Bruce Harrell faces heat for unmasked fundraiser, last-minute threat to pull out of debate

Oct 11, 2021, 10:56 AM | Updated: 1:48 pm
Bruce Harrell...
Seattle mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell. (Seattle City Council)
(Seattle City Council)

Seattle mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell faced criticism over the weekend, after photos surfaced of a large, indoor fundraiser where few, if any, attendees appeared to be wearing masks.

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Reports of the fundraiser first came from Publicola’s Erica Barnett, who cited several photos and videos from the event being held at Seattle’s China Harbor restaurant. In those photos and videos — many of which were also posted publicly across social media platforms — a large majority of attendees can be seen without masks at various hours throughout the event.

King County’s current regulations require that masks be worn by all attendees for large indoor events, regardless of vaccination status. Those who are actively eating or drinking can do so without a facial covering, although several photos from Harrell’s fundraiser show unmasked attendees standing and socializing without food or beverages present.

Harrell later claimed in a statement to the Seattle Times that he had only removed his mask “for dining and brief intervals for photographs with friends and community leaders,” while acknowledging that he also “understand[s] that people in public life will and should be held to high standards.”

During a mayoral debate on Sunday, he further clarified that his campaign was not directly responsible for hosting the fundraiser itself, but that attendees were permitted by organizers to take their masks off for eating and taking photos.

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Further controversy arose surrounding Sunday’s debate — which Barnett was initially tagged to help moderate — when Barnett revealed that Harrell had threatened to pull out of the event if she were not replaced as a moderator.

Harrell’s opponent, Lorena Gonzalez, noted during the debate that both candidates were aware of Barnett’s status as a moderator for months leading up to Sunday. Harrell did not specify why he raised objections as late as he did, stating only that “the question was posed, why was she the person to host us?”

Barnett later stated that it was her belief Harrell had threatened to pull out of the event due to her reporting on the unmasked fundraiser, which took place two days before Sunday’s forum.

“I believe Harrell probably decided to pull out of this forum at the last minute, massively inconveniencing its hosts, because of this reporting; it’s either purely retaliatory or based on fear that I’ll ask about one of these stories,” she wrote on Twitter.

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Bruce Harrell faces heat for unmasked fundraiser, last-minute threat to pull out of debate