Ed Murray was supposed to cruise to an election victory this fall for a second term as Seattle mayor.
Instead, allegations that he had sex with underage boys three decades ago are threatening to end his long political career.
The upheaval began last week when one man filed a civil lawsuit against the mayor and the Seattle Times published similar allegations from two other men, upending the race for mayor and setting off what the paper called "the biggest political scandal in Seattle in generations."
Murray, the city's first openly gay mayor, has been a vocal proponent of same-sex marriage, fighting homelessness, raising the minimum wage and fighting the Trump administration's efforts to force cities to cooperate with federal authorities to arrest immigrants in the country illegally.
The allegations date to the 1980s, when Murray worked with troubled youths. The Seattle Times spoke with two accusers in 2008 but did not publish their accounts until last week, when another man, a 46-year-old identified only as D.H., filed the lawsuit.
The suit claims that starting in 1986, when D.H. was a 15-year-old crack addict, and continuing for five years, Murray routinely paid him $10 to $20 for sex acts. Sex with a minor is statutory rape, though the statute of limitations has long expired.
In an editorial Wednesday, the newspaper called on Murray to not seek reelection.
"Regardless of whether the allegations are true, he cannot lead under this cloud," it said.
The lawyer for D.H. said his client had remained silent for so long because he didn't want his father to know. But the father's recent death freed him to speak as long as his name was not publicly revealed, said the lawyer, Lincoln Beauregard.
In a note to readers, the Times' managing editor explained that the newspaper had decided in 2008 that it had too little information to publish the allegations of the two other accusers. Given the similarities between those accounts and the allegations made by D.H., the paper overturned that decision, the note explained.
One of the men, Jeff Simpson, 49, told the paper that in the early 1980s he lived in a Portland home for troubled teens, where Murray worked at the time. He said he was 13 the first time that Murray raped him. The other accuser, Lloyd Anderson, 51, said he was also a resident of the home and told a similar story.
Simpson said he reported Murray to a Portland social worker and a police detective — an account the paper said was supported by a record from May 1984 showing that the Multnomah County district attorney considered, then rejected, filing third-degree sodomy charges against Murray.
Murray soon left Portland and moved to Seattle, where he became active in local politics. A Democrat, he went on to serve in the Washington state House and Senate before being elected mayor in 2013.
In a media briefing last week, Murray said the allegations were "just not true" and that "I will continue to be mayor to this city and I will continue to run for reelection."
"Things have never come easy to me in life, but I have never backed down and I will not back down now," he said.
Murray took no questions and left the room after a hug from his husband, Michael Shiosaki, 56, a city parks planner who has been his partner for more than 25 years.
The scandal took a salacious turn this week when the mayor's lawyer, Robert Sulkin, held a news conference to announce that a doctor had examined Murray's genitals and found no trace of a mole that the lawsuit said would prove that D.H. had seen him without clothes.
"This is the heart of the allegations, and they're false," Sulkin said. The accuser "has absolutely no credibility and the case should be dropped."
In response, Beauregard said he may seek a second, independent examination.
In liberal Seattle, the fact that the mayor is gay seems to have played little role in the public reaction to the spiraling scandal. Some commentators, however, have pointed out that the law firm where Beauregard works was founded by John Connelly, who opposes same-sex marriage and with his wife contributed $50,000 to a failed 2016 initiative to stop transgender people from using the public bathrooms of their choice.
Beauregard told the Seattle weekly newspaper the Stranger that he disagrees with Connelly's politics and described himself as an African American civil rights attorney and longtime Democrat.
"I would go to the mat to fight for gay civil rights," he said. "We have represented many, many gay clients. The idea that this is anti-gay is ridiculous."
Gay City, Seattle's LGBTQ center, said in a news release that it "is not in a position to comment on the specifics of any particular case."
The City Council appeared befuddled by the allegations, with President Bruce Harrell reading a 295-word statement this week that did not directly mention the mayor. "My council colleagues and I have no intention of commenting on matters of pending or potential litigation," it said.
Kshama Sawant, a socialist on the council, issued her own statement Wednesday. "While I cannot speak to the veracity of the claims, allegations of rape and abuse should always be taken seriously and investigated with care and diligence," she said. "Our society, plagued by inequality and enormous imbalances of both power and wealth, is a painful place for sexual-violence survivors."
To some, it sounded like the start of a mayoral campaign.
Murray, whose Twitter account describes him as a champion of civil rights, is the best known among eight candidates who have indicated they'll run for mayor in the July 1 primary election for mayor. He's also the leading fundraiser, having raised $300,000.
Praising Murray as a "relatively successful mayor," the Seattle Times editorial said that stepping aside would "clear the way for another qualified, pragmatic leader to come forward."
"What is best for the city, Mr. Mayor?" it asked.