Bruce Harrell has campaigned here before. First elected to the Seattle City Council in 2007, Harrell would go on to win two more terms and serve as council president before deciding not to run again in 2019.
But campaigning in his month-old mayoral bid for a few hours recently at the Capitol Hill Safeway on E John felt different. Across the street Williams Place is home to one of the neighborhood’s city park encampments as officials — and neighbors — wrestle with how best to provide shelter and services and clear away the camps.
“People are so hungry for, I think, straight talk, not double talk,” Harrell told CHS Tuesday. “And they are hungry for boldness and they see the level of dysfunction in city government unlike they’ve seen it before.”
Harrell, a 62-year-old raised in the Central District who briefly served as the city’s first Asian-American mayor in 2017 after Ed Murray resigned, says they see him as a “voice of reason.”
As the city has faced economic turmoil from the COVID-19 pandemic and was consumed by racial justice protests in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, the past year has taught him how fragile the city is and brought into stark relief existing issues in the city, whether it be inequality or homelessness.
Harrell said the council did an “extremely ineffective job” in handling the Seattle Police Department’s funding in the wake of mass demonstrations last summer. The city’s 2021 budget brought a cut of about a fifth of Seattle’s more than $400 million annual outlay in police spending along with important changes to reduce the size and power of the department by moving 911 and traffic enforcement operations outside of the SPD and spending more money on social, community, and BIPOC services and programs.
“Police budgetary funding should be done extremely strategically and not just based on factors such as who is yelling a slogan or who is putting political pressure on the decision makers,” he said. Demonstrators over the summer pushed to defund the police by at least 50%.
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He cited the council’s treatment of former police chief Carmen Best in its moves to cut her salary, which was quickly followed by her retirement, as a particularly poor decision.
Harrell, who is Black and served as the chair of the council committee on public safety, said while he doesn’t support abolishing the police department, he would push for a “reimagining” that would eradicate bad officers from the force and change who is responding in cases where armed police aren’t necessary. He defended his somewhat controversial request for every sworn officer to watch the video of the Floyd killing, saying “if we cannot have a baseline understanding that that was murder, just a baseline understanding, then I can’t train that person to be a better officer. They should not be in the profession of protecting and serving our community.”
If elected, Harrell, who for years pushed for body cameras on Seattle police officers, would advocate for a Race and Data Initiative to better understand and address inequality and discrimination in the city.
Harrell announced endorsements from a bevy of local Black leaders Wednesday, including U.S. Rep. Marilyn Strickland, former mayor Norm Rice, and school board member Brandon Hersey.
Other top priorities for Harrell include tackling the homelessness crisis through partnerships with nonprofits and funding the restoration of parks and public spaces, ensuring affordable healthcare for all Seattleites, and developing more accountability in city government by allocating $10 million in funding in each of the seven council districts for those council representatives to invest in community needs.
Durkan’s decision to not seek reelection after finishing her term this year has led to a deluge of candidates in recent months making moves to win the office.
Harrell, more moderate compared to some of his competitors, was not quick to criticize Durkan when directly asked: “Let me pause for a minute to think about the question.” He pauses for 10 seconds: “I tend not to look at where people have failed because where anyone has failed I see the opportunity to succeed.”
“There are opportunities that have not been fulfilled and as mayor I will take full advantage of the opportunities to address race and social justice like it’s never been addressed, police reform like it’s never been addressed, and business recovery like it’s never been addressed,” he added.
With extensive community support and love, our campaign has qualified for the Democracy Voucher Program! We can't do this alone— thank you for donating, signing, and sharing. pic.twitter.com/nyieFmAw1d
— Bruce Harrell (@bruceforseattle) April 10, 2021
More than a dozen other candidates have already filed to run for mayor, according to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, including Chief Seattle Club executive director Colleen Echohawk, who would be the city’s first Native mayor, city council president Lorena González, and Capitol Hill architect Andrew Grant Houston.
SEED Seattle’s interim director Lance Randall also announced his candidacy last year.
So, what sets Harrell apart from the rest?
“My lived experience, my clear legislative record developing creative and novel solutions to complex issues, my proven track record of developing and working with teams, and my experience dealing with race and social justice issues,” he said. “My personal experience growing up in Seattle in the 1960s and the 1970s as an attorney, as a community leader, and as an elected official.”
“I think that the stakes we have in Seattle right now; the need to solve homelessness, to revitalize the city, to have an effective police department. I think that I bring a unique set of life skills that will be necessary to address those three core areas.”
You can learn more at bruceforseattle.com.