What Seattle can expect in new year with shakeups at city hall on the horizon

Dec 30, 2021, 10:28 AM | Updated: Dec 31, 2021, 6:21 am
Seattle election results, Seattle City Hall...
Bruce Harrell, Ann Davison, and Sara Nelson. (Photo credits: AP, campaign courtesy photos)
(Photo credits: AP, campaign courtesy photos)

Seattle City Hall is in for a shakeup at the start of the new year, with a new mayor, at-large city councilmember, and city attorney all taking office in January.

Voices behind Compassion Seattle, ‘Seattle is Dying’ series score new roles in city hall

Leaving office at the start of the new year will be outgoing Mayor Jenny Durkan, Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez, and 12-year incumbent City Attorney Pete Holmes. The people entering into those roles each represent a shift away from their predecessors, starting with the city’s incoming mayor.

Mayor Bruce Harrell

While many of Durkan and Bruce Harrell’s policies regarding key issues like homelessness, policing, and housing bear similarities, Harrell’s own positions align with a push toward more moderate policies.

Harrell has frequently voiced his support for measures laid out in Compassion Seattle’s proposed ballot initiative. Before it was struck down by a judge, the initiative had sought to mandate 2,000 new shelter beds or permanent housing units within a one-year period, while codifying a requirement to keep parks and public spaces clear of homeless encampments.

While Harrell has detailed plans to implement the housing requirements laid out by Compassion Seattle, he has balked at clarifying whether he would support a mandate to keep parks clear of camps.

“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 told MyNorthwest in October. “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 also appointed former Councilmember Tim Burgess to be his director of strategic initiatives. Burgess was one of the architects of Compassion Seattle’s proposal, leading substantial fundraising efforts for the measure up until it was struck down in court.

The incoming mayor will lead shakeups of other departments as well, after asking incumbent Seattle Department of Transportation Director Sam Zimbabwe to step down in December. Harrell cited a goal to have a more “balanced transportation ecosystem” that recognizes “the role of cars and new electric vehicles” as one of the factors behind his decision. While a search begins for a permanent replacement, former SDOT head Kristen Simpson will serve as interim director.

Harrell will be tasked with leading a nationwide search for a new police chief as well, with Adrian Diaz having served in the role in an interim capacity since September of 2020.

City Attorney Ann Davison

Aside from the fact that Ann Davison will become Seattle’s first Republican city attorney since 1989, her office will feature a sizable amount of turnover in staff to boot.

According to estimates from outgoing City Attorney Pete Holmes, roughly 25% of assistant prosecutor positions were vacant as of early December. This comes amid a backlog of over 3,800 unfiled criminal cases dating back two years, a trend consistent with city attorney offices in other cities across the United States due to pandemic-driven court closures over the last year-plus.

Davison will take office with a notable name serving as her deputy city attorney in Scott Lindsay. Lindsay previously served as a public safety advisor for former Mayor Ed Murray, before mounting an unsuccessful campaign for city attorney in 2017.

More recently, Lindsay authored a now-infamous report on Seattle’s “prolific offenders,” was featured prominently in KOMO-TV’s “Seattle is Dying” feature, and he was credited as a co-producer on the follow-up, titled “Fight for the Soul of Seattle.”

City councilmembers have expressed concerns over Davison’s tough-on-crime promises for the office, having introduced a bill in December that would lay out reporting requirements for her surrounding diversionary justice. Signaling an early power struggle between her and the council, she responded to that bill by implying it was related to the fact that she will be the first woman to serve as Seattle city attorney.

“None of my male predecessors faced a single preemptive move by Council to establish reporting requirements,” she said at the time.

Seattle City Attorney-elect slams council’s ‘rushed’ effort to change diversion rules

Seattle City Council

Seattle City Council won’t be without its own changes in 2022, starting with new at-large Councilmember Sara Nelson.

Nelson operates at a similar end of the political spectrum as Harrell, voicing support for increased police staffing and Compassion Seattle’s homelessness proposals, and issuing criticism for the council’s “far left agenda.”

Sara Nelson: Wins for moderate candidates prove Seattle’s ‘political landscape has shifted’

Her arrival also marks the departure of Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez, who lost to Harrell in the mayoral election. Gonzalez’s policies during her tenure on the dais aligned with her progressive colleagues, with Nelson likely to join Debora Juarez and Alex Pedersen in the more moderate wing of councilmembers.

With Gonzalez leaving, that also leaves a vacancy for council president. Generally, the position — which councilmembers vote on themselves — goes to a longer-tenured member. Bruce Harrell served as council president after eight years on the dais, while Gonzalez was appointed after five. As of now, Kshama Sawant is the longest tenured city councilmember at eight years as of 2022, followed by Lisa Herbold and Debora Juarez at six years each, and Teresa Mosqueda at five years.

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What Seattle can expect in new year with shakeups at city hall on the horizon