In early returns counted Tuesday night, Murray led incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn by a 56-44 margin. More votes will be counted in the coming days since the state's vote-by-mail ballots only needed to be postmarked by Tuesday.
Murray and McGinn had largely campaigned with similar policy positions, but they offered contrasting styles of how to lead the Northwest's largest city. Murray's call for a more collaborative approach led him to build a broad range of endorsements and financial support.
Murray spoke as if the race was settled at a jubilant campaign party Tuesday night and reiterated his message that the election was a chance for the city to come together - both internally and with counterparts around the state.
"Seattle wants to reach out and create a new relationship with our region, create a new relationship with our state," Murray said.
McGinn said he expects he will have to concede but said he wanted to wait and see more votes counted before doing so. He also asked his supporters to continue to press to hold Seattle to its ideals.
In their campaign to court the left-leaning voters in the Northwest's largest city, the two mayoral candidates embraced ideas such as a $15 minimum wage, new taxes and legal marijuana. They each have lengthy backgrounds championing liberal causes in the Seattle area.
Murray is a longtime state lawmaker who for years led efforts to legalize gay marriage in the state. He's also led efforts to broker major deals in Olympia, such as two transportation revenue packages that were passed in 2003 and 2005. If elected, he would be Seattle's first openly gay mayor.
Murray talked Tuesday night about growing up in a working class family in Seattle, saying his family had a belief in public service.
"Those who sacrifice for us as public servants are not our enemies but our friends," Murray said.
Before becoming mayor, McGinn was an activist with the environmental group Sierra Club, and he has continued to stake out a message of environmental stewardship. McGinn often rides his bike around Seattle, is pushing for pension fund money to be divested from coal companies and is an advocate for expanded transit services.
Murray said McGinn's approach during his first term has alienated groups and political leaders in Olympia, making it harder for Seattle to win support for its priorities. McGinn has questioned Murray's effectiveness given that a Republican-dominated majority now controls the state Senate.
Combined, Murray and McGinn raised and spent more than $1 million, with Murray leading the money race by a few hundred thousand dollars.