistakes the mayor alluded to – at least those involving Brazel – was the statement Brazel sent out Feb. 27 mourning the death of Jim Diers, the popular former director of the city’s Department of Neighborhoods. “I’m very saddened by the death of Jim Diers,” was the initial press release dispatched by Brazel. Diers, of course, was and still is, very much alive. “Dumb mistake on our part,” Jeff Reading, Murray’s communications director, said at the time.
The other well-publicized snafu occurred the month before, in late January, when Brazel accidentally sent to the media two drafts of Murray praising the passage of the state version of the Dream Act, which allowed financial aid for students illegally brought to the United States as children.
As The Seattle Times reported: “The ‘sausage-making’ draft started with a note to Brazel’s boss, Murray’s Communications Director Jeff Reading. “Jeff–two statements below. One more straight forward, one with a “tisk tisk” feel.”
“The ‘tisk tisk’ version notes that Murray took ‘up this fight so many years ago as a State Senator’ and is glad to see that it ‘has finally come to fruition.’ The first version says Murray is proud and pleased.
“The subject line for Brazel’s next frantic email says DISREGARD!!! and adds in the text the obvious, “This was not intended for public viewing.” The next email says ‘Recall: DRAFT.’”
Said Murray: “Ms. Rosalind Brazel was recruited to the press secretary role as a former journalist. And while she brought years of experience to the role, the job of press secretary is unique among communications jobs – as any former press secretary can attest. It requires a rare combination of skills that, in many ways, can only be tested through the process of performing the role itself. There are countless examples of great reporters who have both succeeded and struggled when asked to serve as a press secretary.”
But Brazel, who was making $95,000 a year, says in her claim that she was the only African-American “professional level” official employed by Murray at the time. She said four other workers were also reassigned, but were not fired, as she was.
“Ms. Brazel was replaced by a white male who is paid $5,000 per year more than she was paid, despite frequent mentions by Mayor Murray to the public that the Race and Social Justice Initiative, which affords equal pay among race and gender, is fully recognized by his office,” the claim says.
Murray concluded in his statement: “While I take very seriously the charge of discrimination made by Ms. Brazel, I stand by my decision to make a change at the press secretary position during those early days as one of many changes necessary to bring greater structure and stability to the daily operations inside the Mayor’s Office.”