Seattle Mayor Murray built his standing in the gay community and in Washington state politics through a decades-long push for bias protections, domestic partnerships and finally, marriage equality.
But for some supporters, his standing eroded this year when he attacked the backgrounds of men who accused him of sexually abusing them in the 1970s and 1980s when they were teens.
By the time a fifth accuser – Murray’s cousin – came forward this week, many were relieved when he announced he would resign as of late Wednesday afternoon.
“We think it definitely should have happened sooner,” Julia Ricciardi, co-chair of the city’s LGBTQ Commission, calling his resignation “an opportunity for us to put this behind as an issue.”
City Council President Bruce Harrell was sworn in as mayor after Murray’s resignation took effect. He has five days to decide whether to finish the mayor’s term, which ends in December; doing so would force him to give up his council seat.
The departure of Murray, a 62-year-old Democrat and the state’s most prominent gay politician, brings an ignoble end to a 22-year career in public office, including 18 as a state lawmaker.
Though he vehemently denied the accusations and previously refused to step down, he announced his resignation within hours of a Seattle Times report on Tuesday detailing his cousin’s account.
Before being elected mayor in 2013, Murray was a longtime state lawmaker who led the state’s campaign to legalize same-sex marriage.
“While the allegations against me are not true, it is important that my personal issues do not affect the ability of our city government to conduct the public’s business,” the mayor said.
His positions were often popular in ultraliberal Seattle, where he pushed to raise the city’s minimum hourly wage to $15 and expanded access to preschool, and even those critical of his response to the allegations were quick to credit his accomplishments in office.
But Murray could be abrasive and difficult to work with and was known to berate reporters, colleagues and staff. His first mayoral press secretary, Rosalind Brazel, said in a discrimination claim that Murray frequently snapped at her and that she “was instructed that she was not to speak to him while in the car with him.”
Before the allegations, Murray was expected to win re-election handily. But by May, he had announced he wouldn’t run again, though he had hoped to finish out his term at the end of the year.
As the claims mounted, his criticism of the men cost him support.
In April, when one accuser filed a lawsuit alleging that Murray abused him after meeting him on a city bus, Murray criticized The Seattle Times for printing what he described as unfounded and false accusations.
He attacked a different accuser – his former foster son – in an opinion piece the same month, writing that “his criminal history proves he cannot be trusted” and detailing the man’s criminal record.
Murray also suggested he was the victim of an anti-gay conspiracy, pointing out that the founder of the law firm representing accuser Delvonn Heckard had opposed gay marriage and allowing transgender people to use the restrooms of their choice.
“There’s no question it cost him support within the community, both the LGBT community and the broader community,” said Democratic state Sen. Jamie Pedersen, who is also gay. “There was a perception he was blaming the men who had come forward.”
Murray’s effort to portray himself as a victim of a conspiracy created a false paradigm that “if you believe the accusations, then you’re perpetuating homophobia,” Ricciardi said.
The latest abuse allegations emerged this week from Joseph Dyer, the son of Murray’s first cousin, Maryellen Sottile.
Dyer told The Seattle Times in a story published Tuesday that he was infuriated with Murray’s attacks of the men accusing him, and that’s what prompted him to speak out.
Dyer said he was 13 and Murray was in his early 20s when Murray came to live with Dyer’s family in Medford, New York, in 1975. The two shared a bedroom, and Murray repeatedly molested him over the course of a year, Dyer said.
Dyer said the molestation stopped only after Murray was accused of abuse by a boy in a Catholic group home where Murray worked. Dyer told the newspaper his uncle persuaded the group home not to pursue charges as long as Murray left.
SPY’s efforts to reach Dyer were not immediately successful, but Beauregard released a written statement from him.
“Edward claims, as with the other allegations, that he didn’t molest me,” it said. “He really can’t say anything else. What benefit is it for me to come out and expose myself at this point in my life?”
Murray has not said what he might do after leaving office.
“I don’t have any idea what happened in the 1970s and 1980s,” he said. “But I have a huge sense of sadness and loss regardless of whether they’re true or not. We’re losing someone who’s been a very engaged and effective leader.”
It was a stunning end to a monthslong drama that has seen five men step forward to accuse Murray of sexually abusing them years ago, when they were teenagers.
Council President Bruce Harrell will temporarily serve as mayor and will decide within five days whether to take on the role of acting mayor past the Nov. 7 election.
Harrell may turn down the position of acting mayor because accepting it would require him to give up his council seat. If he demurs, the council will pick another of its members to serve until the election results are certified.
In the election, Seattle voters are choosing between former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan and planner Cary Moon, and the winner will take over the mayor’s office after the election results are certified Nov. 28.
Durkan entered the race after Murray ended his bid and accepted the mayor’s endorsement. She removed his name from her campaign website Tuesday afternoon.
Moon first called for Murray to step down in May.
In a statement, Harrell said his “heart goes out” to survivors of sexual abuse due to “the re-traumatization these allegations have caused…
“These accusations are unspeakable and require the utmost attention from our legal and social-service system no matter how long ago they might have occurred,” he said.
The city “must focus on governance and day-to-day business without distraction,” Harrell added, saying he has a plan in place for a “seamless transition.”
Councilmember Kshama Sawant blasted her colleagues for failing to push Murray out. Before Tuesday, she and M. Lorena González were the only council members to call on the mayor to resign.
“Unfortunately, the majority of the City Council failed to show any such leadership,” Sawant said. “Establishment politicians and political operatives do not show courage on an ordinary basis, so this is yet another example.”
Asked why he had held off on calling for Murray’s ouster, Burgess said the new allegations felt different.
“I don’t know what to believe. I don’t know if we’ll ever know the truth in this situation,” he said.
Murray’s midday announcement came soon after The Seattle Times reported on allegations by the mayor’s cousin, Joseph Dyer, 54.
The fifth man to publicly accuse Murray of child sexual abuse, Dyer says he was 13 when Murray forced him into sex when the two shared a bedroom at Dyer’s mother’s home in Medford, New York, in the mid-1970s.
“We were very glad to hear that he’s resigned,” the mother, Maryellen Sottile, said Tuesday afternoon. “We hope it helps the others in some way.”
Murray, 62, has repeatedly denied that he sexually abused anyone, contending the accusations are part of a political takedown targeting him for his progressive politics and record as a gay-rights champion. He attributed the latest claims to bad blood between two estranged wings of the family.
Another accuser, Jeff Simpson, a former foster son of Murray’s who claims Murray began abusing him at age 13, said of the resignation: “I couldn’t believe it. I was like, you know what? God is good. When you’re doing the right thing and don’t quit before the miracle, God takes care of stuff. It’s just on his time.”
Simpson met Murray while growing up in a Portland group home for troubled children in the late 1970s. He tried to bring attention to his allegation in 2008, when Murray was in the Legislature, but his account was never publicly reported.
In July, newly released documents showed that an Oregon child-welfare investigator in 1984 had found Simpson’s allegations valid.
On Tuesday, Simpson said, “If nothing else happens, and nothing else comes of it, for me, I will be OK. Because I believe I got my story out.”
A third accuser, Lloyd Anderson, who met Murray in the same Portland group home as Simpson, issued a statement through his lawyer.
“I feel victory, but saddened that it required another victim to come forward for him to resign. I wonder how many other victims are out there,” said Anderson, who has alleged he was paid for sex as a teenager by Murray in the 1980s in Portland.
Delvonn Heckard, who sued Murray earlier this year over alleged abuse, expressed relief.
“I mean, at least the public knows that everything I was saying was the truth, right?” he said. “I’m not just some crackhead, some criminal, some street kid, I was telling the truth … It’s not just me, or one or two guys. It’s his own cousin, too.”
Heckard dropped his case against the mayor in June, saying he would refile. On Tuesday, he said he’s eager to do so.
“I want to face him so bad. I still want to face him,” Heckard said. “I am going to get my attorney and make sure he’s going to file that lawsuit, now that he’s not the mayor anymore. We need to continue on. He needs to see all of us, all his victims.”
Though the Seattle LGBTQ Commission and Seattle Human Rights Commission joined council members Sawant and González in calling for Murray to resign this summer, he retained support from others on the council and from four former mayors. That remaining support deteriorated Tuesday.
“Given the new allegations … the mayor is making the right decision [to resign],” former Mayor Greg Nickels, who before had said Murray should be allowed to finish his term, said in an email.
Durkan had previously declined to call for Murray to quit. She amended her view Tuesday, shortly before the mayor’s announcement.
“It’s clear that it is in everybody’s best interest for him to resign,” Durkan said in a statement. “As a parent, former public official and openly gay woman, these allegations are beyond sad and tragic; no official is above the law.”
Moon on Tuesday reiterated her previous criticisms, saying the mayor’s response to the allegations had been “deeply inappropriate and harmful, especially to survivors, LGBTQ people and young people everywhere.”
She added, “Survivors of sexual assault must be believed and treated with respect.”
Simpson summed up the news this way: “Is it justice, is it closure? I don’t know. But this definitely — this is a major step in the right direction.”