Harrell aims to ‘hit reset’ on strained relationship between Seattle mayor, city council

Feb 17, 2022, 9:13 AM

Bruce Harrell...

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Over the last four years, the relationship between Seattle City Council and the mayor’s office has been defined by high-profile clashes over everything from taxes to homelessness. After Mayor Bruce Harrell’s first “State of the City” address this week, it appears as though addressing that relationship will be among his top priorities for the start of his term.

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Disagreements between Seattle’s previous mayor, Jenny Durkan, and city council began almost the moment she took office. That included a battle over how the city was spending its soda tax revenue in 2018, a stalled nomination for a new Human Services Department director in 2019, and calls for Durkan to resign from at least three councilmembers in the wake 2020’s social justice protests.

The relationship was punctuated by one final clash in the closing weeks of Durkan’s mayoral term in 2021, which saw the mayor and Councilmembers Alex Pedersen and Dan Strauss publicly feud over a long-promised plan from the mayor’s office for stronger tree canopy protections.

In the run-up to the 2021 election, Harrell emphasized the need to reset the mayor/council relationship.

“I do not like settling or resolving conflicts in the newspaper or through press releases, I think that’s ineffective,” Harrell told MyNorthwest last October, citing a strategy that became common over Durkan’s tenure.

“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.”

As part of his State of the City address on Tuesday, Harrell again stressed how he hopes to rebuild the relationship between the mayor’s office and city council.

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“‘One Seattle’ means a renewed focus on good governance and tangible progress, on nuance and conversation,” he said. “I believe this group, right here, can – and will – set a new tone and a new example for what can be achieved when we hit reset and chart a shared agenda for our City – together.”

He then went on to address each councilmember individually by name, detailing the aspects of their personalities and politics that he admires, ranging from Council President Debora Juarez’s “responsiveness and collaborative nature,” to how District 3 Councilmember Kshama Sawant “cares deeply about addressing inequality.”

Harrell closed his speech by remarking on how “the path forward requires empowering each other — the executive team, our department directors, and you, the City Council,” signaling his hopes for a move away from four years of discord in city hall.

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