Father Murray: A Priest, Not a Rock Star

Seattle’s same-sex-marriage hero is surprisingly awkward in public.

“A Message to City Residents From Mayor Ed Murray” is the two-minute, 30-second term-opening speech Ed Murray recorded for Seattle Channel.

If you watch the video online, you may notice that Murray blinks a sparse four times or so during the entire clip. The average human, according to Smithsonian magazine, blinks 15 to 20 times a minute.

The first time Murray blinks is at the very beginning, around 00:10, when he says “Hello, I’m Ed Murray” with a polite, vaguely charming smile.

Around 00:19, however, we settle into an eerily unblinking liturgical drone—one that takes me back to a European-literature class at Seattle University, where my Jesuit-priest professor once fell asleep mid-lecture to the sound of his own voice dictating Yeats stanzas aloud.

Coincidentally, Murray’s Irish-born paternal and maternal grandparents each helped build a Catholic church in their adopted hometown of Elma, Washington. In addition to being Seattle’s first openly gay mayor, Murray is to this day a devout Catholic. The connection between Murray and my professor’s somniferous speech patterns may be theo-cultural, or just happenstance.

Regardless, nobody will ever fall asleep during an Ed Murray speech. The reasons are twofold:

1) His unblinkingness is jarring. His eyes bore into you with their unchanging constancy.

2) He still retains the rock-star status he achieved as the politician behind the passing of Seattle’s landmark Referendum 74, which legalized same-sex marriage. People gleefully crowd behind him for photo ops at his public appearances. In many ways, he embodies the change the referendum promised: Here is Ed Murray, Seattle’s gay marriage-passing gay mayor who got gay-married to his charming gay husband.

On the night of his election party 100 days ago, people packed into Neumos and danced as the house DJ played a mashup of Rihanna’s “We Found Love” and Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” I watched as teenagers next to me cried tears of joy and men in leather tenderly hugged, similarly misty-eyed. It may have been the first time in Seattle history that people cried and danced to club remixes because of the mayor.

Yet despite all that, and his ability to at least keep us awake, Murray has an awkward manner. At press conferences in the Norm B. Rice room just outside his office, Murray worriedly asks the camera crews, “Where would you like me to stand? Should I sit?” His aides often have to place him wherever he needs to be. He shuffles wherever they direct him with his trademark tight-shouldered stance, and reads his speeches in that dutiful, resigned, slightly singsongy tone in which one reads passages from the New Testament, tripping on his words. When conferences are over, he asks “Are there really no more questions? None? That’s it?” before hurriedly returning to the closed doors of his office.

When there are more questions, as there were at the now-infamous police disciplinary conference with interim chief Harry Bailey, Murray continues to reveal his priestliness. As The Stranger’s Dominic Holden ceaselessly persecuted Father Murray with his Crusades-like line of inquisition, Murray awkwardly responded with the greatest comeback he could think of: “You know, so this is a great legal argument—we ought to be in a Jesuit seminary, and splitting hairs.”

The cognitive dissonance between the Neumos dance riot that greeted him and his subsequent mundane public appearances is heartening in some ways. We might now scream: Here is Ed Murray, Seattle’s unexciting, pretty average Catholic mayor who also happens to be gay. This might be an even deeper symbol of the diversity of our wonderful city. Our gays are not the popular Bravo television stereotype—they are also the boring, run-of-the-mill Catholic Democrats who have long been a part of America’s fabric.

Perhaps one day Murray will loosen his tie, slip on a pair of mirrored sunglasses, and literally take the political stage as he did at Neumos, cruising through City Hall like a devil-may-care bat out of hell. If he got same-sex marriage passed, he theoretically could pretty much do anything. But until then, Father Murray will continue to drone and nervously let his aides position him at the podium. He hasn’t yet addressed the giant gaping hole that Bertha left; maybe he’ll surprise us all and turn it into a skate park so we can have another dance party. Whatever happens, don’t expect him to blink when he makes the announcement.


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