The are two remarkable memories that newly elected Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, 58, considers vital in shaping his life. One was John F. Kennedy’s election, the other was being honest with his Irish Catholic family about being gay.We were sitting in a hotel coffee shop near Times Square on the Saturday before Super Bowl Sunday.
Fresh from his historic inauguration just a month ago as Seattle’s first gay mayor, Murray has been on a roll, with his beloved Seahawks making the Super Bowl.
He has been on "The Colbert Report," "Today," Fox and ESPN in a whirlwind week in New York, a city he has close connections with. His family originally settled in New York when they came from Ireland in the early 20th Century.
As the mayor of Seattle, home to huge corporations such as Microsoft, Boeing and Starbucks and one of the most dynamic cities in America, Murray is on the cutting edge of what big city politics and business are all about.
He sees himself as less left than New York mayor De Blasio, more business friendly. But on a personal level he is also about his Irish and Catholic roots, and being gay and honest about it.
Murray has kept in touch with those Irish roots all his life and has traced them to Fethard, Co. Tipperary, Patrickswell, Co. Limerick and Co. Down. “If I hadn’t entered politics I might have lived in Ireland,” he says.
Indeed, he spent a year in Belfast in 1974 working as a peace line volunteer at the height of The Troubles, dealing with both sides. It taught him the “value of dialogue, the dangers of parochialism” and the need to walk in the other person’s shoes.
As his personal contribution to helping in any way to end The Troubles he helped arrange the Seattle/Lisburn sister-city relationship, something he pledges to work on as mayor. The Lisburn deal has not always worked out. A few years back a unionist representative from there insisted on marching in the Seattle St. Patrick’s Parade waving a Union Jack. Things have gotten better since.
His year in Ireland also signaled a life-long interest in all things Irish. He reads the Irish Times weekend edition and followed the failed presidential campaign of his friend David Norris closely.
He visits Ireland frequently and, with huge business links between Seattle and Ireland, he and Irish honorary consul John Keane have much to keep in touch about.
In person Murray is quiet spoken and low key, not the typical politician, with clear blue/grey eyes that light up at the mention of Ireland and his latest red-haired baby nephew whose picture he whips out.
The different strands of his life first came together during his childhood in Seattle, where his family had moved from New York before he was born.
His first memory was the election of John F. Kennedy when Murray was just five years old and the impact it had on his family, especially his Irish-born grandparents from Tipperary, Limerick and Down. The election inspired him, even at a very young age, to commit to a life of public service as he learned about the new president.
“I loved him, and as I got older I learned about the Kennedy concept of public service,” Murray says, “about, idealism about what government properly directed can do.”
The Kennedy dream was shattered of course. Just three years later Murray remembers Sister Mary Bernadette from Dublin telling the class at Holy Rosary school in Seattle through her tears that JFK had been shot. “We went to Mass and prayed,” he remembers.
Despite his death the young president inspired the Irish kid in Seattle to spend a life in public service.
Murray became a state legislator, casting himself as a conciliator, able to get along with all sides. He served time in the State House and then the Senate. He was known for his brave championing of marriage equality, which he got passed.
The idea of running for mayor first crystallized, Murray says, during a visit to Co. Galway, where the then-mayor, Terry O’Flaherty, urged him to run. Murray soon proved a standout in a crowded field.
The Seattle Times wrote that Murray’s key quote was, “If you’re tired of the politics of division, if you want to show the rest of the state that progressives can come together and accomplish things then I’m your candidate.”
It was a tough campaign against an incumbent. Murray’s role in bringing marriage equality to Washington in 2012 as a state senator proved a big rallying point. On victory night Murray was joined onstage by his husband, Michael Shiosaki, who he had partnered with for 22 years.
Originally, coming out as gay in an Irish Catholic setting was no easy thing. Murray fondly remembers the warm embrace of his Irish family when he came out in his early twenties. Even though they were strongly Catholic, they asked no questions other than to see if he was okay.
Being Irish and gay has allowed Murray a unique insight into issues ranging from exclusion to the power of language and reconciliation to get things done.
He harkens back to that Kennedy era of public duty, still professes his Catholic faith and loves the new pope who he feels embraces rather than chastises. Murray also feels that his Irish heritage has played “a huge part” in his success in life.
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