“It’s pretty moving being a working class kid who came from a pretty poor family over in Alki on 61st street, standing in the Mayor’s Office on New Years Day,” says Ed Murray, about 57 hours into his first term as Seattle’s mayor.
Hizzoner has just finished a press conference where he announced an executive order to increase the minimum wage for Seattle city employees to $15 per hour, and fielded questions about the troubled State Route 99 Tunnel project and the arson at a gay Capitol Hill nightclub on New Year’s Eve.
“If anything has surprised me,” says the 58-year-old mayor, as he sits at a conference room table on the seventh floor of City Hall, "it’s exactly how much there is to do." The search for a new police chief, the massive infrastructure projects, income inequality, affordable housing. These are just a few of the weighty items on Murray’s agenda as he prepares for inauguration day and his new job as the city’s chief executive.
Murray is no stranger to government. He has spent more than two decades in politics. He cut his teeth as a campaign manager and Seattle City Council aide. He represented Seattle’s 43rd district in Olympia for 11 years (from 1995 to 2006) before being elected to the state senate in 2006. He gave up his position as Senate Democratic leader shortly after he was elected mayor last November.
Not surprisingly, Murray dresses like a politico — dark suit, light blue shirt, dark blue tie. But one small flourish stands out: a bracelet of wooden beads on his right wrist.
“There’s a long story behind this,” he says when asked about the bracelet.
The beads are like the “one-decade” rosary his grandfather used to carry in Ireland. Easily hidden, one-decade rosaries originated in 16th and 17th century Ireland, at a time when the English government persecuted the country’s Catholics. “I used to carry [a one-decade rosary] in my pocket,” Murray says. “I didn’t say the rosary, I just used to touch it in intense moments. You know, sort of like worry beads.”
The bracelet Murray wears now is made of Jerusalem olivewood. He got it at the Benedictine hermitage in Big Sur, California, where he goes every few years. The hermitage explores the “confluence” of Eastern meditation and Catholic prayer.
“My siblings will tell you that I was always interested in two things,” says Murray. “Politics and the church.” He considered the priesthood, briefly, spending a year in the seminary before deciding that he “absolutely did not want to be a priest.”
Murray and husband Michael Shiosaki celebrate on Election Night 2013. Photo by Allyce Andrew
His faith has influenced his politics and he says it is one of the reasons for his focus on immigration and poverty. But Murray’s sexual orientation complicates his relationship with the church. “It’s an area of great tension and pain in my life,” he says. “The church is a place that’s home, but it’s a place that’s not always welcoming.” Murray and Michael Shiosaki, his husband and partner of 22 years, had to get married in an Episcopal church.
Though his interest in the priesthood faded, Murray’s devotion to politics persisted. In fact, it’s fair to say that the new mayor is a political junky. Among his favorite books are F.S. Lyon’s roughly 750-page biography of F.S. Parnell, an Irish political leader of the late 1800s, and Robert Caro’s four-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson. Murray binge-watched the Netflix series “House of Cards" — straight through, in about two days — though he prefers the original British version, which he calls probably the best political TV show or movie of all time. Murray was also a big fan of “The West Wing,” the ‘90s NBC series that starred his distant cousin, actor Martin Sheen, as the president. (Murray’s grandmother and Sheen’s mother hail from the same Irish county and share a last name: Phelan.)
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