Bruce Harrell is running for Mayor of Seattle
Bruce Harrell is running for Mayor of Seattle (Photo courtesy of Bruce Harrell for Seattle Mayor campaign)

Bruce Har­rell is a for­mer Seat­tle City Coun­cilmem­ber and inter­im May­or. He’s one of the fif­teen can­di­dates vying to be the city’s next may­or. In NPI’s recent sur­vey of the Seat­tle Top Two elec­torate, Har­rell came out on top of the field with 20% of respon­dents indi­cat­ing they were vot­ing for him. 32% were undecided.

Bruce Harrell is running for Mayor of Seattle
Bruce Har­rell is run­ning for May­or of Seat­tle (Pho­to cour­tesy of Bruce Har­rell for Seat­tle May­or campaign)

I spoke with Har­rell on July 22nd to dis­cuss his cam­paign and platform.

This tran­script has been light­ly edit­ed for clarity.

Ruairi Vaugh­an, Ever­green State Elec­toral Ana­lyst (NPI): Thank you for tak­ing the time to talk with NPI!

Bruce Har­rell: Yes, my pleasure.

RV: You’re unique among the can­di­dates in this may­oral race because you’ve actu­al­ly held the job of may­or before, in Sep­tem­ber 2017. Of course, this was only for a short inter­val, but what insights from that time have helped pre­pare you for this election?

BH: I think I have a stronger appre­ci­a­tion for the enor­mous pow­er and influ­ence of the posi­tion. Not just hav­ing twen­ty-four depart­ments with over a thou­sand job titles, but the cab­i­net and the sub-cab­i­net and the com­mis­sions and the depart­ment heads, gives the may­or incred­i­ble influ­ence to actu­al­ly get things done.

I don’t think oth­ers may have an appre­ci­a­tion for that until you’ve actu­al­ly seen it; I have a great respect for what can be done.

We have a strong may­or sys­tem, and until you’ve actu­al­ly been there, rec­og­niz­ing the pow­er of either an exec­u­tive order or direct action that can be tak­en under the exist­ing bud­get, I don’t think many have appre­ci­a­tion for that. Which then cre­ates enor­mous oppor­tu­ni­ty for an effec­tive mayor.

I would also say that the impor­tance of trust and build­ing effec­tive rela­tions with your depart­ment heads is crit­i­cal. I know a lot of the depart­ment heads, I’ve known and had pre-exist­ing rela­tion­ships with them even before I was on the Coun­cil. I have good rela­tion­ships with many if not most of the depart­ment heads over the years – of course they change.

When I think about how the city runs, I think of a tri­an­gu­lar rela­tion­ship with the May­or, the City Coun­cil, and the depart­ment heads. I under­stand there’s the court sys­tem and the hear­ings exam­in­er and the audi­tor out­side of that tri­an­gle, but for the most part I think of that tri­an­gu­lar rela­tion­ship that is crit­i­cal toward the suc­cess of the city. If they are not com­mu­ni­cat­ing with trust and with trans­paren­cy it breaks down and the city as a whole suf­fers as a result of that.

So dur­ing the inter­im peri­od, I was over­whelm­ing­ly received by a lot of the depart­ment heads because I had worked with them. Quite hon­est­ly, a lot of them trust me and I trust them, and I will demand trans­paren­cy from them to allow the to excel in their core com­pe­ten­cy with­out micro­manag­ing them. But I also will make my deliv­er­ables and the out­comes I want to see very clear to them.

So I had an appre­ci­a­tion for that, because I was not sure how long I was going to keep that job, and I made it clear to them with both my legal and busi­ness back­ground, that that was the kind of may­or I would be – I was going to hire the best and let them excel in their core competency.

I’m not a social work­er, for exam­ple, so I can’t play one when direct­ing the Human Ser­vices Depart­ment, but I can make it very clear on agreed-upon goals and out­comes and can dri­ve that. So, I had a real­iza­tion and appre­ci­a­tion for the impor­tance of trust in the rela­tion­ships with the depart­ment heads.

I think last­ly, I had a new real­iza­tion for the impor­tance of trans­paren­cy. If you go back to Nick­els admin­is­tra­tion, despite a lot of the ini­tia­tives that he drove, peo­ple just recall his deba­cle dur­ing a snow­storm and what peo­ple would per­ceive as less-then-tran­s­­par­ent deci­sion mak­ing going out of his office.

Whether that is fair or not is not the issue, what the issue was is that the pub­lic thought there was a lack of trans­paren­cy. Even with the cur­rent issue deal­ing with May­or Durkan’s texts that were delet­ed, the pub­lic is expect­ing transparency.

So when I became May­or, I led by open­ly say­ing things, as you may recall, such as the city has become filthy. I said that, tongue in cheek, because I have lived here my entire life and I have nev­er seen such alarm­ing lev­els of garbage, debris, and graf­fi­ti – as though we should now be used to it. I made it very clear from the van­tage point of the may­or that that is not the city we want to be. So peo­ple had a strong appre­ci­a­tion for my can­dor, just because I was bru­tal­ly honest!

So I think the les­son is that peo­ple want hon­esty and trans­paren­cy, and that will go a long way. I had an appre­ci­a­tion for it just for the five days I was mayor.

RV: The most press­ing issue fac­ing the city is obvi­ous­ly the home­less­ness cri­sis. You’ve called for the city to use fund­ing from the Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan Act (ARPA) to deal with home­less­ness, and also bring togeth­er fund­ing from the coun­ty and state. How much mon­ey do you think it is going to take to solve this crisis?

BH: Well, I’ve read sev­er­al reports on that issue and I don’t think it’s appro­pri­ate for me to state a dol­lar amount. I have heard the bil­lion dol­lar amount thrown around, I have heard that hard hous­ing costs less than $200 mil­lion, but I don’t think it appro­pri­ate to give a spe­cif­ic dol­lar amount until we have pub­lished a plan and I have the experts around to help me pub­lish that plan.

I will say, though, with a lev­el of con­fi­dence, that between the $150 mil­lion that the city is cur­rent­ly spend­ing, along with the $160 mil­lion that we will get next year, that that cou­pled with the mon­ey that I will raise from the civic and phil­an­thropic com­mu­ni­ties – which we can talk about a lit­tle more – will allow me to dras­ti­cal­ly change what we will see every day.

That means get­ting peo­ple into hous­ing – whether it’s tran­si­tion­al hous­ing or sus­tained hous­ing, there will be a com­bi­na­tion there­of – using the poli­cies we’ve already imple­ment­ed. These are good poli­cies, these are best practices:

  • Hous­ing First is a best practice;
  • Indi­vid­u­al­ized case management;
  • Whether you’re treat­ing some­one for drug and alco­hol or men­tal ill­ness or re-skilling them for job entry;
  • Whether you’re con­ced­ing that some­one may be chron­i­cal­ly homeless;
  • Or whether you’re meet­ing the needs of those who are disabled;
  • Using a region­al approach to address these issues.

These are best prac­tices that I will implement.

So the tool­box is there. What is not there is sim­ply the will to get it done. So you’ll see that I will revis­it the sit­ing and acqui­si­tion process. I will open it up to the pub­lic, using a region­al approach.

You may also remem­ber that one of my plat­forms will be to allo­cate $10 mil­lion to each of the sev­en dis­tricts. The rea­son I think this becomes crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant is each of the coun­cil mem­bers of the sev­en dis­tricts all seem to be total­ly com­mit­ted to solv­ing home­less­ness. I read their newslet­ters and hear them speak.

I want to give them tools to help the exec­u­tive achieve their out­come. They may use a por­tion of that, or a good­ly sum of that, towards sit­ing and build­ing; they may also use some of that to lever­age it into the gen­er­al sub-fund or oth­er fund­ing. That’s going to force the city to work with their councilmem­ber on a very gran­u­lar basis while look­ing at how we house those peo­ple who are unhoused.

The sit­ing and acqui­si­tion process becomes crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant for the num­ber of RVs [recre­ation­al vehi­cles] we see on the streets. I think many of the peo­ple in these RVs would like to have ser­vices, would like to know how to improve their lives, and look at alter­na­tive forms of hous­ing. I would like to assist these res­i­dents and see where they are in their par­tic­u­lar life, and that’s where the indi­vid­u­al­ized case man­age­ment approach and best prac­tice makes sense.

Now, what will be new under my approach is that I will call for at min­i­mum 70% of the ARPA funds to be used, that’s north of $80 mil­lion, and I will raise hun­dreds of mil­lions from the phil­an­thropic com­mu­ni­ties, and I think you know I’ve talked about this on the cam­paign trail, that my wife was once the CEO and pres­i­dent of Unit­ed Way. We assist Unit­ed Way in our phil­an­thropic efforts.

With that expe­ri­ence, we will build a dash­board and build a giv­ing mod­el so that not only will high wealth indi­vid­u­als give, but peo­ple can give $5 or $100, they can give cloth­ing items, assist with resume draft­ing, they can bring food to the food bank, but I will cre­ate a nar­ra­tive in this city where there are entry points for every person.

Ruairi, I think that is the prob­lem, that every­one in the city real­ly does want to help solve this issue, but most peo­ple don’t know what they are to do.

I get that dai­ly, “How can I help?”

I think the city’s role is to build that infra­struc­ture, by which every­one in the city who wants to help is able to help and that they know they are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence – that’s where the pub­lic plan comes in, so they can actu­al­ly see the cost per unit, per per­son, the costs that are going to home­less­ness ser­vice providers.

There are good providers out there, and we know who they are: DESC, LIHI, Catholic Com­mu­ni­ty Ser­vices, the Urban League.

We can go down the list of peo­ple who are doing good work and we are going to open up that data­base to show the city who’s doing the work and how much of the work they are doing, which ones are effec­tive and which ones can improve.

The oth­er piece of it is I’m cre­at­ing a new depart­ment called the Seat­tle Jobs Cen­ter. We know for a lot of peo­ple that are home­less or unhoused that our soci­ety has cre­at­ed a whole new sub­class of pover­ty – and no one real­ly talks about that.

When I was young in Seat­tle, a dis­abled vet­er­an, a teacher, a barista, a restau­rant work­er could afford to live in my neigh­bor­hood – that was in the Cen­tral Dis­trict of Seat­tle. Well, a lot of peo­ple have been the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of where soci­eties have gone, with high-tech, biotech, the sci­ences, and aero­space, and many peo­ple just need to be retooled. So the Seat­tle Jobs Cen­ter will be the city’s attempt to make sure that every per­son who wants to retool them­selves, tap into their gifts, learn new skills, will be able to do that.

We will har­ness all of the avail­able ser­vices out there in the pri­vate mar­ket – these are appren­tice­ships, intern­ships, train­ing pro­grams, schol­ar­ships, grant oppor­tu­ni­ties – we’ll put all that into a depart­ment and have coun­sel­lors ready to help peo­ple nav­i­gate their own lives and improve their lives.

The data sug­gest that a lot of peo­ple who are expe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness need that, cou­pled with health out­comes, hygiene ser­vices, men­tor­ing, they need to have an oppor­tu­ni­ty and that’s what the city will create.

So I think that my plan on home­less­ness is well-round­ed, estab­lished on best prac­tices, and I’ve read quite a bit of mate­r­i­al on home­less­ness. I think we can imple­ment best prac­tices here in Seat­tle and, quite can­did­ly, show many cities how it can be done with the right polit­i­cal will.

RV: One of the points of your home­less­ness pro­gram is encour­ag­ing Seat­tleites to par­tic­i­pate via vol­un­teer­ing efforts like resume draft­ing ses­sions. How do you make sure you’re pre­vent­ing unqual­i­fied civil­ian vol­un­teers from get­ting paired with peo­ple who real­ly need pro­fes­sion­al help for men­tal health or addic­tion issues, and ensure everyone’s safety?

BH: That is the Human Ser­vices Department’s (HSD’s) role.

When you’re talk­ing about indi­vid­u­al­ized case man­age­ment, that is a very spe­cial­ized, trained area of exper­tise. The lay per­son may look at one per­son and think their needs may just be soft coun­sel­ing, when in fact they could suf­fer from schiz­o­phrenic or para­noid behav­ior or oth­er clin­i­cal prob­lems that need a deep­er lev­el of treat­ment. So the HSD direc­tor will be very skilled in hir­ing the right peo­ple to pair the right treat­ment providers.

In my per­son­al expe­ri­ence, I’ve men­tored and tutored kids since I was four­teen years old. I real­ized even then, tutor­ing at the Rotary boys and girls club, about many kids – who were sev­en, eight, or nine – how dif­fer­ent they were. I was teach­ing some of them to read, and I real­ized some just had an inabil­i­ty to read, but some had much deep­­er-seat­ed issues.

So I per­son­al­ly gained an appre­ci­a­tion for how you must know what you’re doing when you’re offer­ing ser­vices to some­one who’s in need. So we’ll make sure we have the right screen­ing process to get that right.

RV: I want to move on to anoth­er huge issue fac­ing the city. In your time on the City Coun­cil, you spear­head­ed some impor­tant reforms to the Seat­tle Police Depart­ment. Despite these reforms, the depart­ment is cur­rent­ly fac­ing class action law­suits for assaults on medics and jour­nal­ists dur­ing the protests last year, it had the largest con­tin­gent of offi­cers at the Jan­u­ary 6th riot of any police depart­ment in the coun­try, and the police union is cur­rent­ly fil­ing griev­ances against inves­ti­ga­tions con­nect­ed to that riot. With all that swirling around, how will you restore trust in law enforce­ment in this city?

BH: So first, there should be some lev­el of cel­e­bra­tion for what occurred in Olympia, when you look at the dozen or so police account­abil­i­ty laws that were passed. I do not think it was coin­ci­den­tal that we had the most diverse set of leg­is­la­tors that we’ve ever had in our state’s his­to­ry pass those dozen laws.

Choke­holds are banned, you have a new office of inde­pen­dent inves­ti­ga­tions, you have the rea­son­able care stan­dard, as I recall, that requires a lev­el of deesca­la­tion. I’m going from mem­o­ry here, but you also had the require­ment that offi­cers inter­vene when they see mis­con­duct occur.

These are ground­break­ing laws, and as the City of Seat­tle and as the next may­or my first actions will be to make sure that through our train­ing and through our reg­u­la­tion we ful­ly imple­ment these laws that were passed and we insti­tu­tion­al­ize them in how we do busi­ness. You’ve heard me say this before, but we have many good poli­cies in place, being under a con­sent decree and with our exam­i­na­tion of the use of force by our offi­cers, our cre­ation of our inspec­tor gen­er­al and our com­mu­ni­ty police com­mis­sion work that’s being done.

That’s why I keep talk­ing about how it’s not a piece of paper that will change this depart­ment. Pieces of paper when memo­ri­al­iz­ing strong pol­i­cy are impor­tant, but the cul­ture is not changing.

My approach, hav­ing changed cul­tures at orga­ni­za­tions, will start with the lead­ers. I will hire the most effec­tive chief that we can find in this coun­try and we will start with the May­or set­ting the tone for transparency.

It will also start with the infor­mal lead­ers of the police depart­ment speak­ing out about that which they do not tol­er­ate – which should be mur­der, fatal­i­ties, and unrea­son­able force. No one can say that our police depart­ment has bro­ken its code of silence, and until our com­mu­ni­ties believe that the offi­cers have bro­ken their code of silence – much like we saw in Min­neapo­lis when George Floyd was mur­dered – we will not have com­mu­ni­ty trust.

While I knew I said a very provoca­tive state­ment that I want­ed the offi­cers to vol­un­tar­i­ly watch the George Floyd video and vol­un­tar­i­ly sign a pledge, the rea­son I made that provoca­tive state­ment is to impress upon peo­ple that if an offi­cer can­not, on a human lev­el, say that was mur­der, they have no place in our police depart­ment – none, zero!

The point being is that a piece of paper, or train­ing, or a legal safe­guard, or state law can­not make that offi­cer effec­tive if on a human lev­el we can­not agree that was wrong. When we can agree that that was wrong, I think it is incum­bent upon the offi­cers – and con­sis­tent with their oath of office – to say and pub­licly pro­claim that that was wrong and that will not be tol­er­at­ed here in Seat­tle. And that is where you change cul­ture, when the infor­mal lead­ers of a group, regard­less of rank, start describ­ing that which the depart­ment will become, will be, will honor.

Crit­ics want to sim­pli­fy my state­ments by say­ing crit­i­cal obser­va­tions, which tells me they do not have a clue about how you change cultures.

The rea­son why in the six­ties and sev­en­ties Black peo­ple said “Black is Beau­ti­ful” and “Black Pow­er” is because we were chang­ing the nar­ra­tive in our com­mu­ni­ty. We were say­ing that we are a crea­ture of beau­ty and we are empow­ered; you change the nar­ra­tive with procla­ma­tions and you change the culture.

You saw a rev­o­lu­tion of the mind and the spir­it, and in the police depart­ment that is what we must do if we are tru­ly to change the culture.

We change the nar­ra­tive, we change that which we cel­e­brate and that which we denounce. Now we will have a new kind of offi­cer, we will exam­ine every­where gun and badge goals, we will look at that. Charleena Lyles epit­o­mizes the exam­ple of a per­son who is in dis­tress, suf­fered from schiz­o­phrenic behav­ior, who need­ed a men­tal coun­selor and a cri­sis coun­selor, not a gun and a badge.

Last I will say that we need new lead­er­ship at SPOG [Seat­tle Police Offi­cers Guild], there’s just no soft way to say that.

SPOG, unfor­tu­nate­ly, are not embrac­ing the kind of cul­ture change that I would like to see, and I am hope­ful that new lead­ers will come forth and make them­selves known at SPOG so they can say amongst them­selves, “We want to build com­mu­ni­ty trust, we want to be respect­ed and trust­ed in the com­mu­ni­ty.” I don’t even hear them say­ing that and if they do not say that they do not believe that.

RV: Cir­cling back to the pro­pos­al for offi­cers to watch the George Floyd video, obvi­ous­ly it is a very sen­si­tive video. Have you con­sult­ed with Gorge Floyd’s fam­i­ly or rep­re­sen­ta­tives about this proposal?

BH: No is the short answer. But to me, giv­en the fact that mil­lions and mil­lions of peo­ple have watched that video through­out the world, that seems to be an illog­i­cal thing to have to do. Have you seen it?

RV: I saw parts of it.

BH: Did you ask for their permission?

RV: I did not…

BH: So why would I ask for per­mis­sion to ask the offi­cers to vol­un­tar­i­ly watch it? I appre­ci­ate it, and that is the kind of ques­tion I do ask.

I watched it and I didn’t ask their per­mis­sion, it’s in the pub­lic domain and there­fore per­mis­sion is not required.

RV: I wasn’t think­ing so much about per­mis­sion as about respect…

BH: So, I could just have eas­i­ly said the [Manuel] Ellis sit­u­a­tion in Taco­ma or the John T. Williams sit­u­a­tion that hap­pened here in Seat­tle. I think you’re miss­ing the point. The point is this: we have seen egre­gious acts of vio­lence com­mit­ted by police offi­cers, mur­ders. George Floyd is not even the point. These are unam­bigu­ous acts of mur­der. You take any one you want, and you have the police offi­cers look at those acts of mur­der – I would like SPOG to admit that that will not hap­pen in Seat­tle, Wash­ing­ton. George Floyd is only one of hun­dreds of Black men killed in this coun­try at this time, so he is not even an issue, nor is his family.

RV: Let’s move on from polic­ing. Anoth­er way to help com­mu­ni­ties of col­or is to help them recov­er from the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic. You were the co-chair of the small busi­ness recov­ery task force. How should Seat­tle move for­ward to ensure that the eco­nom­ic recov­ery is equi­table for all the cit­i­zens of the city?

BH: We saw with rem­nants of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion deal­ing with the $28.6 bil­lion fed­er­al fund that was relat­ed to the pan­dem­ic stim­u­lus, that there was not the kind of dis­tri­b­u­tion of funds that I would have liked to have seen – and that many small busi­ness­es would have liked to have seen. There are recent arti­cles describ­ing how a few of the large restau­rant chains received $10 mil­lion and hun­dreds of the small­er restau­rants – who were tru­ly strug­gling – didn’t receive any.

One of the things I’ve done recent­ly was small busi­ness­es tours in dif­fer­ent parts of the city: Sodo, Uni­ver­si­ty Dis­trict, Colum­bia City, et cetera.

I asked them, “What does help look like to you, what do you need?”

That’s where the answers come – I should not pre­sume to know the answers!

One of the things they have said repeat­ed­ly is how can the city use its built envi­ron­ment, its struc­tures, loos­en­ing up the reg­u­la­to­ry envi­ron­ment to allow them to expand and pro­vide the kind of ser­vices they want, to allow rights of way on streets for cre­ativ­i­ty in deliv­er­ing their ser­vices. I’m extreme­ly sup­port­ive of that!

The oth­er thing they’ve asked for is – and many of these are busi­ness­es that still need access to cap­i­tal – is to work with Com­mu­ni­ty Devel­op­ment Finan­cial Insti­tu­tions (CDFIs) and Com­mu­ni­ty Block Grant Orga­ni­za­tions (CBGOs).

There are sev­er­al around, but I think that the city of Seat­tle can make sure that these orga­ni­za­tions thrive and are avail­able to small businesses.

They cater to small busi­ness­es and bet­ter under­stand their unique bor­row­ing needs than tra­di­tion­al banks. So you will see us, through my Office of Eco­nom­ic Devel­op­ment, estab­lish­ing a much stronger con­sor­tium of CDFIs and CBGOs.

The oth­er part I talk about is the pub­lic safe­ty piece and the Seat­tle Job Cen­ter piece, because many of these busi­ness­es are ful­ly con­vinced that the city’s lack of pub­lic safe­ty is an imped­i­ment to their cus­tomers and employ­ees get­ting to them.

So my stance on pub­lic safe­ty – not just police reform but effec­tive pub­lic safe­ty –is being well-received by these small businesses.

The oth­er por­tion that they are excit­ed about is the Seat­tle Jobs Cen­ter, which assists employ­ees to find jobs and employ­ers to find employees.

A lot of them are hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ty find­ing employees.

I will also men­tion that the work I have done with women and minor­i­ty owned busi­ness­es and sup­pli­er diver­si­ty for thir­ty years.

We will key in on that to make sure our dash­board is trans­par­ent, that the city can see how we are using women and minor­i­­ty-owned busi­ness­es, cou­pled with oth­er juris­dic­tions: the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton, the State, the Port.

I want to put all of that on the dash­board, so that we can see who’s doing a great job when it comes to diver­si­ty of sup­pli­ers and who can improve.

I want the City of Seat­tle to be the evan­ge­list of using women and minor­i­­ty-owned busi­ness­es, because they are all work­ing sep­a­rate­ly on their issues and there’s not a uni­fied attempt here. But the state of Wash­ing­ton has prob­a­bly done the poor­est in terms of sup­pli­er diver­si­ty and we want to improve that.

Can I ask you a ques­tion? I wasn’t get­ting snit­ty ear­li­er with the video, was I? I was just mak­ing a point, but maybe I mis­un­der­stood your point?

I know we’ve left that top­ic, but I’d like to flip back to it if I may?

RV: The point I was try­ing to make was that there’s dif­fer­ent kinds of watch­ing the video. If you’re a news con­sumer watch­ing the video, you’re not real­ly under an oblig­a­tion. If you’re a news media out­let rebroad­cast­ing it, I think you have some degree of oblig­a­tion to the fam­i­ly of the vic­tim, and if you are the City of Seat­tle, as an employ­er, mak­ing it compulsory…

BH: There’s a word I keep using over and over and over, every time I use that descrip­tion. You know what that word is? Vol­un­tary! I said I would ask the offi­cers vol­un­tar­i­ly to watch the video. I nev­er used the word manda­to­ry, com­pul­so­ry, or required. I always say vol­un­tar­i­ly. I am SHRM [Soci­ety for Human Resource Man­age­ment] cer­ti­fied, I am a senior-cer­ti­­fied human resource pro­fes­sion­al. I know what a work­ing con­di­tion is, so that’s why I say “vol­un­tar­i­ly” watch the video.

When I said that, I said I would ask each offi­cer to vol­un­tar­i­ly watch the video and that I would ask each to vol­un­tar­i­ly sign the state­ment say­ing this would not hap­pen in Seat­tle. I said, what a great day that would be, where these offi­cers vol­un­tar­i­ly said to us, the pub­lic, that that would nev­er hap­pen – imag­ine that day! Do you think for a moment that the thou­sand patrol offi­cers were all just going to go to YouTube and watch it?

I am mak­ing the point – and I don’t mean to con­de­scend – but at some point you can­not train bad offi­cers! We have to rec­og­nize that. Peo­ple have to under­stand, do I real­ly think that one day a thou­sand offi­cers are going to wake up and watch YouTube? No I do not! But at some point we have to admit that per­haps we have some of the wrong offi­cers on the SPD force. No one’s real­ly say­ing that!

[Laugh­ing] Now let’s go to a soft­er subject!

RV: So we were talk­ing about small busi­ness­es, and one of the ways to help these busi­ness­es is to help their employ­ees get health­care, tak­ing that bur­den off the busi­ness­es. You have a plan to build a Seat­­tle-wide health­care sys­tem, and none of the oth­er major can­di­dates have such a plan – why do you think it’s so important?

BH: I think it’s crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant! First­ly, it’s going to be called Healthy Seat­tle and it’s mod­eled after Healthy San Fran­cis­co.

You will see two things that’ are occurring.

Thank God that [Joe] Biden is our pres­i­dent and the [Patient Pro­tec­tion and] Afford­able Care Act now has bet­ter legs, and the econ­o­my still has trau­­ma-relat­ed health sys­tem, but you will still see that so many peo­ple still fall through the cracks. If you look at what our Human Ser­vices depart­ment cur­rent­ly does, they pro­mote cer­tain things like pub­lic health, healthy aging, these kinds of things.

But, par­tic­u­lar­ly for the aging pop­u­la­tion – although this applies to every­one – that most peo­ple still don’t under­stand the dif­fer­ence between Medicare and Med­ic­aid, that it’s some­what of a max for a lot of peo­ple to achieve healthcare.

So I want to sim­pli­fy that.

Medicare, of course, is based on age – but even though you may under­stand that, there are dif­fer­ent parts of the sec­tions that one is eli­gi­ble for and it gets rather com­pli­cat­ed based on the choic­es that one is required to make.

Med­ic­aid, of course, is based on income.

But my approach is going to be to make sure that the Human Ser­vices depart­ment can in fact nav­i­gate through those choic­es, and we will imple­ment Healthy Seat­tle, which is based on a small employ­ee pre­mi­um and their abil­i­ty to pay – that may be zero or a small frac­tion – and we will make sure all our res­i­dents have health care. That’s not only going to help address the home­less­ness issue, but it will tru­ly address the vibran­cy of our city.

I talk about being the sole spon­sor of the human rights leg­is­la­tion in 2012 – the rea­son I men­tion that is that many cities have not embraced that and not become human rights cities. I believe health­care is a human right, that no one should be with­out, nobody. So we’re going to reflect that in Seat­tle and going to also assist those whose need a sys­tem to get through the eli­gi­bil­i­ty issues – whether it’s Med­ic­aid, Medicare, or the ACA – because quite can­did­ly, there are peo­ple who speak Eng­lish as a sec­ond lan­guage, there are peo­ple who just don’t com­pre­hend the com­plex­i­ties of the appli­ca­tion process. That’s where I think the City can come in and help peo­ple nav­i­gate through the health­care maze.

RV: Anoth­er way to be help­ing people’s health out­comes is through things like reduc­ing pol­lu­tion. The City Coun­cil pledged to reduce emis­sions to zero by 2030 – do you think the city can make that goal?

BH: Yes. When I was part of the dis­cus­sions in 2013 and 2019, we said we should not set goals that we can­not attain, we should always set real­is­tic goals.

Harrell sat on the City Council for twelve years
Har­rell was on the City Coun­cil for twelve years (Pho­to cour­tesy of Bruce Har­rell for Seat­tle May­or campaign)

Now, I’m going to go back to some great his­to­ry that was made in the state this year. Look at the cap and trade bill – that will clear­ly reduce our pollution.

That’s ground­break­ing stuff that will pro­duce hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in the next cou­ple of years. The clean fuel was awe­some, there’s the [equi­ty-focused] HEAL Act, all those great items com­ing out of Olympia this year, just incredible.

So one of the first things I will do com­ing in is mir­ror that and insti­tu­tion­al­ize that in our prac­tice, and make sure again that we are a leader in this country.

I tend to think of cli­mate change poli­cies in two buckets.

One is indi­vid­ual behav­ior – what can you and I do as res­i­dents of this plan­et, how can we make good choic­es every day?

That’s why I dri­ve elec­tric cars and have solar pow­er in my house.

I think that if a per­son is able to make changes that sup­port the envi­ron­ment, they can. So one of the things I want to do is re-incen­­tivize the state reg­u­la­tions on solar pow­er – even under­stand­ing that a lot of our pow­er is gen­er­at­ed through hydro and car­bon neu­tral sources – the more we can take off the grid the bet­ter! So you saw a lot of the state incen­tives for peo­ple to install solar on their homes start to min­i­mize or lessen over the years, so I’d like to see those reinstated.

If I could digress for a moment about the heat­wave we expe­ri­enced, because heat is one of the dead­liest kinds of extreme weath­er in our country.

Peo­ple think it’s extreme cold, but the heat is worse.

You may recall that in 2003 heat killed over 70,000 peo­ple in Europe, and about ten years ago there were about 55,000 peo­ple in Rus­sia who died from extreme heat! So I think about the record break­ing heat­wave that we received, which cli­mate change experts sug­gest are proof pos­i­tive that if it weren’t for cli­mate change, that would have not hap­pened. Our record break­ing tem­per­a­tures skipped the dou­ble dig­its, like eleven degrees, which is almost unprecedented!

I’m say­ing that as con­text because I think peo­ple are real­iz­ing how real this is.

So hav­ing said that, what I have to do, quite can­did­ly, is I have to hire the best. When I think of who the best cli­mate change advo­cate is for the city of Seat­tle, does a name come to mind? I want not one name, but three names to come to mind, so that peo­ple real­ize that under the Har­rell admin­is­tra­tion I will have three lead­ing cli­mate change experts dri­ving the pol­i­cy. So to answer the ques­tion – will we achieve it? – we will because I will have the three top experts on cli­mate change on my admin­is­tra­tion dri­ving this work.

RV: And who are those three people?

BH: Oh no, I don’t know the three names, not yet; I don’t have the job yet, Ruairi!

RV: In con­trast with oth­er big coastal cities, Seattle’s pop­u­la­tion actu­al­ly grew dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. As a life­long Seat­tleite, why do you think peo­ple keep com­ing to our city, when places like New York and San Fran­cis­co are los­ing residents?

BH: I don’t know is the short answer. I could only spec­u­late that we offer so much in terms of geog­ra­phy, the moun­tains, the water, the job envi­ron­ment, and we are a com­pas­sion­ate, lib­er­al city. Peo­ple still dig the vibe of Seattle.

Seattle’s not a place where you’re going from A to B and you hap­pen to be here – Seat­tle is a place that you tar­get. I think that Seat­tle still offers the dif­fer­ent employ­ers here, what nature has to offer here, and the peo­ple here – awe­some peo­ple! I think the vibe of Seat­tle is still strong, and that’s why I love it so much.

If you notice in this cam­paign, oth­ers will move here and then they will com­plain about how bad it is! I’ve lived here my whole life, and while I’m not obliv­i­ous to the great chal­lenges in front of us, I make it very very clear that I love this city, and that’s why I’m run­ning for mayor.

I use a quote by Mar­tin Luther King who said, “There is no great dis­ap­point­ment where there is no great love.” This city took some­one like me, whose par­ents did not go to col­lege, who grew up in the Cen­tral Dis­trict – in a poor­er part of the neigh­bor­hood at that time, in the sixties.

It took this lit­tle boy from pub­lic schools, raised him, and now I’m in a posi­tion to pos­si­bly be the may­or and cer­tain­ly have a viable can­di­da­cy. That’s what this city is about in my mind. It took my Asian grand­par­ents and my Black grand­par­ents and allowed them to have a great liv­ing for them­selves and their fam­i­lies – that’s the Seat­tle I like. So I think peo­ple still like the vibe here in Seattle.

RV: Bruce Har­rell, thanks for tak­ing the time to talk with NPI.

BH: My plea­sure, Ruairi!

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