After three speakers in to Mayor Ed Murray’s re-election kickoff luncheon fundraiser at the downtown Westin yesterday afternoon—Murray’s husband Michael Shiosaki, Murray’s original mentor Cal Anderson’s surviving partner Eric Ishino, and Murray’s former state house comrade, 32-year incumbent state representative Eileen Cody (D-34, West Seattle)—the elephant in the room was 2016.
The nostalgic speakers lingered in Murray’s former state house battles against 90s-era Newt Gingrich Republicans, his fight in the state legislature for gay marriage, his state transportation packages from the 2000s, Cody’s own tales of menopause, and, oh, did anyone mention gay marriage? (Also: Murray’s obligatory JFK quote, the other mainstay of his prefab campaign script, came from Murray himself later in the event, when he quoted himself quoting JFK.)
Thankfully, the next trio of speakers, who took the podium together (though unfortunately presented by Murray as a sort of a kids table triumvirate), helped nudge the agenda into the present. Transportation Choices Coalition executive Shefali Ranganahtan extolled Murray’s work passing a bus funding measure, a $930 million local transportation package, and cueing up this year’s pivotal, regional light rail package. Capitol Hill Community Council leader (burn! on the embittered community council movement) Zach DeWolf spoke about affordable housing and sang Murray’s praises on the HALA and mandatory housing affordability plan (which I’d agree, is a big deal.) And former $15 minimum wage task force member, former Puget Sound Sage policy director and now Fair Work Center executive director Nicole Vallestero Keenan, talked about Murray’s leadership on $15. She also framed Murray’s 2017 reelection bid, hyping his talent at corralling compromise and getting things done, intro-ing him to the crowd simply as “the mayor who gets things done.”
Murray has a habit of lingering in the past too, though, and he immediately staked out familiar ground, not-so-subtly bashing his predecessor. He began:
“I ran because the politics of the city I had represented for 18 years in the Legislature had become the politics of polarization, paralysis and division. City Hall had become a place where even if there was 95 percent agreement on an issue, the remaining five percent turned the dialogue bitter and progress ground to a halt.”
However, there was a point to the reminiscing.
After specifically citing past battles with the DOJ over police reform, 2011’s failed transportation initiative, and the standoff between affordable housing advocates and developers, Murray listed his comparable big wins, some TBD I’d say, to make his case: “Ending a 20-year battle between developers and housing advocates and build a workable affording housing policy [TBD], restoring a positive relationship with the U.S. Justice Department to move forward in partnership on police reform [TBD], and rebounding from a lost transit ballot measure with the largest increase in bus transit service in Seattle since metro was founded, and with Move Seattle, we made the largest levy investment in our transportation infrastructure.”
Speaking of elephants in the room—the 3,000 people sleeping outdoors, homeless in Seattle right now—Murray did eventually note the biggest challenge facing his administration. (P.s. only three city council members, Sally Bagshaw, Tim Burgess, and Debora Juarez were on hand, while others like Lisa Herbold, Lorena Gonzalez, Rob Johnson, and most notably Mike O’Brien, who are currently butting heads with Murray over homeless encampments, were not at his kickoff. Murray’s number one foe, council member Kshama Sawant, wasn’t there either, obviously.)
Murray didn’t offer any specifics on fighting homelessness. He said simply that the city was “fragmented” over the issue and needed to come together to face “our greatest challenge.” He also recounted his own working class childhood where his family teetered on the verge of homelessness.
The issue he was most eloquent about was racism, which he tied to getting police accountability right. After noting his policy goals on that front—“in a matter of weeks, I will transmit to the city council legislation that will create the highest level of civilian oversight of police that this city has even seen”—he went on to say the issue transcended police reform and overlapped with education policy. And also, less tangibly, and after a heady quote from Ta-Nehisi Coates (kinda cool? Kinda cloying?), he said the city needed to engage in some sort of undefined conversation with the African American community.
Ultimately, Murray does have a winning hand when he plays up his penchant for compromise and collaboration and getting stuff done. And it’s not clear who’s going to run against him. (He’s currently trying to snuff out any neighborhood opposition from the right by taking a tough stance on homeless encampments. And it’s not clear who the lefty challenger would be at this point—as O’Brien teams up with him on too many fronts and Sawant plays to a limited faction.)
Additionally, Murray did raise an impressive $150,000 yesterday from a packed room of 1,000 people that, though it leaned establishment liberal (and featured tables headed up by loyal staffers rather than any bevy of dynamic grassroots groups), his support does seem formidable.
Spotted, for example: Homeless advocate and progressive state representative candidate (for Murray’s old seat) Nicole Macri and former Mayor Mike McGinn ally John Roderick.
Perhaps, really dicing the subtleties of Seattle’s weird brand of calibrated lefty politics: Progressive candidate for Seattle’s open U.S. congressional seat, state representative Brady Walkinshaw (D-43, Capitol Hill) was on hand, while progressive candidate for Seattle’s U.S. congressional seat, state senator Pramila Jayapal (D-37, Southeast Seattle) was not. Jayapal, however, tells me her absence was hardly noteworthy, noting that she had two campaign events of her own to attend to in the district yesterday.