Seattle Mayor Ed Murray walks through City Hall before being sworn in on Jan. 6. Murray says he made mistakes when he hired former spokeswoman Rosalind Brazel; Brazel this week filed a tort claim charging the Mayor with racial discrimination. Susan Fried photo
Despite his strongly touted Campaign for Racial Equality, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s firing of spokeswoman Rosalind Brazel has triggered a tort claim against the city for racial discrimination, calling for $1 million in damages.
Brazel, a former television news anchor and producer with 10 years in journalism plus two years in public relations, says she was paid less than her white male replacement, and was subject to disparate treatment while on the job as well as in her firing.
News reports show Brazel was recruited by Murray for his office from her job at the public relations firm Feary Group late last year. She earned a certification in public relations from the University of Washington after leaving the news industry and her LinkedIn shows several recommendations from public relations clients praising her work in the field.
Brazel’s tort claim says the former spokeswoman was the only African American member of the Mayor’s top staff, and that when she was reassigned after two public communications snafus in the Mayor’s office, she was the only one of four reassigned former staffers who was not given permanent employment.
Further, Brazel’s tort claim says she was prohibited from speaking to Murray while traveling with him to and from city functions.
She declined to comment for this story, citing the possible lawsuit; Brazel’s attorney Susan Mindenbergs did not return a call for comment at presstime.
In his comments on the tort claim this week, Murray praised Brazel’s “professionalism” but said she wasn’t right for the job; he touted his appearance at the Pacific Science Center’s “Race” exhibit as proof that he is not a racist.
“Ms. Rosalind Brazel was recruited to the press secretary role as a former journalist. And while she brought years of experience to the role, the job of press secretary is unique among communications jobs – as any former press secretary can attest. It requires a rare combination of skills that, in many ways, can only be tested through the process of performing the role itself. There are countless examples of great reporters who have both succeeded and struggled when asked to serve as a press secretary.
“Ms. Brazel is a talented communications professional and a hard worker who, at this point in her career, was not well-matched to the demands of the press secretary role, particularly for a brand new administration working to find its feet. This is neither a criticism of Ms. Brazel as a professional nor a commentary on her skills as a communicator.”
Brazel’s replacement, Jason Kelly, spent seven years as a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Agriculture; several short stints as a communications official or assistant spokesperson at the Washington State School Director’s Association, Port of Seattle, four months as Acting Deputy Communicartions Director for former Gov. Chris Gregoire; and has served on numerous boards and commissions, including two years on the Washington Beer Commission.
Kelly started his career in Minnesota as deputy press secretary for US Sen. Paul Wellstone in the mid-1990s, and as press secretary for Rep. David Minge.
Observers cite two alleged errors on Brazel’s part as paving the way for her reassignment from the mayor’s office, including a draft press release praising passage of the Dream Act, sent out prematurely to the media and an incorrect press release announcing the death of a community leader who in fact was not deceased – rather a man with a similar name died.
At the time, Brazel’s boss, Communications Director Jeff Reading, told the Seattle Times, “Dumb mistake on our part.”
According to The Times, tort the claim says it was Reading who got the deceased man’s name wrong and that both he and Murray signed off on the press release before it went out.
“Upon being elected mayor, it was an early priority of mine to bring more people of diverse backgrounds into the administration of the City, both as City department leaders and as staff in the Mayor’s Office.
“My first act as mayor was to engage City department heads and Mayor’s Office staff in a discussion of race and social justice at the Pacific Science Center’s Race exhibit.
“Every major address I have given during my tenure as mayor has included a statement of my commitment to equity across this city – from my inaugural address, to my State of the City address, to my speech on public safety, to my budget address,” he said.
“I have recommitted this City, via executive order, to the Race and Social Justice Initiative. I have created a new department to drive better outcomes for students of color in our public schools. I have committed this City to gender equity in pay,” he wrote.
Murray also admits in his statement that he too has made mistakes.
“The first days of my administration were chaotic and pressure-filled, as my Office worked to bring significant change to City government while immediately addressing a number of major issues facing our community. In many ways, all of us were learning by doing, and there is no doubt that we all made mistakes – myself included.”