Bruce Harrell Is Running for Mayor

The Council Member with an Independent Streak Has Big Ideas for Running the City

Bruce Harrell Is Running for Mayor

Kelly O

BRUCE HARRELL Promises to fund a year of community college for all public-high-school graduates, set rigorous new standards for SPD, and organize a statewide initiative on gun control.

On occasion, more controversial politicians have upstaged Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell, but that speaks to his credit. Harrell wields his words like weapons: His voice is sometimes lost among the council’s parliamentary tedium, but it booms when he takes up an issue, including job rights for ex-convicts and public nursing rules for new mothers. And by announcing this week that he’s running for mayor, ready with a slew of ideas to set the city on a new course, Harrell will be thrust into the civic spotlight where he’s most at ease.

Facing six opponents, the chair of the council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee nonetheless finds himself at a convenient crossroads of support. He will be uniquely positioned to satisfy a base that knows him as a social-justice advocate—reining in a troubled police department—while appealing to influential business lobbies. They’re two constituencies that tend to clash, but then again, Harrell’s five years in office have defined him as uncommonly independent.

“Bruce has always been known as his own guy,” says Seattle city attorney Pete Holmes, who has not made any endorsement in the mayor's race, and applauds Harrell’s work to appoint a strong court monitor to oversee police reforms (despite pushback from Mayor Mike McGinn).

Already, Harrell has made several specific promises, including a plan to fund a year of community college for all public-high-school graduates, set rigorous new standards to gauge the police department’s effectiveness, and organize a statewide initiative on gun control. “My groundswell will come from peeling off a lot of people in the different bases,” Harrell says, citing labor, parents with children in public school, business, and legal blocs (he’s also an attorney).

For an example of Harrell’s fancy political footwork, Holmes says you can look to the spring of 2010, when Harrell crossed polarized factions in city hall. Mayor McGinn was facing off against a wealthy downtown business conglomerate that was lobbying hard to penalize aggressive panhandlers. The city council had just narrowly passed a bill, but the mayor threatened to veto it. (The tourism industry argued that new panhandling fines would make visitors feel safer, while advocacy groups and lawyers questioned whether the bill was even constitutional.) So McGinn—an opponent of the deep-bore tunnel who was also locking horns with the council—nixed the panhandling bill at a press conference. And who was there to back up the embattled mayor? Harrell. Harrell disagreed with the mayor on the tunnel and he was certainly an ally of downtown business, yes, but he’d also opposed the panhandling bill on ethical grounds and came to the mayor’s defense.

“Mayor McGinn could cure cancer tomorrow and the headlines would read ‘Mayor cures cancer too late,’” Harrell jokes. It’s an affable speech, but a daring one to make in front of newspaper reporters.

That moment encapsulates Harrell’s style as a politician who has refused to be beholden to one ally or the other, and who is now even challenging the very mayor he defended a few years ago. “I take pride in the fact that I have a lot of people around me who challenge me and what I do,” says the 54-year-old candidate from Seattle’s Central District. “The people around me know that they can cuss me out or praise me and they will still be my friend. Having worked with this mayor, I don’t know that he’s as open to opposing feedback as a strong leader should be.”

Although elected twice to the city council, Harrell may not be as well-known as the local giants who have already joined the crowded mayor’s race. In fact, when he ran for reelection last year, a poll on our website found that 45 percent of our readers did “not know anything about Bruce Harrell.” As he faces off in a race with titanic challengers in this election—including McGinn, Council Member Tim Burgess, former council member Peter Steinbrueck, and state senator Ed Murray—the attention on the mayor’s race gives Harrell a civic platform to charm the hell out of Seattle.

Which isn’t to say that Harrell is relying on theatrics.

Among Harrell’s accomplishments: systemically switching the city to cost-saving, environmentally conscious LED streetlights when he chaired the council’s City Light Committee. Next month, Harrell says, he expects to pass a bill that would ban companies in Seattle from asking about the criminal record of people applying for employment or denying them jobs based on that history (except in certain circumstances). “This is a policy change that can help us with recidivism, and the data is overwhelming that when employment increases, crime decreases,” Harrell says. “It has upset many people in the business community, but in that process, I think I’ve gotten nearly all of them to come around because I have forced a very difficult discussion about what our society does to people who have committed crimes and how they are treated.” Harrell says he has the votes to pass it. And if such a bill costs him the donations of some well-heeled campaign donors, that’s not a concern.

“I honestly believe that this particular campaign is not going to be a race to see who raises the most money,” Harrell says. “I think money is used for publicity, and this race will get a lot of publicity. I will raise enough money to be very competitive, and there are plenty of people waiting to write me checks. But I want this to be about who has the best ideas.”

And Harrell has plenty of innovative—if unconventional—ideas.

Harrell wants to use his position as mayor to help expand a program at two South Seattle high schools that guarantees graduates one year at community college. By raising a $20 million endowment, he says, that promise of offering a 13th year of education can be extended to all students enrolled in Seattle Public Schools. “Under my leadership, I will raise that $20 million and we will send a message to these kids that going to college is there for them,” he says. He would also use that bully pulpit to run a statewide initiative allowing cities, such as Seattle, to enact gun controls more restrictive than state law. “Rather than rely on Olympia to afford us that relief,” he says, that freedom would allow Seattle to “tailor laws to protect our city.”

Harrell further vows to maintain efforts to affix body cameras to Seattle police officers, thereby creating a video record of incidents, increasing transparency and accountability.

I also ask Harrell about race. Half Japanese and half African American, Harrell doesn’t think it makes a difference. “This city has clearly demonstrated a willingness to look beyond race when electing people,” he says, adding, “I don’t subscribe to the belief that all communities of color think alike.” And while that’s true, it may also be true that in a city with a growing Asian population—and an African American population looking for a police force more sensitive to racial minorities—a mixed-race candidate may have an irresistible appeal to some voters.

It certainly seemed to help at a packed reelection campaign fundraiser in 2011, when roughly 80 percent of the crowd was nonwhite. “As an elected official, there is envy in my heart because it is difficult to get such a diverse group… together for one politician,” Larry Gossett, the only African American on the King County Council, told me at the time.

And Harrell acknowledges that his own background is key to understanding why he’s running for mayor. His grandfather moved to Seattle in 1942 without a high-school education, and his Japanese grandfather arrived about a decade earlier. “This was a time when racial bigotry was common practice,” Harrell says, but Seattle showed them the compassion that allowed them to be successful. Nowadays, he says that compassion is lacking, people are divided into camps. “For instance, I will define you as someone who rides the bus, and you will define me as someone who drives a car,” he laments. “As a community leader and a mentor, I try hard to listen and to understand the needs of people. So you ask why I run for mayor, and I say I am running for mayor because I want to resurrect that spirit in this city of compassion and understanding.” recommended

This article has been updated to clarify that Holmes has not made an endorsement in the mayor's race.


Comments (24) RSS

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The mixed race guy vs the homosexual! Which "qualification" will the Stranger find more endorsable? Stay tuned for part two when Domimatrix compares Harrell's and Murray's penises!
Posted by Stranger'sWorstNightmare on January 15, 2013 at 4:49 PM · Report this
He is such a breath of fresh air! We need more politicians like this that will just tell it as it is!
Posted by Sheeeeit! on January 15, 2013 at 5:03 PM · Report this
Will he ask for taxpayers money back from the First AME church today which the all but stole in the corrupt sale of MLK school? Or will he offer the "social" justice community more swag?
Posted by Seattle style corruption on January 15, 2013 at 5:17 PM · Report this
Blacks make up less than 8% and dropping of Seattle. Hardly enough to pander too.
Posted by The $ocial Ju$tice Community on January 15, 2013 at 5:27 PM · Report this
So will his hire a thug policy mean The Stranger will have to hire a rapist to work in the cubicle next to cienna? Or will this be another case of do what us do-gooders say, not what we do.
Posted by Hug-a-thug on January 15, 2013 at 5:53 PM · Report this
Asparagus! 6
I don't support his aliased striped shirt policies.
Posted by Asparagus! on January 15, 2013 at 6:06 PM · Report this
I predict he will be the next Mayor. My predictions have been correct since age 11.
Posted by michael bell on January 15, 2013 at 6:24 PM · Report this
Bruce is a refreshing candidate; finally someone willing to speak their own mind and cross a particular segment if he disagrees with them. This is going to be fun to watch.
Posted by right-on on January 15, 2013 at 6:32 PM · Report this
lauramae 9
Hey I don't live in Seattle, but had a chance to talk with Bruce Harrell a few years ago when he came to an event at my workplace. He had accompanied Norm Rice. We had a short side conversation that really seemed to be about his own curiosity about tribes, treaties, historical relationships. He had nothing to gain from the conversation, which he initiated.

He seemed like a good guy that was down to earth, interested in learning something and who took the time to listen.
Posted by lauramae on January 15, 2013 at 7:56 PM · Report this
Finally, someone we can vote for! Smart dude who seems serious about taking care of this city. Bless him, and bless Pete Holmes for sticking up for him.

Things he isn isn't:

1) The current sucky mayor
2) The current yawner legislator who doesn't know anything about being mayor
3) A washed up former city councilmember
4) A washed up current city councilmember
5) Any of those other loons running

Posted by finally, a grownup! on January 15, 2013 at 8:56 PM · Report this
@6 Four moire years!
Posted by capicola on January 15, 2013 at 11:43 PM · Report this
Once upon a time a very great warrior sent five vile rapscallions to their graves prior to falling upon his sword before the eyes of thine own gendarmerie.

The bastard.
Posted by photon_irl on January 16, 2013 at 1:04 AM · Report this
ScrawnyKayaker 13
@6, @11 You rock!
Posted by ScrawnyKayaker on January 16, 2013 at 8:44 AM · Report this
Should Seattle's Lower Class vote for him?Nope;like the other non-socialistic candidates,Bruce doesnt' give a damn about a sizeable percent of the populace (probably more than thirty percent).Pfft! ----- http://socialistalternative.org
Posted by 5th Columnist on January 16, 2013 at 2:13 PM · Report this
Dominic, kept waiting for the other foot to drop and well, it sounds like all good news. God how this city needs a stand up mayor...
Posted by Seattle Joe on January 16, 2013 at 7:15 PM · Report this
Texas10R 16
His press release says, "He will create 20 Community Service Officers..." (Will these CSOs be animated from body parts scavenged from the cemetery? And from what funding, we all should ask.)

His press release also says, "To support his vision, Harrell stated he will convert the majority of the community centers to Empowerment Centers, giving youth, seniors and all people the tools and curriculum to be successful."
What a bunch of gibberish.

Why would you need to convert, let's say, the Miller Community Center (19th Ave E & E Thomas on Capitol Hill) into an "Empowerment Center"? The cost of changing the names would reduce the funding for whatever great new programs he would "create." What a bunch of bullshit. Why not just make the existing "community centers" better?

For more faux-policy-vision cliches, check out Bruce's Website:

He seems like a super nice guy, but what kind of "attorney" has so many typos in his own online campaign materials?

Posted by Texas10R on January 17, 2013 at 4:58 AM · Report this
Texas10R 17
@ 7
...and you're now what, 12?
Posted by Texas10R on January 17, 2013 at 3:01 PM · Report this
Cascadian Bacon 18
At least he is not McGinn, and actually from Seattle for a change.

But looks like he is another Seattle progressive eager to trample upon the Bill of Rights in the name of social justice.
Posted by Cascadian Bacon on January 17, 2013 at 7:57 PM · Report this
Texas10R 19
@ 18
Hey, troll-boy:
Nothing in Harrell's campaign material that I have seen says ANYTHING that would, as you say, "trample upon the Bill of Rights in the name of social justice."

It's true that he says he wants to pass a state law that would give discretion to cities to pass gun laws more restrictive than gun laws passed by the state. That could hardly be accurately described as a "trample upon the Bill of Rights...", even if is poorly conceived.

Such a law, for example, could make it illegal to buy a gun in Bellevue and then drive home to Seattle with it in your car. People do crazy shit when drafting legislation during a panic attack.
Of course, gangbangers would just do what they always do –buy or steal (or trade for) a stolen gun and then they're ready for business because GUN LAWS ARE IRRELEVANT TO CRIMINALS. (Got that, Bruce?)
Posted by Texas10R on January 18, 2013 at 6:08 AM · Report this
unfortunately for him I still remember his rambling speech about jobs during the press conference held to calm fears and educate the public when Ethan stowicki was still on the run.
Posted by reality1 on January 19, 2013 at 1:13 PM · Report this
21 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
Interesting that he is now claiming to be half Japanese and Half African American, because when the John T. Williams stuff was going down, he also claimed to be part Native American.
Posted by cattycat on January 21, 2013 at 2:41 AM · Report this
Nice article. I have to hand it to the Stranger for writing an article about Bruce Harrell and not mentioning football once. Obviously, the Stranger readers aren't great (American) football fans so I'll do the honors. Bruce was a great football player and played in one of the best games I've ever witnessed. He played for the school you see in the background (Garfield). On the other side was a running back named Joe Steele, from Blanchet. The game went to several overtimes before Blanchet won. They both went on to play for the UW, leading the team to several bowl games. Despite the fact that he would likely have been drafted, Mr. Harrell declined to play in the NFL and went to the UW law school instead. More here, from about five years ago: http://www.seattlepi.com/sports/article/…
Posted by Ross on January 22, 2013 at 5:59 PM · Report this
What in the hell does his football career have to do with anything?

Posted by Ddbrile on January 24, 2013 at 11:29 PM · Report this

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