Two members of The Stranger's intrepid news team had drinks with city council candidate Bruce Harrell last week (the only topics being discussed around council chambers during their long recess have been protecting industrial lands and legalizing goats, and frankly, that could drive anyone to drink), and during a two-hour-long, far-ranging discussion, one story came up that I thought shouldn't be confined to the black box of an off-the-record discussion.
So I called Harrell, who gamely recapped the story. In short: A few years back (in 2000), Harrell, who's running against Venus Velázquez for the seat being vacated by Peter Steinbrueck later this year, represented an Eritrean immigrant named Selam Teklemariam in a discrimination lawsuit against the city. Teklemariam sued the city after she was twice passed over for higher-paying positions in favor of Filipino-American candidates. (At the time, 61 percent of the employees in the city's accounting unit were of Asian or Filipino origin, while only one was an African American.) The city settled the suit after Harrell alleged that the city employee doing the hiring, a Filipino American, had directed another city employee (also Filipino) to alter the winning candidate's results on an employment test. The winning candidate's résumé had apparently also been altered, to imply that she had a CPA when she applied for the job, months before she actually got her CPA. "It was clear that my client was equally, if not better, qualified than the selected person," Harrell says.
Harrell's case is interesting on its own; what's even more intriguing is what happened after the city settled. A few weeks before the case was scheduled for trial, the internal investigator who uncovered the altered test results and résumé was fired. The city said it was because it had discovered he had a criminal conviction; Harrell said it was because he was a whistleblower. The city was represented in that case by outside counsel. The firm that represented them? Savitt & Bruce LLP, the firm co-owned by Velázquez's husband, James Savitt. Savitt's firm has repeatedly served as private counsel on behalf of the city of Seattle—a fact Harrell has implied may constitute a conflict of interest. Velázquez calls that charge "an underhanded, sleazy slap," adding that "if I'm elected and there's a conflict of interest, we are law-abiding citizens and we will obey the law." Interestingly, Savitt's office is just three floors down from Harrell, in the Puget Sound Plaza building downtown. Harrell and Velázquez live right down the street from one another, and their neighborhood, which is plastered with dozens of signs for both candidates, shows it.
Speaking of signs: It's not unusual for campaign signs to go missing during a hotly contested election, but it's pretty unusual for a candidate to get the police involved. But that's exactly what Harrell did, when he noticed that approximately 250 of his campaign signs had been stolen. According to the police report, "The witness," a man whom Harrell later tracked down, "saw them take about 16 signs before he quit following them." Since June, Harrell has spent $7,000 on $3 corrugated plastic signs.