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Originally published May 18, 2014 at 6:19 AM | Page modified May 20, 2014 at 12:30 PM

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Seattle’s first openly gay first gentleman

Seattle’s first gentleman, Michael Shiosaki, on the pressures and pleasures of being married to Mayor Ed Murray.


Seattle Times columnist

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I guess since Ed Murray is gay he isn't just another bought and paid for, union owned Seattle politician. And monkeys... MORE
Tomorrow will be the first May 19th with an openly gay mayor, I expect to see an article about that tomorrow. MORE
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Before the official results had even come in, Michael Shiosaki’s life had changed.

He and his husband, Ed Murray, were leaving their Capitol Hill home for the headquarters of Murray’s Seattle mayoral campaign. It was Election Night, and Murray was decisively ahead of incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn. There had been no concession, but there was a party just the same.

Before they could get to their car, a blue sedan pulled up.

Security detail. Please get in.

“In my mind, it was going to happen Jan. 1, not Election Night,” Shiosaki said of the police officers who drove them around that night. “I thought, ‘Oh, my God. They’re here!’ ”

And they stayed. Murray would go on to win election as the 53rd Mayor of Seattle — and its first openly gay one.

Which makes Shiosaki, whom he married last August ... the First Gentleman of Seattle.

“We’re kind of the new thing,“ Shiosaki, 53, said recently, as we sat on a bench in Seattle’s Volunteer Park, not far from their home.

“I’m happy to be the first openly gay First Gentleman,” he told me. “But this is not about Ed and me. It’s about other people.”

That’s all very nice, but for now, it is about him. People want to know about the mayor’s husband, the man who was by Murray’s side not just for the mayoral campaign, but for the 22 years before.

For starters, Shiosaki is not the first First Gentleman. That ground was broken by Henry Landes, the husband of Seattle’s first female mayor, Bertha Knight Landes, who ran the city from 1926 to 1928.

“I looked it up,” Shiosaki said. “There was a first. So I am number two.”

Like his husband, Shiosaki works for the city — as the director of planning and development for the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department.

That caused a minor dust-up last winter, when Gail Chiarello, president of the Hawthorne Hills Community Council, questioned whether Shiosaki’s role posed a conflict of interest or posed a threat to acting Parks Superintendent Christopher Williams.

Shiosaki and Murray went to the state Ethics and Elections Commission to see if there were any conflicts, and there weren’t.

“The issue would be if I was being treated differently,” Shiosaki said. “And I’m not.”

But, like any other political spouse, Shiosaki does get to enjoy the perks of Murray’s position: A trip back East to see the Seahawks win the Super Bowl. Tickets on the 35-yard line. Standing backstage at “The Colbert Report,” where Murray stumped for Seattle, and made a bet with the mayor of Denver.

“I’m more of a Husky football fan” said Shiosaki, who graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in landscape architecture. “But it was hard not to get sucked into the excitement.”

The number-one highlight — so far — came last December, when Murray and Shiosaki attended the White House Christmas party.

“Having the chance to meet Michelle Obama,” he said. “The term ‘statuesque’ springs to mind.”

Of the President and his wife: “They’re a great couple. I sense great energy between the two of them, and she’s willing to tell him, ‘Hey ...’”

As for Murray’s decision to run for mayor, it was made with Shiosaki almost a year before Election Day. They would sit on the couch in the den of their home; Murray would talk about his work in Olympia, where he was a state Senator; and Shiosaki would talk about the goings-on in the city.

“I feel like I have a certain perspective on how the city was run,” he said.

They debated whether Murray should run “for quite a while,” Shiosaki said.

“Ed would credit me with telling him, ‘You can’t live life with regrets. You want this, you should go for it.’ ”

Once the campaign was launched, Shiosaki saw his role as that of the supportive spouse.

“It was also important as a gay couple to be like any other couple,” he said. “To be supportive, to be there and to make a statement: We’re married and we’re together.”

Almost 23 years together; married since last August.

“I never thought I would be married in my life, and it does make a difference,” he said. “The opportunity to be joined in front of family and friends and feel that support. It really did mean so much.”

They met when mutual friends invited each of them on a camping trip to Mount Rainier, intending to fix Murray up with someone else.

But they spent a lot of time talking. Murray shared his passion for politics. Shiosaki for landscape architecture and his family.

“He seemed very charming and personable and chatty,” Shiosaki said.

Murray headed back to Seattle early, and when Shiosaki got back to his car, he found Murray had left him a note, asking him to see the movie “Paris is Burning” the following weekend.

“I still have it.”

They are very different, Shiosaki admitted, “and that’s why it works.

“Ed has some sharp edges and I try to soothe them out,” Shiosaki said. “If the conversation gets a little intense, I try to lighten it up.”

At home, Shiosaki tends to their garden and does most of the cooking; Murray takes the kitchen over for the major holidays.

But for all the years they have been together, full-time cohabitation is relatively new.

Since 1995, when he was elected to the Washington State House of Representatives, Murray has spent many of his workweeks in Olympia.

“Now he’s home, and it’s great,” Shiosaki said. “But it isn’t actually like he’s ‘home’ home. He’s really trying to be out there and he wants to connect and he’s really working hard.

“The thing that people don’t realize is that, on a really personal level, Ed really cares,” Shiosaki said. “It was his Catholic roots of serving others, and caring for the poor and aged. That was all part of his upbringing.”

As his spouse — and the First Gentleman of Seattle — Shiosaki sees the city with new eyes.

“I have a heightened level of responsibility for everything,” he said. “The people sleeping in the doorways, the streets that are in bad shape.”

He notices when a streetlight is out, and picks up trash everywhere he goes.

Not long ago, Shiosaki passed a bus stop where someone had dumped a pile of old VHS tapes.

“I thought, ‘Somebody needs to clean that up,’ and made a mental note to do it the next day.”

But when he went back, someone had beaten him to it. It made him proud.

That’s my city,” he said.

Nicole Brodeur: nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.



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About Nicole & Co.

Every Sunday, I bring you a conversation with a local who is doing something great, or a great who is doing something local: media personalities, big thinkers, visiting artists, colorful characters and doers of all kinds.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

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