Together again: Ed Murray's vision thing

The senate leader-turned-mayoral challenger stakes out his "vision." But it's really about the singer, not the song.
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Ed Murray during an interview

The senate leader-turned-mayoral challenger stakes out his "vision." But it's really about the singer, not the song.

Far away and long ago, mayoral candidates ate knishes, cannoli, knockwurst and hot links. depending on the neighborhood, to demonstrate their community connection and what would now be called their multicultural street cred. Now they just come down to Southeast Seattle. Last January, Mayor Mike McGinn kicked off his re-election campaign with a rousing mini-rally in the Filipino Community Center on MLK Way. Yesterday his rival Ed Murray followed the ghost streetcar lines down to le Seattle profound — to the Columbia City Theatre, where he delivered what was touted as a speech laying out “his vision for Seattle's future.”

Murray was taking the fight to McGinn country. In his first race four years ago, McGinn established what might be the first-ever campaign office at Othello and MLK. He won Columbia City’s precincts by gaping margins. When you meet your adversary on his home turf, you better be prepared — and to make sure you pick a venue you can fill. The upstairs room at the Filipino center where McGinn declared was stuffy and packed to the elbows, but crackling with enthusiasm.

Considering all that, and considering the promise implicit in a “vision” speech, yesterday’s semi-launch was a surprisingly slapdash affair. The media invitation didn’t go out till 8:40 that morning. The proceedings were 20 minutes late starting, perhaps because the Murray team hoped for stragglers to fill out the cavernous hall. Volunteers wearing blue and gold “Ed Murray” stickers waved their compatriots to file down and at least fill the pit.

One current and two past city council members attended. Tim Burgess, who backed out early after also challenging McGinn, wore a blue and gold sticker and a solemn expression. Peter Steinbrueck, who didn’t, stood back and said he was just visiting; if he waits much longer to endorse he may be too late, just as he was when he finally ran for mayor. Tina Podlodowski, who’s been off the council long enough to achieve elder-stateswoman status, would later add own her testimonial, noting that she and Murray first took office in the same year (1995). Translation: Unlike McGinn, who sought and won public office for the first time in 2009 and then got a crash course in Governing 101, our guy has experience.

Immigrant-rights activist Premila Jayapal warmed the crowd. She inevitably noted that it stood in “one of the most diverse zip codes [98118] in the United States. This is the center of hardworking immigrants, refugees, and people of color.” Did she mean fast-gentrifying, ever-pricier Columbia City?

Murray started out by noting the “incredible diversity of our city” and how we’re “fortunate to live in a vibrant, dynamic 21st century city” as well as “a city of ideas… of neighborhoods… of innovation.” Take heart, you who fear getting stuck in a stodgy, stagnant 20th century city.

He went on to check off more Seattle-celebrating boxes, in the best knish and cannole tradition. At times his speech was more about life story than vision quest. Murray claimed both diversity and hard-working, quasi-immigrant points by noting that he was a “son of Irish Catholics” who were “inspired by John Kennedy,” while he himself wondered if there were any “role for a gay man to contribute to the city and region he loved.” Fortunately, “strong progressive mentors” — Cal Anderson, Martha Choe, legislative colleagues — showed him there was.

Life story segued into résumé. Murray noted how, in the Legislature, he’d “brought in billions of dollars for human services and affordable housing, for transit and transportation, and for our schools and universities,” as well as “passing clean-air legislation, anti-bullying and anti-discrimination protections for gays and lesbians, and marriage equality.” And how the Seattle Chamber and SEIU Local 1199 had both endorsed him. “That’s real diversity,” he quipped.

“Progressive” was the word of the day. Murray went on to invoke Seattle’s “progressive spirit” six times. He promised to “reinvigorate” it, and also “rejuvenate today and ignite a better tomorrow for all our kids and all our families.” The only theme he sounded more often was an even more hallowed one: bringing people and communities, and stakeholders, and business and labor, and police and communities, and bicyclists and pedestrians and transit and freight “together.” In the process, he leapt over some gaps that may prove harder to bridge in real life: “We’ll move to adopt a $15 wage standard but we’ll do it in a way that does not hurt small businesses.” And expand both “bus service throughout the city” and “light rail and street cars,” as though one (the latter pairing) won’t continue to rob the other.

As visions go, this one was thin on concrete measures: Murray would accelerate implementing the U.S. Justice Department’s police accountability plan, push for more “dual-language” (please don’t say bilingual) school programs, and restore the Office of Domestic Violence. But that doesn’t matter. In a race, and a city, where a progressive agenda is a given, the question becomes, Who can actually get it done? Or, as Murray himself said with special emphasis, “Togetherness…. shouldn’t just be what City Hall is working toward, but how City Hall is doing its work…. While lecturing, finger-pointing and scapegoating are all great ways to land a quote in the paper or on the evening news, they are no help at all in actually getting things done.”

Translation: I’m not another loose cannon. I won’t pick futile fights with the governor over the waterfront tunnel, with the Justice Department over police reform, with Whole Foods over unionization.

After four years of rockin’,  rollin’, and reeling under Mike McGinn, that alone may be enough to carry Murray through. Still, he should work on his delivery. After the speech, when Podlodowski stepped up and embraced him, he proclaimed, in case anyone missed that diversity theme before, “We’re both the grandchildren of immigrants.” Then he corrected himself: “I’m the grandchildren of immigrants, she’s the children of immigrants.”

As we filed out, I asked one of the attending city council veterans how Murray did. “No comment. He was nervous. He’s learning.”

Yes, but isn’t he supposed to be the one with the experience?


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About the Authors & Contributors

Eric Scigliano

Eric Scigliano

Eric Scigliano's reporting on social and environmental issues for The Weekly (later Seattle Weekly) won Livingston, Kennedy, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and other honors. He has also written for Harper's, New Scientist, and many other publications. One of his books, Michelangelo's Mountain, was a finalist for the Washington Book Award. His other books include Puget SoundLove, War, and Circuses (aka Seeing the Elephant); and, with Curtis E. Ebbesmeyer, Flotsametrics.