Former City Council President Bruce Harrell is officially running for mayor. This isn't his first time running for mayor. If he won, it wouldn't even be his first time serving as mayor. Harrell will officially announce his campaign at a press conference at his alma mater, Garfield High School, on Tuesday morning.
The Puget Sound Business Journal identified Harrell as a pro-business candidate the Seattle business community could get behind. So far, the only candidate in the race who fits in a similar mold is SEED director Lance Randall. The business community, however, was holding out hope someone like Harrell or former City Councilmember and short-term mayor Tim Burgess would run. With Harrell, they've got their wish.
Harrell is as Seattle as you can get, although there's some speculation he and his wife may have spent a lot of time in their $1.4 million Bellevue condo. When asked by The Stranger in 2013, Harrell said he and his wife hadn't slept in the condo "in four years."
Bellevue rumors aside, Harrell was born and raised in the Central District, he was valedictorian at GHS, and then he played linebacker on the Rose Bowl-winning University of Washington football team. In 2007, after years as a corporate lawyer, Harrell became a city council member. He became the first non-white council president since the 1980s when he assumed the role in 2016. Harrell was the last Black person on the council.
Harrell first vied for the mayor's office in 2013, ultimately finishing fourth in the primary. But Harrell had a taste of the office's power back in 2017, when he held the seat—but did not swivel in it, damn it—for five days following the resignation of Mayor Ed Murray, who left after five people accused him of raping them as children.
Harrell stood by Murray as accusations swirled that spring and summer. As council president, Harrell did not direct the council to investigate Murray. Notoriously, when it came to Murray, Harrell said that Seattle residents "did not ask us to judge anyone for something that happened 33 years ago or 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... 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?"
On the flip side, incidentally, current Council President Lorena Gonzalez, Harrell's biggest competition in the mayoral race, was only one of two council members to call for Murray's resignation.
In any event, after he assumed Mayor's office, Harrell had five days to decide whether he would keep the seat for the remainder of Murray's term—about one month—or give up the remaining two years of his council term. Harrell said his personal interests didn't factor into his decision. "I do put the team first and in this sense, the city is first," Harrell said, "[the decision] has nothing to do with my personal agenda, nothing to do with what I want. I don't want to swivel around in a chair."
Harrell stepped down after two days, but not before he passed four executive orders.
Harrell has had some policy wins in his time as a city representative, such as when he passed his "banning the box" policy that outlawed check-box questions about criminal records on job applications to stop employment discrimination. Harrell is also responsible for making permanent the city's race and social justice initiative, which examines all legislation through an equity lens. Harrell also originally proposed putting body cameras on Seattle Police Department officers.
Given his long political career, you'd think Harrell would have a bit more to boast about. Instead, Harrell has a political history that includes an awful lot of waffling and some not very progressive stances.
Back in 2013, Harrell lodged criticism after criticism at then-Mayor Mike McGinn over how McGinn handled the Department of Justice's intervention into SPD for "unconstitutional excessive force one out of every five times force was used." First, as the Seattle Times reported, Harrell said McGinn didn't sign the consent decree soon enough. He changed course soon after, saying he believed the unconstitutional use of force number DOJ identified was too high, and that if he were mayor he'd enter into costly litigation to figure out the real numbers.
On Indigenous Peoples' Day in 2015, after being approached by some Italians, Harrell proposed a pro-Christopher Columbus resolution that would establish an Italian Heritage Month without considering how indigenous people could find the language in the bill offensive because of, well, all the genocide. He withdrew the bill, but only after he claimed credit for drafting the original Indigenous Peoples' Day resolution (he only co-sponsored it).
Harrell was one of two council members to vote against increasing density around the Roosevelt light-rail station because it wasn't appropriate to upzone an area where "neighborhood activists... put their heart and soul into neighborhood planning."
On that tip, in 2013 Harrell told Capitol Hill Seattle Blog that more people would use the light rail if they could drive to the stations, and he advocated for more parking around light rail stations.
Harrell voted against a public campaign financing reform bill in 2015. He also criticized the city's Democracy Voucher program during its first active year in 2017. Worth around $13.3 million according to his last financial disclosure, it'll be interesting to see whether Harrell participates in the voucher program in this election.
The last time Harrell ran for office in 2015, he beat Tammy Morales for his District 2 seat by a margin of 345 votes. Will Harrell be able to keep pace with a group of more progressive candidates in a crowded mayoral race?