This is part of a series of The Mayor of Capitol Hill conversations CHS is having with candidates leading up to the August primary election. View our Election 2013 coverage here.
When it comes to the debate over the size and pace of density on Capitol Hill, City Council member and mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell treads the subject carefully. He’s mostly in favor of aPodments – the small, dorm-style apartments – and building higher on Capitol Hill.
“While I don’t like ugly units, I believe that it’s good policy to be as aggressive as possible in building affordable units,” the six-year veteran of Seattle’s City Hall said.
Harrell’s background is the sort a novelist would conjure for a homegrown Seattle politician. He was born and raised three blocks from his 23rd and Union campaign office. As a child he walked to T.T. Minor Elementary and Meany Middle schools. He was valedictorian at Garfield High School, and then went on to win a Rose Bowl as a leading defensive player for the University of Washington.
After a decade in corporate law with telecommunication company US WEST, now Qwest, Harrell went into private practice. In 2007 Harrell was elected to the Seattle City Council.
Despite his connection to the smaller, quieter Seattle past, Harrell is a proponent of change. Single-family homeowners living on the edge of high-density zones on the Hill need to be more accepting of changes in the neighborhood, he says.
“I get the NIMBY perspective. You buy a home and there’s a certain level of consistency you want in your area,” he said. “But the fact of the matter is we all live in an eco-system. And it’s not just based on the [future] cost of the house. It’s the walkability, it’s the affordability, it’s environmental sustainability.”
Harrell also said he supports the expansion of light rail through the city coupled with more parking around stations. He lamented the low ridership on current lines and said it’s likely that more people would use light rail if they could drive to the station.
“I can assure you that my grandkids will be driving cars,” he said. “While we discourage a dependence on cars, it’s a part of our American fabric.”
In addition to more accommodations for automobiles on Broadway, Harrell said he will support the effort to create a large LGBTQ center in the development surrounding the Capitol Hill light rail station. Harrell said wherever the center is located, he would lead a capital drive to make it a reality.
As head of the City Council’s public safety committee, Harrell’s biggest impact on Seattle has been legislation related to the city’s embattled police department.
Harrell said he advocates deterrence over stricter policing when it comes to issues like the recent spate of violent crime around Cal Anderson Park. Harrell said public cleanliness and more centers for teens and homeless adults would go a long way to mitigating concerns over public safety.
“I don’t believe [homeless people] want to be a nuisance to others, but if there’s nowhere for them to go, they will sit around and make us feel unsafe,” he said.
In addition to leading the way on pushes to employ more technology in monitoring policing in the city, Harrell said he also wants Seattle to “set the precedent of what strong gun control should look like.” First, the state legislature would have to allow cities to set their own gun control ordinances. Harrell said once that happens, he wants to enact a slew of new restrictions, including giving police the authority to confiscate weapons if they suspect someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
At this point, it’s not clear how Harrell’s Council track record, pro business and development positions and lifetime connection to the Central District will play on Capitol Hill in the August primary. He lost out to State Senator Ed Murray for the endorsement of the legislative district’s Democrats where he polled a distant fourth. When it comes to battling incumbent Mike McGinn, Harrell is followed by many of the same issues that dog the city’s mayor — but it’s not all negative even though Harrell finished only fifth in an online survey CHS ran way back in February. Those who said they lived on the Hill and that they would consider voting for the candidate also were more likely to say “public safety” was important in their selection process. Apparently being chair of the city council’s public safety committee in a city where the police force is subject to a Justice Department mandated consent decree isn’t all bad.