LOCAL NEWS

Seattle mayoral candidates spar over controversial campaign ad, policing in final debate

Oct 29, 2021, 6:50 AM | Updated: 3:54 pm
Seattle mayoral debate...
Bruce Harrell and Lorena Gonzalez squared off Thursday in the final televised debate before election day.

Seattle mayoral candidates Bruce Harrell and Lorena Gonzalez squared off Thursday night in the final mayoral debate before election day, addressing their respective plans for policing, and engaging in a heated back-and-forth over a controversial campaign ad aired by Gonzalez earlier in October.

‘More aggressive, little more ugliness’ in first televised Seattle mayoral debate

The ad featured a white sexual assault survivor criticizing Harrell for statements he made to the media in 2017, amid calls for then-Mayor Ed Murray’s resignation over child sexual abuse allegations. Harrell — who is Black and Asian-American — claimed the ad played into racist stereotypes about Black men. Gonzalez later took down the ad, and issued an apology for not “work[ing] harder to center the voice of a sexual assault survivor from our community of color.”

During Thursday’s debate, Gonzalez was pressed by moderators on numerous occasions as to whether she agreed with Harrell that the ad was racist. While she did not explicitly qualify it as such, she noted that she had “apologized for the harm that the ad has caused.”

“I have apologized and will continue to apologize to members of our communities of color for missing the mark,” she answered. “That’s exactly why we pulled down the ad, and the reality is that does show that I am a reflective individual, that I listen, and that I’m willing to learn.”

Gonzalez went on to note that she believed the overarching message of the ad — that Harrell “worked to shield Ed Murray from any kind of consequence, political or otherwise” — remained true.

“To this day, even on this stage, he is not meaningfully apologizing to the thousands of sexual assault survivors, BIPOC, and otherwise, who are still waiting to hear that my opponent has learned his lesson,” she said.

Harrell’s statement regarding Murray in 2017 came shortly after a fifth accuser had come forward in mid-July of that year. At the time, Gonzalez had become the first sitting councilmember to call on Murray to resign. Harrell’s response after that was that he was “not asking (Murray) to step down,” and that the city’s residents “did not ask us to judge anyone for something that happened 33 years or maybe didn’t happen — we just don’t know, and I would ask that I don’t want to be judged for anything 33 years ago.”

Speaking to those statements on Thursday night, Harrell said that, as mayor, “if I mess up, I will say I messed up,” but also stopped short of admitting fault in this instance, claiming that he “never defended Ed Murray,” and was trying to “respect the process” while the investigation played out.

“Let me make it crystal clear that I support survivors and victims,” he said. “That in my defense of the process by which we reach truth, and why we have to try to respect the process by which investigations would go … I said, ‘let’s not thwart that process.'”

Policing and public safety

The debate then pivoted to a discussion over how each candidate would plan to keep Seattleites safe amid increased 911 response times, calls for police reform, and a recent increase in gun violence.

Pointing to “the fact that the Seattle Police Department spent almost an entire month tear-gassing hundreds and thousands of people in our city,” Gonzalez laid out her belief that “SPD is no longer just a department we need to reform.”

“We must transform it,” she described. “In order to do that the next mayor again must know and acknowledge that the reform we have done to date has been important, but has been insufficient to truly keep our community safe.”

To that end, she detailed a plan to “invest in community-based safety and non-law enforcement systems,” as part of a larger plan to move some functions of the police department to unarmed mental health responders. She also clarified that she will also still “continue to support fully funding the hiring plans” proposed by SPD.

Harrell vowed to “reimagine the police department” himself, similarly proposing “a new kind of police officer … that doesn’t carry a gun and badge.”

Seattle Police Department mobilizes for officer shortage due to vaccine mandate

“We will work with communities and have a citywide summit, going to neighborhoods and asking, ‘what does public safety look like to you,'” he added, proposing the use of technology in neighborhoods capable of locating gunshots.

“What I want the city to do is force the city to respond to actual gunfire — it’s actually very effective technology,” Harrell said.

Gonzalez levied criticism against using gunshot locators in particular, describing the technology as an escalation of police surveillance in communities of color.

“In the spirit of being super straight about what this technology is, it is a surveillance technology — it is a technology that is designed to surveil our neighborhoods,” she noted. “And I think that is the wrong approach.”

“Sure, it might help us find a few additional areas where we’re going shots have been fired, but it will not prevent those gunshots from occurring in the first place,” she added.

You can listen to the full debate below:

Check out MyNorthwest interviews with both mayoral candidates:

For ongoing updates leading up to election day, check out the MyNorthwest Blog, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

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Seattle mayoral candidates spar over controversial campaign ad, policing in final debate