Seattle Mayor Ed Murray sent out a statement to the media this afternoon mourning the death of Jim Diers, the popular former director of the city’s Department of Neighborhoods.
Trouble is, Diers is alive, as the mayor’s office acknowledged, sending out an embarrassing retraction.
Murray’s office mixed up Diers with Joe Dear, a former top state official who headed the state investment board and was chief of staff for Gov. Gary Locke. Dear died this week of prostate cancer.
“Dumb mistake on our part,” said Jeff Reading, Murray’s communications director.
Murray’s initial statement, sent at 3:54 p.m. by spokesperson Rosalind Brazel, said: “I’m very saddened by the death of Jim Diers. He was an innovator in bringing communities together and made a significant contribution to the foundation that makes Seattle special. His work with neighborhoods was passionate and progressive. His service to this city was unmeasurable. My thoughts go out to the Diers family. He will be missed.”
About 20 minutes later, Brazel sent out the retraction. “The Mayor’s office was mistakenly informed of the death of Jim Diers. He is alive and well,” she wrote.
Diers was a well-regarded and popular director of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods until 2001, when incoming Mayor Greg Nickels decided to give him the boot. The firing touched off an uproar among neighborhood activists, and for years Diers was talked about as a potential mayoral candidate himself. Instead, he became a sought-after expert and consultant on neighborhood organizing. He’s currently a lecturer at the University of Washington’s School of Social Work.
Diers posted a message on Facebook saying he’d been inundated with messages and wanted to assure people he’s very much alive: “I returned from work in Ontario at 1:00 this morning, participated in a conference call at 6:00 a.m., gave a talk in Tacoma, and am now preparing to teach my class at the UW tonight. I’m dead tired today, but otherwise, I’m feeling great! Thanks, everyone, for your concern but I really don’t have any time for death.”
In an email to the Seattle Times, Diers added some of his friends are talking about throwing a “resurrection party” for him. “It’s been a long time since a mayor said nice words about me, so I do appreciate Mayor Murray’s sentiment,” he added.
The screwup caps a bad couple weeks for Murray, who ran a campaign saying he’d bring steady, competent and cooperative leadership to City Hall. The past several days have been dominated by controversies and reversals on police discipline. Murray recently defended paying his staff more than previous Mayor Mike McGinn, saying he “set a pretty high standard.” But this already is the communication office’s second news-release foul-up.