New Mayor, Old Challenges: Ed Murray Promises Wage Reform and a Model Police Force

Sen. Ed Murray at the SR99 Bored Tunnel Bill Signing. Photo Credit: WSDOT, licensed CC-By-NC-ND

Sen. Ed Murray at the SR99 Bored Tunnel Bill Signing.
Photo Credit: WSDOT, licensed CC-By-NC-ND

Edward Bernard Patrick Murray was sworn in as the 53rd Mayor of the City of Seattle last Monday.

While the election of socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant was the story of the day (apparently being an elected socialist is a bigger draw than being an elected gay man), Mayor Murray is now the titular head of the city. His predecessors can tell him who gets the blame if things head south.

Before the largest inauguration crowd in the city’s history, Murray, as politicians usually do at these events, spoke mostly in generalities. An Irish Catholic Democrat at heart, Murray invoked the iconic names of Kennedy and Roosevelt. Before his “official” swearing in, Murray had announced that all city employees would receive at least $15 an hour. In his inaugural speech, the Mayor also touched on the disparity of wages for women in the city.

“God bless Seattle,” exclaimed the city’s first openly gay mayor (and the country’s first Mayor to be in a legal same-sex marriage) as he concluded his speech.

It’s always interesting to see what issues a Mayor decides to tackle first. In his speech, Murray called for an integrated transit system and the reduction of city carbon emissions on his watch. More directly, Murray said he would lead the charge for police reform and that he wanted Seattle police “to be a model for the rest of the country.” The following day, Acting police chief Jim Pugel was demoted and Harry Bailey, a retired 35-year veteran of the force, was named the new acting chief.

Until last weekend, Bailey had been a volunteer security guard at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. The demotion of Pugel was telling; there had been rumors since the election that he would step down of his own volition. Pugel’s interested in the job fulltime but the Mayor and Council both felt that having a potential candidate serving as the interim boss might discourage others from pursuing the position. That appeared to be the case when former Mayor Mike McGinn made interim John Diaz his fulltime chief.

Murray said Pugel, who returned to his original job of assistant chief, was still a candidate for the position. However, City Council President Tim Burgess made a proposal that a chief hired from another city could bring his staff along, possibly making the job more appealing to outsiders.

Murray also announced that he wants the new interim chief to implement reforms that came out of an agreement with the US Department of Justice. In 2010, the DOJ began investigating the city after the shooting of Native American wood carver John T. Williams who was killed by a police officer. The DOJ determined that Seattle Police Department officers are often too quick to reach for weapons and guilty of abusive behavior.

The first sentence of the Mayor’s inauguration speech was, “I believe Seattle is an inclusive and collaborative city.” Along with naming a new interim police chief, Murray named two committees, a 12-person search committee and a 32-member committee, to provide community input. There will also be community forums around the city to get more input from the public. Both of the new committees are co-chaired by former King County Executive Ron Sims and Pramila Jayapal, founder and director of One America, an immigrant advocacy group.

The city also has a new Law Enforcement Advisor. Bernard Melekian is a former Pasadena, CA police chief who’s served as an advisor to other cities dealing with the DOJ. One newspaper article called him “the DOJ cop.” For his advice, the city will pay Melekian $30,000 a year paid by the City Council.

To some, this all sounds like “the Seattle way,” a concept that drives some outsiders and more than a few natives crazy. But with a universally unpopular police force Murray wants to get the right man (or woman) for the job. Only time will tell if these advisors, committees and forums will give the Mayor and the city its “model police force.”