Was John Urquhart’s Election Night ‘Joke’ on a Seattle Times Reporter Retaliation?

This post originally appeared at Seattle Magazine.

Local politics Twitter blew up late Tuesday night over the news, buried in a piece about the King County Sheriff’s election by Seattle Times reporters Steve Miletich and Mike Carter, that incumbent Sheriff John Urquhart had directed Miletich to a nonexistent election party, presumably in retaliation for the Times’ coverage of sexual harassment and assault allegations against the sheriff.

The Times reported that Urquhart “sent its reporter to a non-existent campaign party across town from where the sheriff showed up Tuesday night at Shaun O’Donnell’s American Grill and Irish Pub in the Smith Tower. When the reporter tracked him down, Urquhart said he had sent the reporter to the wrong place as a ‘joke.’”

Contacted by phone, Urquhart campaign manager Juliana da Cruz said she thought Urquhart’s misdirection “might have just been a misunderstanding.”

“I personally didn’t know about our election night plans until the very last minute,” she added.

Another Urquhart staffer, who did not want to speak on the record, suggested that what Urquhart called a “joke” was just that—an obvious goof between Urquhart and a reporter, Miletich, with whom he had a good relationship. The location where Urquhart said he was having his party, according to the staffer, closed several years ago, a fact Urquhart reportedly highlighted by sending Miletich a Seattle Times story on the closure. The Urquhart campaign posted the actual location of the sheriff’s election-night party on Facebook on November 6.

Both Miletich and Carter declined to comment on Urquhart’s “joke” or confirm that Urquhart had sent an email pointing to the Times’ story about the closure of the fake party location.

Whether he intended to send Miletich astray as a “joke” or whether his prank was more malicious, there’s a history of bad blood between Urquhart and the Times. Last year the paper began reporting on sexual misconduct allegations against the sheriff. As criticism of Urquhart’s handling of the allegations resurfaced last week, Patch Seattle reported that Urquhart’s attorney sent a strongly-worded letter to the Times discouraging the paper from running a story about a $160,000 settlement to a former King County deputy sheriff who claimed that Urquhart had touched him inappropriately and attempted to keep him from exposing wrongdoing within the department.

Late Wednesday morning, Times reporter Mike Rosenberg tweeted a list of “some of the stories that upset the sheriff,” suggesting that Urquhart’s “joke” was retaliation for coverage he perceived as negative. Among those stories: A piece about advocacy groups who accused the sheriff of mistreating deputies who had accused him of sexual assault, and a story about a finding by the King County ombudsman’s office that Urquhart had mishandled the sexual assault allegations against him. Times reporter Mike Baker also responded to Urquhart on Twitter.

Urquhart did not return a call to his office seeking comment.

Results in the King County sheriff’s race remain inconclusive, but were trending strongly toward Johanknecht. As of the latest count Wednesday afternoon, Johanknecht led Urquhart 52.61 percent to 47.69 percent—a margin of 15,778 votes.

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