Seattle’s $800K grant to the mayor’s old social club ‘not a good look’| G&U
A report from The Seattle Times came out Wednesday, detailing how the city of Seattle is giving $781,827 to a social club of which Mayor Bruce Harrell was previously the chair. This has sparked discussions about the move as a conflict of interest versus the funding being an important step to protect a culturally important location in the community.
One of these discussions happened on air on the Gee and Ursula Show, with hosts Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin talking about how much the public should scrutinize the move as a shady, political deal, or if the mayor did enough to distance himself from the funding allotment process.
In an announcement Monday, the city announced it would be giving the Royal Esquire Club, a Black men’s social club in Columbia City, nearly $800,000 in an effort to “support the rehabilitation of existing cultural space.”
Gee asked Ursula to explain why she had a problem with the Mayor distributing funds to the club.
“I have zero problems with this. So I’m gonna put this on you. You have the biggest problem with this. I want you to explain your problem,” Gee said.
“I think right off the bat it looks like a conflict of interest,” Ursula responded. “Initially, when you have a mayor who has strong ties to this club, to get nearly $800,000, I would at least want to know, ‘was this process fair?'”
The money comes as one of several equitable development grants from the city, with the Office of Planning and Community Development in charge of recommending to the city who should receive the funding.
Other projects funded include Tubman Health, a new health clinic planned for Rainier Valley; a new office for Muslim Housing Services; and improvements to the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center in Discovery Park.
The Royal Esquire Club was founded in 1947 when the city was still segregated, and police raids terrorized the Black community when they tried setting up social clubs. The club has been at its current location since 1985, where it has hosted social events from football watch parties to dance classes and provided a space for the Black community to gather.
“I am glad that the Royal Esquire gets nearly $800,000 to still exist because I want to say, as a black man, the Royal Esquire is very important in the black community,” Gee said. “This is a place that we definitely want to still exist. As far as having ties to the Royal Esquire, I’ll tell you what, a lot of people who are black in Seattle, which is a very small population, have ties to the Royal Esquire.”
Membership has lagged in recent years, but “Harrell, who joined the club’s leadership in 2016, has been credited with bringing new ideas and a fresh recruiting push that has helped swell membership ranks,” the Seattle Times article states.
Jamie Housen, a Harrell spokesperson, said to The Seattle Times that Harrell resigned from the club in November 2021 and that the mayor “had no role in deciding which organizations would receive the awards, and did not receive or score the applications.”
“It wasn’t a good look for Mayor Harrell, because he has very close ties to it,” Ursula said. “And then it is something that now they’re saying, ‘well, it actually was the deputy mayor and a community advisory group that looked at these different groups,’ it still looks like there’s a conflict of interest. I’m not trying to deny that this is an important place. I’m talking about the connection between Mayor Bruce Harrell and his strong connections to it.”
Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.