By JASON CRUZ, Northwest Asian Weekly
SEATTLE — Some of his younger relatives would like him to be called “The First Dude.”
But “First Gentleman” is fine with Michael Shiosaki, the husband of Seattle’s newly elected mayor, Ed Murray. Shiosaki becomes the city’s first “First Gentleman” since Henry Landes, whose wife, Bertha Landes, in 1926, became the first female mayor of a major American city.
Obviously, the circumstances are different today.
“I didn’t give a whole lot of thought to it,” Shiosaki said of the term that describes him now that Murray has become the first openly gay mayor of Seattle.
Shiosaki currently serves as the planning and development director for the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department.
A recent Seattle Times article pointed out the potential conflict of interest with Shiosaki being married to the mayor. Shiosaki’s position reports to Parks Superintendent Christopher Williams, and Williams reports directly to the mayor. The perceived concern is that there is a conflict with Shiosaki having the opportunity to persuade the mayor on behalf of his department without going through normal channels.
Over time, it will become apparent, assured Shiosaki, that despite his relationship to the mayor, it would not affect their respective positions.
In his new role within the Seattle political landscape, Shiosaki said he would work on building strong bridges with the API community, reaching out to serve on boards, as well as participating in API activities.
Shiosaki grew up in Spokane Valley of eastern Washington. “Suburbia East” is how he described the area where he was born and raised. His parents were second-generation Japanese American and grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood. It was a traditional family, Shiosaki said, describing his father as the strong patriarch. “He called the shots,” he said.
Although his parents did not steer him toward a specific career, there was an expectation that he find a vocation that would make him happy.
Shiosaki attended University High School in Spokane and the University of Washington. “It was an easy step,” he said. He had relatives in Seattle. Clearly, he joked, he “was not going to WSU.”
Shiosaki received a degree in landscape architecture at the University of Washington. He is a licensed landscape architect in the state of Washington.
Shiosaki did not come out as gay until after college. “It took me a while to figure out,” he said. It was difficult, he said, having to deny who he was as a person.
Breaking the news to his parents that he was gay was equally difficult. Shiosaki recalls visiting his parents in Spokane for a weekend, but did not find the right time to talk with his parents. Instead, he left a letter for them, revealing his sexuality. After reading the letter, his parents called, and then came to Seattle to visit him.
“My parents had to ‘sit’ with it,” Shiosaki recalled. The news surprised them, but he said they were loving, caring, and supportive of him.
It was another written message that sparked the beginning of his relationship with Mayor Murray.
Shiosaki recalls meeting Murray during a hike on Mt. Rainier with mutual friends. Murray was one of the people in the hiking party. After the hike, Murray left a note on Shiosaki’s car with his phone number. Twenty-two years later, the two are still together.
Shiosaki recalls knowing very soon in the relationship that Murray was the person he wanted to be with for the rest of his life. He believes Murray felt the same.
Instead of leaving Washington state to get married, the two decided to wait until it was legal in the state to do so. They tied the knot on Aug. 10 last year.
Perhaps because Seattle is a progressive city, Shiosaki said he has not experienced any direct criticism during the mayoral campaign regarding their interracial, gay relationship. “The vast majority of people really do not see it as an issue,” he said, “but there will always be people that aren’t going to get it.”
Although the two have talked about having children in the past, they do not believe they will have any.
“We were too analytical about it,” said Shiosaki, adding that they “overthought” being parents.
Shiosaki has more than 20 years of experience in public service, overseeing the planning, design, and development of parks and open spaces in Seattle and Bellevue. At Seattle Parks and Recreation, Shiosaki watches over the Capital Improvement Program. His job includes the building of new parks, long-range planning, and the acquisition of new properties for the Parks Department. He has overseen the renovation of the Rainier Beach Community Center and will oversee the implementation of the expansion of Hing Hay Park in the International District.