For five months, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray rejected calls for his resignation amid allegations he sexually abused teens decades before entering politics.
But Murray couldn’t withstand a devastating new allegation from within his own family.
He announced his resignation Tuesday, hours after news emerged that a younger cousin was publicly accusing Murray of molesting him in New York in the 1970s.
Murray, a former Democratic state legislator elected mayor in 2013, didn’t appear in public to make the announcement. Instead, he issued a statement saying his resignation would be effective 5 p.m. Wednesday.
“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.
He added he was proud of his accomplishments in a long political career, including landmark gay civil-rights laws and enactment of a $15 minimum hourly wage.
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.
Since the allegations began to emerge in April, Murray has continued to say he is innocent. Though he ended his re-election campaign in May, Murray until Tuesday had insisted he would not resign, despite calls for his exit.
“The accumulation of these accusations and now coming from a family member just made it essential that he resign,” City Councilor Tim Burgess said.
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.”
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.”
Councilor Kshama Sawant blasted her colleagues for failing to push Murray out. Before Tuesday, she and M. Lorena Gonzalez were the only councilors 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 councilors Sawant and Gonzalez 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.”
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