Saying that rape allegations against him fed into the "worst possible" stereotypes of gay men, a somber Seattle Mayor Ed Murray announced Tuesday that he would not seek another term in office.
"It tears me to pieces to have to step away," said Murray, who had been considered a near-cinch for a second term running one of America's most liberal cities, "but I believe it is in the best interest of this city that I love."
Faced with a lawsuit and the allegations of four accusers who claimed Murray, 62, either paid for sex or raped them in the 1980s, the mayor, with husband Michael Shiosaki at his side, said that standing for reelection — despite his commanding lead and $200,000 war chest — would turn the campaign into more of a spectacle than it already is.
"Any campaign for mayor must be about the future of the city…. It must be focused on these issues, not on a scandal, which it would be focused on if I were to remain in the race," he said.
The scandal, he added, "hurts those who have been victims of abuse. It hurts my family. It hurts Michael. For these reasons, I am announcing that I am withdrawing as a candidate for mayor."
Typical election issues had already been drowned out by the scandal. It unearthed both serious and bizarre accusations after a civil lawsuit was filed last month by Delvonn Heckard, 46, a Seattle-area man who claimed Murray sexually abused him as a teenager. Three other men have come forth with similar claims but are not part of the lawsuit.
To help substantiate his accusations, for example, Heckard told reporters he remembered that the mayor had a mole in a specific location on his genitals. To disprove that, the mayor announced that he was examined by a doctor who could find no such mole.
Back-and-forths such as that — along with exaggerated claims by Heckard's attorney that led to a $5,000 ethics violation fine against him, and Murray's suggestion that because his accusers had criminal records they weren't to be believed — led the Seattle Times and a Seattle alt-weekly, the Stranger, to urge Murray to finish his term and leave office.
A former state legislator instrumental in pushing for passage of gay rights laws, Murray said his accusers' claims "paint me in the worst possible historical portraits of a gay man…. The allegations against me are not true and I say this with all honesty and the deepest sincerity."
Still, "I must admit that my heart aches. Since I was 12 years old, politics was my dream … and I have the best job in politics, the mayor of the city of Seattle.
"This lifelong love, this political career, this career that has been my life, will come to an end Dec. 31," he said as his voice cracked. He will walk away from a political career that began with his election as a high school student body president.
As Seattle's progressive mayor, he backed a new $15 minimum wage law, was supported by both property developers and advocates for the homeless, and pushed tax increases to pay for transit, parks and affordable housing. More recently, he proposed a 1.75-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks to help fund educational programs.
He spoke Tuesday with what seemed a sense of both accomplishment and relief before finally thanking his husband and supporters, some of whom were teary-eyed.
Nearly a dozen mayoral candidates have announced their plans to become the city's 54th mayor, including the man whom Murray beat in 2013, then-incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn.
Nikkita Oliver, an educator and activist, and Cary Moon, an urban planner, are among the better-known candidates.
Seattle attorney Jenny Durkan, considered the first openly gay U.S. attorney when appointed by President Obama in 2009 and serving until 2014, is expected to file this week now that Murray has exited the race.
Anderson is a special correspondent.