NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, May 3rd, 2021

Meet the 2021 Seattle mayoral candidates: Former Councilmember Bruce Harrell

The race to suc­ceed out­go­ing Seat­tle May­or Jen­ny Durkan is get­ting more crowd­ed by the day, with a grow­ing field of contenders.

On Tues­day, March 16th, Bruce Har­rell declared his can­di­da­cy in an open let­ter to the city. The for­mer Seat­tle City Coun­cilmem­ber is the only can­di­date among the grow­ing field to have already held the job… briefly, anyway.

Harrell presides over a City Council meeting in 2019

Har­rell pre­sides over a City Coun­cil meet­ing in 2019 (Pho­to: Bruce for Seat­tle Mayor)

Har­rell was born in 1958 in Seat­tle to a bira­cial, work­ing-class fam­i­ly (his Black father worked for City Light; his Japan­ese Amer­i­can moth­er worked as a librar­i­an). A tal­ent­ed foot­ball play­er, he attend­ed the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton on a foot­ball schol­ar­ship and earned a law degree in 1984.

After two decades in pri­vate law, Har­rell ran for and won a seat on the City Coun­cil in 2007. He kept the job for the next twelve years, becom­ing Coun­cil Pres­i­dent in 2016. Dur­ing his time in the coun­cil, Har­rell par­tic­i­pat­ed in the adop­tion of some impor­tant ordi­nances, includ­ing the nation’s first $15 min­i­mum wage, and a law that “banned the box,” mak­ing it ille­gal to ask about an applicant’s crim­i­nal record in the hir­ing process. He was also one of the first elect­ed rep­re­sen­ta­tives to call for the Seat­tle Police Depart­ment to wear body cameras.

In 2013, Har­rell ran for may­or unsuc­cess­ful­ly, com­ing fourth in the Top Two.

But in 2017, he sud­den­ly became may­or when he was thrust into the job by the res­ig­na­tion of then May­or Ed Mur­ray. (Mur­ray faced mul­ti­ple accu­sa­tions of sex­u­al abuse and child molesta­tion from the 1970s and 80s). Har­rell, as Coun­cil Pres­i­dent, was next-in-line for the job, and became act­ing may­or on Sep­tem­ber 13th – less than two months before the may­oral election.

The city’s plan of gov­ern­ment gave Har­rell the option of remain­ing as act­ing may­or or return­ing to the coun­cil. Remain­ing as inter­im may­or would have meant step­ping down from the coun­cil. Har­rell chose to stay on the coun­cil to fin­ish out his term, and left the job after five days. In 2019, he opt­ed not to run for re-elec­­tion to his seat, and instead returned to his pri­vate legal practice.

Now Har­rell is back, and hop­ing the sec­ond time is the charm.

The city’s busi­ness com­mu­ni­ty has been clam­or­ing for a can­di­date like Har­rell to enter the may­oral race to assume Durkan’s man­tle. Jon Scholes, the Pres­i­dent and CEO of the Down­town Seat­tle Asso­ci­a­tion, described him as a fig­ure of “inter­est and intrigue” among busi­ness lead­ers in mid-February.

Unlike most of his most promi­nent rivals, Har­rell is not a dyed-in-the-wool pro­gres­sive. Along­side sup­port for caus­es like the min­i­mum wage, he has tak­en some con­cern­ing stances through­out his career. Mem­o­rably, Har­rell vot­ed against — and then fierce­ly crit­i­cized — the city’s democ­ra­cy vouch­er program.

In 2015, he chose Indige­nous People’s Day of all days to praise Christo­pher Colum­bus in a res­o­lu­tion propos­ing an Ital­ian Her­itage Month.

Most dis­turb­ing of all, Har­rell staunch­ly defend­ed Ed Mur­ray in 2017, claim­ing that “[Seat­tleites] did not ask us to judge any­one for some­thing that hap­pened thir­ty-three years ago or maybe didn’t hap­pen.” Inter­est­ing­ly, one of Harrell’s chief rivals in 2021 is Lore­na Gon­za­lez, who adopt­ed a stance con­trary to that of Har­rell’s in 2017 as the first coun­cil mem­ber to call for Murray’s resignation.

In this elec­tion, Har­rell is pitch­ing him­self as a pro-busi­­ness can­di­date. This strat­e­gy can plain­ly be seen in his open let­ter. Har­rell says that is his vision is for Seat­tle to be known as “the city that val­ues and pro­motes jobs, jobs, and jobs.”

On home­less­ness, his empha­sis is on vol­un­tary civic engage­ment rather than invest­ment by the city, and wants to match fund­ing for our most vul­ner­a­ble res­i­dents to mon­ey for cleanup efforts, clear­ly pri­or­i­tiz­ing wealthy res­i­dents who con­sid­er home­less­ness an eye­sore rather than a human­i­tar­i­an crisis.

Har­rell has spo­ken crit­i­cal­ly of efforts to reform the Seat­tle Police Depart­ment as “arbi­trary and divi­sive”. Har­rell favors boost­ing police spend­ing and bring­ing in big tech com­pa­nies in to expand sur­veil­lance tech­nolo­gies — posi­tions that are sharply at odds with the views of most pro­gres­sive activists.

In the 2019 coun­cil elec­tions, the Down­town Seat­tle Asso­ci­a­tion poured an unprece­dent­ed $2 mil­lion (half of which was sup­plied by Ama­zon) into cam­paigns to sup­port can­di­dates pre­ferred by the busi­ness community.

How­ev­er, vot­ers respond­ed to Ama­zon’s pow­er play by cement­ing the Council’s pro­gres­sive major­i­ty. Due to hav­ing cho­sen not to run again, Har­rell avoid­ed being caught in the mid­dle of that dynam­ic two years ago.

Now that Har­rell is a can­di­date again, vot­ers will be scru­ti­niz­ing his posi­tions on issues like mon­ey in pol­i­tics and police accountability.

The Top Two elec­tion will be held on August 3rd; the top two can­di­dates will pro­ceed to the gen­er­al elec­tion runoff on Novem­ber 2nd.

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