Before reporters, cabinet members, and his wife, former Council President Bruce Harrell became the 54th mayor of Seattle Wednesday afternoon. At 5 pm, former Mayor Ed Murray's resignation took effect and city clerk Monica Simmons swore Harrell in as interim mayor. Murray was not present.
"Our duties transcend a person or an office," Harrell said, pledging to work with cabinet members on city business, including the upcoming city budget.
Murray announced his resignation Tuesday after new allegations of sexual abuse. In total, five men have publicly accused Murray of sexually abusing them in the 1970s and 80s when they were teenagers. The latest allegation, first reported by the Seattle Times, came from the son of Murray's cousin. Murray has denied all of the allegations but resigned about two hours after the latest news broke.
Per the city's charter, Harrell will become interim mayor for five calendar days. He will either retain the mayorship and lose his council seat or another council member will take the job. (A couple of possibilities: Tim Burgess, who's retiring at the end of the year, or Lorena González, who is very likely to win re-election to her council seat in the November election.) Either way, the council will appoint a replacement for the open council seat. The interim mayor will remain in office until the results of the November mayoral election are certified and either Jenny Durkan or Cary Moon becomes mayor.
If he does not remain mayor, Harrell said he has asked the council to be ready to appoint another member to the seat by September 18. That way, a new mayor will be in place by the September 25 presentation of the mayor’s 2018 budget.
Harrell will meet with cabinet members this Friday and “issue a citywide email to all employees ensuring them continuity is key.” Harrell said he may also meet with Durkan and Moon Friday to address their questions about the transition to the next administration.
Harrell gave little indication Wednesday of whether he plans to remain mayor. He said he would decide by Friday at 5 pm but would not elaborate on what would go into his decision making.
“I’m not sure you need to know my algebra, you just need to know my outcome," Harrell said. “The city is first. It has nothing to do with my personal agenda or what I want. I don’t want to swivel around in a chair.”
Six of Harrell's eight council colleagues were present for his swearing in. Kshama Sawant and Mike O’Brien were not there.
Currently serving his third term on the council, Harrell is considered a moderate who's generally close to the city's business interests but has also shown an independent streak. He's taken criticism from opponents of the youth jail and new precinct in North Seattle and for owning a million-dollar condo in Bellevue. He has also supported some causes of the council's left wing, including unionization for ride share drivers and employment and housing protections for people with criminal records. He has long advocated for police body cameras.
He ran for mayor in 2013—the year Ed Murray was elected—but came in fourth place with 15 percent of the vote in the primary. In 2015, after the city council switched to district elections, Harrell touted his roots in Seattle's south end. He won—barely. After that close race, the South Seattle Emerald's Marcus Green told me "people [in Harrell's district] are somewhat fed up with the establishment and its seeming nonresponsiveness to [their] concerns. For good or ill, I think Bruce Harrell represents that for some people because he's been in city hall eight years." If Harrell gives up the mayorship and retains his council seat, he'll be up for re-election again in 2019.
In July, after the Seattle Times broke the news that an Oregon child welfare investigator had determined that Murray should no longer be a foster parent because of sexual abuse allegations, pressure increased on the mayor to resign but he refused. At the time, Harrell told reporters that the city's residents "did not ask us to judge anyone for something that happened 33 years ago or maybe didn’t happen." After the mayor resigned, Harrell struck a different tone, saying the allegations were "unspeakable and require the utmost attention from our legal and social service system no matter how long ago they might have occurred."
Asked Wednesday whether he regretted his earlier remarks, Harrell said that "if any kind of heinous act was committed 10 years ago, 30 years ago, 50 years ago and the healing, if you will, of the victim is part of the process of unveiling that, certainly a person should be judged for that.
"What I try to do on a day to day basis when I meet someone is not judge them, not ask them what they were doing 30 years ago," Harrell said, saying his earlier statement was "taken out of context."*
“I’m very close, closer than I’d like to describe publicly, to the issue of childhood abuse," Harrell said. "Certainly, if one of my grandchildren were a victim and there was a person I knew who committed that act, certainly I would evaluate that...but I hope we become a city that evaluates most people now on what they are today and who they are and that there's another process to make sure [the] fair adjudication of crimes."
*On July 17, Harrell spoke to reporters at City Hall, saying he was not asking Murray to resign and that he believed Murray was doing his job. Here’s the full quote in question. (Thanks to Crosscut’s David Kroman for providing audio of this exchange.)
KING 5 reporter Elisa Hahn: You’re saying the mayor is doing his job. I think what we are maybe asking is should he have that job? Given the fact that there will be no trial for this. This is way past the statute of limitations. Due process is not going to happen in this case. So, given the facts of the case, should the mayor have his job?
Bruce Harrell: So, the mayor was elected by the people of Seattle. The people of Seattle, in my opinion—and I talk to them every single day—are concerned about strong leadership. They did not ask us to judge anyone for something that happened 33 years ago or that maybe didn’t happen. We just don’t know. And I would ask that I don’t want to be judged for anything 33 years ago or perhaps it’s something that someone may take exception to. And I would challenge each of you to think about where you were 33 years ago. The question is are you doing your job today right now. And if there’s another process by which you are to be evaluated for that incident 33 years ago, then that process should take place and we shouldn’t thwart that process. So the process in Oregon about what happened 33 years ago, I understand the statute of limitations have run but I don’t know what the legislature may do. So, that is an independent process to determine what happened in Oregon 33 years ago. My focus is on what’s in the best interest of this city right now.