Inauguration time in Seattle attracts a world of attention
The ceremonial swearing-in of the city’s first gay mayor and its first socialist council member on Jan. 6 may be a raucous celebration with a huge crowd. The excitement reflects the national spotlight on the city over the pledge by both politicians to enact a $15 minimum wage in 2014.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The typically formal and decorous inauguration of newly elected and re-elected city officials planned for City Hall next Monday instead may be a raucous celebration with a record crowd to witness the city’s first gay mayor, Ed Murray, and socialist City Council member, Kshama Sawant, take their ceremonial oaths of office.
With both capturing national attention for their pledges to work toward a $15 minimum wage in 2014, the venue has been shifted from City Council chambers, which seats about 180 people, to the lobby of City Hall, which can seat about 800.
The city staff is planning for overflow space for up to 1,200 more on an overhead walkway, in the council chambers, in an adjacent meeting room and on an outdoor plaza and steps.
The City Council has been fielding media inquiries from national and international news outlets including CNN, Fox News, The Guardian of London, The New York Times, The Times of India and Al-Jazeera International.
“Since nobody in Seattle RSVPs, we’re guessing at how many, but it will certainly be more than the usual 200-300, and maybe as many as 2,000,” said Dana Robinson-Slote, City Council spokeswoman.
The ceremony, at 3:30 p.m. Monday, is open to the public.
Sawant’s campaign alone has invited more than 1,000 people, including the volunteers who helped her unseat four-term Councilmember Richard Conlin. She’s also invited union leaders and their members; low-wage workers; activists; and community, civil-rights and environmental groups.
“With the city’s first out mayor and its first socialist, we’re expecting an unprecedented turnout,” said Philip Locker, spokesman for Sawant, who went so far as to call Sawant’s election “a watershed moment in U.S. history.”
Murray’s campaign also sent out about 1,000 invitations and said it’s had hundreds of calls from longtime friends and supporters who want to be included in the historic day.
“It’s a big deal,” Murray said Monday, while attending the swearing-in of City Attorney Pete Holmes, along with about 40 of Holmes’ friends, staffers and family in the lobby outside Holmes’ City Hall office.
Murray’s presence signaled a new relationship between mayor and city attorney, after four years of public fighting and mistrust between Holmes and outgoing Mayor Mike McGinn. Under the city charter, newly elected and re-elected officials must take the oath of office by 12:01 a.m. Jan. 1 to assure continuity of leadership. Over the past 10 days, City Clerk Monica Martinez Simmons has administered the official oath to Holmes and three City Council members, Sally Bagshaw, Mike O’Brien and Nick Licata. Murray and Sawant will each be sworn in privately on Tuesday.
The ceremonial inauguration Monday will feature friends and family members giving the oath. Murray has asked Gary Locke, the former governor and ambassador to China, to administer his. The two served in the Legislature together almost 20 years ago.
The buzz around the inauguration seems to be an extension of Seattle’s progressive reputation around the country. Washington state already was in the national spotlight for its recent legalization of gay marriage and marijuana. Seattle also was the third city in the country to adopt a paid-sick-leave ordinance that primarily benefits low-wage workers. Since then, three more cities including Portland and New York City have followed suit, putting Seattle at the forefront of liberal initiatives, said Ady Barkan, staff attorney for the Center for Popular Democracy.
The pledge by both Murray and Sawant to propose a $15 minimum-wage ordinance to the City Council by April has only fueled national interest.
“Seattle has certainly led the way on a lot of important issues,” Barkan said. “There is national energy around fighting poverty and reducing inequality. If Seattle takes this step, it will really set an impressive example.”
Indeed, the focus on Sawant’s election and her calls to lift low-wage workers out of poverty have somewhat eclipsed the spotlight for Murray, an architect of the state’s marriage-equality law and one of the country’s longest-serving gay politicians.
“The socialist got more national coverage than the gay mayor. We’ve come that far,” said Alan Stein, staff historian for HistoryLink.org., an online site about Pacific Northwest history.
Denis Dison, senior vice president for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, an organization that endorses and promotes LGBT candidates, agreed. Houston, the country’s fourth-largest city, just re-elected a lesbian, Annise Parker, to a third term as mayor. Sam Adams was elected the first openly gay mayor of Portland in 2008, Dison said. And Seattle has a history going back to 1991 of electing LGBT members to the City Council.
“It follows that Seattle would elect a gay mayor. It might be one reason why some people are yawning about Ed,” Dison said. “It speaks to the progress we’ve made.”
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @lthompsontimes