Last week, ahead of Pride Weekend, I sat down for a morning chat with Mayor Ed Murray and his husband to discuss their dear friend Cal Anderson.
Greeted by a member of the mayor’s communications team at 8:15 on a Tuesday morning, the first couple of Seattle welcomed me into their home, a cozy brick house on Capitol Hill.
Michael Shiosaki, the first gentleman of Seattle, opened the door to their cottage style home, and I sat and took my shoes off – theirs is a shoeless house – and started my tape. Shiosaki was warm and wore pressed slacks and crisp white shirt. I told him I thought they might still be getting ready, and he told me that his day starts around 5; he’s always up early.
The mayor came out, also ready for the day.
The living room and dining room were comfortable, modest and immaculate. But as I peeked around a wall, I caught a glimpse of a room with more life, strewn documents sat on a kitchen table.
To set my audio levels I asked the standard, “What did you have for breakfast?” If you’ve been dying to know, sit back and take this in: Mayor Murray has black tea and oatmeal for breakfast.
From the beginning of the interview, Murray, Anderson’s former protégé, expressed how much Anderson loved the parliamentary process. For years they would spend hours on the phone together each day discussing process, what was possible, the political system and their lives – the two became very close. When I asked the mayor who Cal Anderson was, his answer was very simple, “He was my friend.”
He was also the first openly gay Washington state legislator, appointed in 1987 to the 43rd legislative district and then elected in 1988.
And he was a decorated Vietnam War veteran. He never saw combat, but he had witnessed the ugliness while he served as the court reporter during the My Lai massacre trial.
Anderson didn’t flaunt his service record and he didn’t flaunt his sexuality. He was a quiet man who described himself as, “A Democrat who happens to be gay.”
In the late 80s and through the 90s Murray and Anderson worked on campaigns together. They were decades apart, but they shared a birthday.
As I asked questions, I noticed that Shiosaki and Murray would look at each other before answering, as if to say, “Go ahead, you take this one.” Neither one dominated the conversation.
But when I asked about when Shiosaki met Anderson, the mayor jumped in with a story his husband had never heard.
Murray had told Anderson about this guy he had been dating, and Anderson said he wanted to meet him, to judge for himself. So Murray brought Shiosaki to a campaign event.
I asked Shiosaki, “Did you know it was an audition?”
He hadn’t known. He smiled and looked at Murray, who laughed.
They told me more about Anderson: He grew dahlias. He loved going to Greece. He had a cat named Bandit he loved so much he collected his fallen whiskers and put them in a little box on his desk.
He faced opposition in the gay community because he wasn’t radical enough. He put forth equal rights legislation that he never saw passed. He laid the groundwork for a lot of fights, but he didn’t win any, at least not the ones we consider major fights today.
Anderson was sick the last few years of his life, as his HIV progressed to AIDS.
He was in the hospital the morning of his last birthday and checked himself out to join Murray’s birthday party at a mutual friend’s house.
On the day that Anderson died in 1995, Murray and Anderson spoke as they did almost every morning. And they talked about what they always talked about: the political process.
Murray ended up succeeding Anderson in the 43rd district. Brady Walkinshaw, also an openly gay man, has since succeeded the mayor.
Cal Anderson Park was built more than 100 years ago after the great Seattle fire. It was originally called Lincoln Park. The name has change a few times, and in Anderson’s political lifetime, it was called Bobby Morris Playfield. It was renamed Cal Anderson Park in 2004.
Shiosaki, who is the director of planning for Seattle Parks & Recreation, thinks about Anderson every time he walks by the park. Cal would have loved the park, Shiosaki and Murray said. He spent a lot of time there as a politician.
Murray keeps photos of Anderson at home and at work. As trite as it sounds, he said, he often finds himself thinking about his old friend when he’s negotiating.
Toward the end of the interview, Murray looked down and said, “I wish I would have known this was about Cal, I have so many pictures I could show you.”
My time with the mayor and Michael was nearly up. I asked if I could record the sound of their house. It’s a weird audio editing thing that you need to do. As I did, the mayor went downstairs to find a picture of Anderson and himself at what we now know as Cal Anderson Park. The mayor looked like Tom Selleck back in the day, and he towered over Anderson.
I asked if Anderson were alive today, would he don a prom dress for Pride Weekend rugby?
Shiosaki: "I'm sure he would have been there in his prom dress."
Murray interjected: "No, he wouldn't have been. That, I know he wouldn't have done."