Mayor Ed Murray’s decision to not seek re-election ripples through Seattle sports. He seeks to to serve out his term, but a decision on the KeyArena proposals is due by the end of June. Does a lame duck make the call?
Since the wiser political seamheads sensed Ed Murray’s political career was doomed the moment sex-abuse allegations became public, his presser Tuesday announcing he would not seek a second-four-year term as Seattle’s mayor wasn’t quite a shocker. Nevertheless, the entire episode qualifies as a taser-grade stunner.
Considered a lock for re-election and gaining some national profile as a defender of Seattle’s sanctuary-city designation in the face of the Trump scorched-earthers, Murray’s heated insistence on continuing, in spite of the claims of four accusers who said he had sex decades ago with them when under-aged, has chilled under the pressure of the growing ordeal.
His emotional speech at Alki Beach hit on the central political point that the allegations “paint me in the worst possible historic portraits of a gay man.” Beyond the claims of his accusers, for victims of sexual abuse and all who care about them and the issue, the stigma is overwhelming.
“The allegations against me are not true, and I say this with all honesty and with the deepest sincerity,” he said. But his misstep in calling out the criminal records of his accusers and the tawdry episode of denying the claims of his physical characteristics forced a non-legal question: “Is this any way to run a city?”
Yet Murray insisted he will serve out his term to Dec. 31. Which brings us to the matter that invites a sports column: What will the lame-duck final months mean regarding the sports issue upon which Murray has invested no small amount of political capital?
An early answer: Probably not much.
Choosing among three offers to finance privately (mostly) a sports/concert arena is well down the list of civic priorities. But in the political arena, sports always hits above its weight.
Since the matter of returning the NBA (or adding the NHL) to Seattle will in January be on its fourth mayor (three, if former mayor Mike McGinn is re-elected to the office he held from 2012-16), it certainly rates attention simply based on service tenure.
Murray has been openly skeptical about developer Chris Hansen’s ability to deliver team(s) to his five-year quest in Sodo. So much so that Murray invited proposals to rehab KeyArena, a choice spurned by Hansen in 2011. The city received elaborate bids of more than $500 million each from two experienced arena development companies from Los Angeles.
Murray appointed an advisory panel and committed city resources to studying the offer in order to and choose one by a self-imposed June 30 deadline. Hansen’s petition for consideration of his re-done proposal won’t be on the City Council docket until after that.
So Murray’s eventual departure would seem to provide some optimism for the Hansen camp, especially since McGinn, who struck the original Sodo deal with Hansen in 2012, is in the field of candidates. Council president Bruce Harrell, another Hansen supporter, is mentioned by some as possible entrant when filing opens Monday.
Those notions overlook a point I’ve made since the option to remake the Key more substantial than fanciful: Every mayor since the 1962 World’s Fair has, as part of the Seattle job description, an obligation to maintain, upgrade and help make prosperous the Seattle Center, which draws more than 10 million visitors annually. The arena has always been a revenue generator for the public park.
This prime directive is what caused Mayor Greg Nickels and the council to fold on a winning hand in the 2008 lawsuit by the Oklahoma owners of the Sonics to break the lease two years early. In exchange for a $45 million settlement that paid off the mortgage on the 1995 remodel of the old Coliseum, the Sonics were allowed to flee.
Despite the local and national consternation from sports fans over the hijacking, the pols saw a way to erase debt and keep the building generating revenue. Over the last several years, the concert business and a few sports events have generated a cash surplus of about $1 million annually from the arena for the Center. That barely covers power-washing the bird poop, but it’s something.
So even if McGinn, Harrell or another Sodo supporter becomes mayor, he or she will have to think hard about denying a largely private project to improve the Center, no matter the presumed inconvenience to Center neighbors due to increased congestion or previous advocacy for the Hansen project.
Still, there is a chance that after reviewing the bids, the City Council could decide that neither is plausible, for reasons of design, finance or transportation, or the realization that a pro sports owner may be unwilling to put his hugely expensive team in a building he neither owns nor operates.
Option zero would have been highly unlikely with Murray in full campaign mode. Politicians love to have glamorous edifices created on their watches for reasons of legacy. Murray likely would have loaded his withering temper in the forward torpedo tubes and aimed his ordnance at the fools in his way.
As a lame duck, however, he may want to expend his waning leverage on matters of greater civic import.
But defaulting in the arena gambit to Sodo kicks the Key can down the road. What becomes of a 55-year-old arena that is second-tier?
The answer may be somewhere in the several versions of Center redevelopment plans over the years that also include Memorial Stadium and the KCTS building. But that is a consideration for another day.
Hansen and the Key bidders, Oak View Group and Seattle Partners, knew where they stood with Murray’s regime. But now, the civic political game has changed abruptly and is likely to fill up with new players.
Murray said he would run for re-election while fighting the charges. Now he won’t run. He said he will finish out his term that concludes Dec. 31. Will he fulfill that commitment?
The taser tingle lingers.