Seattle mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell: City needs ‘sense of urgency’ to address homeless crisis
The choices before voters for Seattle’s next mayor come down to a pair of candidates whose careers have operated on similar trajectories, with both Bruce Harrell and Lorena Gonzalez having started as lawyers prior to their respective careers as city councilmembers, followed by each serving as council president.
Harrell’s tenure on the council ended in 2019 when he decided against running for reelection. Having watched the frequent political tug-of-war between the mayor and city council play out in the proceeding months and years, he believes it’s time for a reset for that relationship.
“I do not like settling or resolving conflicts in the newspaper or through press releases, I think that’s ineffective,” Harrell told MyNorthwest, citing a strategy that’s become common over the last mayoral term.
“I think that the residents of the city don’t respond well to public disagreements,” he added. “They see the city as one entity and it’s extremely off-putting when they see these internal conflicts, and then everyone loses.”
In a city where homelessness is among the chief concerns of voters leading into November’s mayoral election, Harrell hopes to leverage a more cooperative approach with the city council into the implementation of several measures laid out in Compassion Seattle’s now-defunct ballot initiative.
The group’s proposed charter amendment would have mandated 2,000 new shelter beds or permanent housing units within a one-year period. But among the more talked-about proposals in Compassion Seattle’s initiative was a codified requirement to keep parks and public spaces clear of homeless encampments.
Whether Harrell supports such a requirement himself came up in a recent mayoral debate, where Gonzalez claimed that Harrell had “continued to evade answering the critical question about sweeps.” In response, Harrell noted at the time that he has “publicly said it is inhumane to allow people to stay in those parks under those conditions,” later clarifying that position further while speaking to MyNorthwest.
“I think that it’s an unfair narrative to try and use as a litmus test for one’s compassion towards people who are homeless,” he opined. “I believe in a healthy parks system; I believe sidewalks should be used for ingress and egress, and my full devotion will be to housing the homeless. I have decades of work in this area, and I do not subscribe to the narrative that under my administration we will be so heavy-handed that we will criminalize poverty.”
Harrell went on to note that he “does not believe our parks and sidewalks should be used as de facto houses,” and that “it is a good thing to have required action and a sense of urgency to house people.”
Homelessness won’t be the only major issue on the docket for Seattle’s next mayor, with the city still in need of a new permanent police chief, as well as a new labor agreement with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), the union that represents the department’s rank-and-file officers.
That comes amid calls from many for reforming several facets of SPD’s functions, ranging from how officers handle protests, to the larger culture of accountability within the department.
Speaking to protests that occurred across Seattle over the summer of 2020, Harrell levied criticism against SPD regarding how it handled demonstrations that culminated in the use of tear gas in residential neighborhoods on more than one occasion.
“I firmly believe the city was incredibly heavy-handed in their approach to peaceful protesters,” he said. “I’ve had people who were in protests saying they were treated with unreasonable force.”
Harrell voiced support for a recently passed bill limiting SPD’s use of certain less lethal weapons in protest settings, while outlining a goal to “implement best practices on crowd control.”
That said, he also spoke to “a balance on preventing property destruction, as we’ve seen during certain protests largely conducted by anarchists and not peaceful protesters.”
“I’m going to actually create space where protests can occur,” he vowed. “I’m going to create open forums where voices can be heard, and I’m going to make sure that my police department and the other ancillary units they bring in are trained to understand the culture I’m trying to create, which is one that actually encourages peaceful political protest.”
In order to achieve the larger culture change he’s aiming for, though, Harrell says SPOG may need new leadership. The union’s current president, Mike Solan, faced calls for his resignation earlier in the year, following a tweet where he appeared to blame Black Lives Matter for the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Under Solan’s leadership, the King County Labor Council also voted to expel SPOG from its ranks in June 2020.
“What it’s going to take is sitting down with the rank and file, talking with them about the current SPOG leadership, and for them to understand that in my opinion, their current leadership is poorly received by the rest of the city, [and] that they are misaligned with the culture that I want to see and the expectations of the public,” Harrell said.
“We have to have a very real conversation there,” he added, noting that he has “many friends who are police officers who agree.”
Beyond that, Harrell described a vision for a police department where “officers embrace accountability, and don’t see accountability as something forced upon them.”
“They have to realize that their oath of office requires them to be accountable, and that’s the culture change that we need — we should not have to bargain for accountability,” he said.
You can read other MyNorthwest interviews with Seattle candidates below:
- Mayoral candidate Lorena Gonzalez
- City Attorney candidate Nicole Thomas-Kennedy
- City Attorney candidate Ann Davison