Seattle City Council has taken a step closer toward impeaching Mayor Ed Murray—maybe. Or maybe not. It depends on whom you ask.
Monday morning, several Councilmembers tentatively agreed to a “joint Mayor-Council transition coordination committee” proposed by Murray to facilitate the transfer of power to whoever replaces him. That joint committee could accelerate or derail efforts to drive Murray from office before completing his term at the end of this year.
The committee is a concession to Councilmember M. Lorena González, who on July 17 called for either Murray’s resignation or a Council committee “to determine if a transition in Executive leadership is merited.” González has not explicitly called for the Council to impeach Murray, though it was clear during Council briefing last week that she’s more game for impeachment than her colleagues Sally Bagshaw, Tim Burgess and Council President Bruce Harrell.
In case you missed it: in April, The Seattle Times published allegations that Murray sexually abused minors decades ago. Since then, evidence has mounted. Four different men accuse Murray, and a 1984 Child Protective Services investigation concluded (but did not prove) that at least one of them—from Murray’s former foster son—was credible. While maintaining his innocence, Murray has dropped his reelection bid, but insists he will not step down.
After the CPS investigation became public on July 16, Councilmember M. Lorena González asked Murray—her former boss—to “consider stepping down as Mayor and to work collaboratively with a subcommittee of the City Council to craft an Executive Leadership Transition Strategy…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.”
Murray’s response: no, but yes. He says he won’t step down and will finish out his term through the end of this year, but he’s on-board with a transition team. In a letter to González on July 21, he wrote, “I agree with you that a focused and coordinated effort for a transition in Executive leadership is of utmost importance…Given our shared interests and your recommendations, I would like to propose something innovative: a joint Mayor-Council transition coordination committee to execute a plan for ensuring a smooth transition of power.” Murray proposed having two of his own department heads work with Council President Harrell to come up with a “framework” for the joint transition committee.
The letter partly mollified González, who thanked Murray “for your thoughtful response” in a July 23 response. “I believe that you have listened to my broader governance concerns in light of these allegations,” she wrote, adding that she’ll support Murray’s proposal and has “personally asked” each Councilmember to do the same. The proposed committee is “unprecedented…I view it as a commensurate response to the unprecedented nature of the allegations lodged against you,” González wrote. The joint committee will “maximize transparancy” and allow Council to “independently evaluate whether the Executive is indeed effectively governing in spite of being under the cloud of these serious allegations.”
During Council Briefing on Monday, other Councilmembers were amenable to the joint committee, yet confused by it. “Quite candidly, I’m not exactly sure at this point what it means, and I’m going to seek clarification” from the mayor’s office, said Harrell. He said he’s also seeking clarification from other Councilmembers on “what your thoughts are in the smooth transition” and from the the City Attorney’s office about what a “succession plan…addressing all scenarios” would look like. Harrell hopes to have the latter ready by Wednesday or Thursday.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who was absent from last week’s discussion of Murray’s potential resignation or impeachment, also voiced her confusion about whether the mayoral “transition” would be at the end of Murray’s term or sooner. That confusion, of course, it a big part of why the joint committee is politically feasible. Because the disagreement between pro- and anti-Murray factions is not yet ripe, they can agree to move toward the figurative fork in the road without yet arguing over which side of the fork to take when they get there.
Well, almost without arguing. At the Monday meeting, Sawant tried to reframe the question of whether to impeach Murray from an administrative decision to a question of political and moral duty. “This is not a situation where it’s up to the mayor” how to proceed, she said. “The Council has an independent duty to act on this” due to “what we owe as a legislative body to sexual violence survivors,” she said.
“It’s a question of how our decisions appear, in terms of what courage we’re able to show,” Sawant said, “…and what precedent it sets.”
“Due to allegations and mounting evidence that you have repeatedly engaged in sexual abuse of minors, we believe that you should no longer serve as the leader of the City of Seattle,” wrote Julia Ricciardi on behalf of the Seattle LGBTQ Commission in a letter to Murray, calling his response to accusations “silencing, manipulative, and morally repugnant.”
“To serve in the honorable role of Mayor of Seattle, one should be an exemplar of leadership, accountability, and honesty,” Ricciardi added. “We do not believe that you can embody these ideals.”
But several of Murray’s predecessors disagree. “We firmly believe Mayor Murray should continue to lead the city through the remainder of his term,” read a letter co-signed by former Seattle mayors Wes Uhlman, Charles Royer, Norman Rice and Greg Nickels. (Murray’s immediate predecessor Mike McGinn is running for mayor and has called for Murray to step down.) “A transition merely months before electing a new mayor would be messy and time consuming, and would present serious challenges to the day-to-day operations of the city.”