Housing activist Josh Farris says Bruce Harrell has contributed to building Seattle into a playground for the rich.
Housing activist Josh Farris says Bruce Harrell has contributed "to building Seattle into a playground for the rich." Courtesy of Josh Farris

Josh Farris, an Occupy Seattle organizer and housing activist who was part of a group that blocked the eviction of a disabled veteran last year, is challenging city council member Bruce Harrell for the council seat representing District 2 in Southeast Seattle.

Farris—an ardent Kshama Sawant supporter who says he's not a socialist—accuses Harrell of bowing to big business interests on transportation and development.

"He does a good job representing downtown monied interests and contributing to building Seattle into a playground for the rich," Farris says. "We need to transform Seattle into a city that works for the 99 percent."

Farris is advocating for rent control, allowing people to stay in their homes after foreclosure, and more protections for renters like longer notices of rent raises. (Current law says landlords have to give just 30 days notice, or 60 days for increases of 10 percent or more within the city.) Last month, Mayor Ed Murray announced a goal to build 50,000 new units of housing in the city with 20,000 of those qualifying as affordable. Farris says all 50,000 should be affordable.

On police reform, Farris wants to see the council put more pressure on the mayor to bargain for independent civilian oversight of the department and find a way to incentivize officers living within the city. And, in the South End, he says residents are frustrated with constant turnover of the South Precinct commander.

City council candidates often like to advocate for things that aren't really even up to the council, like rent control (that's a state law) or negotiating certain things into the next police contract (that's on the mayor), but Farris says it's activist voices like Sawant's and his that push those other politicians to act.

"Getting an activist into office is transformational," he says. "It creates a lot of potential for social change that’s not there when don’t have them in office. It amplifies our voice."

Farris says he served four years in the army in Korea, Germany, and Iraq, attended Seattle Central College and the University of Washington, and has since worked as a fisherman, a dishwasher, and an electrical worker as a member of IBEW Local 46.

"Bruce Harrell was football star, and he likes to talk about that," Farris says. (Harrell was a starting linebacker at the UW.) "I can talk about how I put lights on the Seahawks stadium as an electrical worker."

But Harrell, like Council President Tim Burgess, is going to be hard to beat—especially in the fundraising game. He's already raised about $96,000. His other challenger, Tammy Morales, has raised about $29,000.