After a brief break, a cold weather emergency, and a major uptick in COVID-19 cases, it is back to school for City Hall.
Throughout the day on Tuesday, Jan. 4, the city's newly elected officials shared opening remarks as they embarked on what will surely be an interesting four years.
Mayor Harrell Dismisses Slogans and Then Rolls Out One of His Own
This morning the city clerk ceremonially swore in Mayor Bruce Harrell without fanfare or, as he joked, without his own a cappella rendition of the national anthem followed by a rap. Instead, due to rising COVID-19 cases, the new mayor opted for a more intimate ceremony in front of family, his executive team, and members of the press.
Harrell opened his address by describing a Seattle that “fear[s] that our days in front of us hold less promise than those behind us.” But he said his team would bring the city out of this time of uncertainty and fear by unifying the town into “one Seattle.”
With the help of lots of conservative money, last November Harrell handily defeated his progressive opponent, former City Council President Lorena González. Nevertheless, in his address Harrell claimed his campaign ran on a progressive agenda, and he asked “self-proclaimed progressives” — as if, at this point, there were any other kind — to give his administration a chance. In keeping with his message of unity, Harrell said he looked forward to working with them to achieve what he described as “progressive policy at its fullest.”
The most pressing issue for the new mayor involves the eviction moratorium, which former Mayor Jenny Durkan set to end on Jan. 15. Harrell said in "about a week" his administration will announce whether or not it will extend the moratorium amid the Omicron surge. Ideally, he said he would have more time to look back on the efficacy of the moratorium and then come to a decision that "balances" the protection of “vulnerable residents,” who may end up homeless as a result of lifting the current moratorium, and “vulnerable landlords,” who may end up selling their units due to lack of rental payments.
Using even vaguer terms and deadlines, Harrell laid out some bold goals needed to manifest his vision of “one Seattle.”
He said he will “make sure every resident in our city not only has health care, but that they are healthy.” He made no direct promise of the city providing health insurance, but said no one in the city should be without coverage.
Though the details so far remain unclear, he said community leaders will need to figure out who in Seattle is unhealthy and who does not have health care. In the coming months, former interim mayor and current Director of Strategic Initiatives Tim Burgess and Chief Equity Officer Adiam Emery will publish “a skeleton” of “what this will look like."
A 2019 American Community Survey showed 4.6% of Seattle residents under 65 without health insurance. A July 2021 estimate from the state’s Office of Financial Management put the uninsured population of King County at 4.1%.
Harrell’s promise to create the healthiest population in the nation sets the bar only slightly higher than it already is. In February of 2021, a study ranked Seattle the nation’s second most healthy major city based on 44 metrics. So, Harrell will just have to edge out San Francisco according to those metrics to achieve success.
He also promised that "one Seattle" will have “affordable housing for all," including seniors, working families, and vulnerable people. Toward that end, he said he will issue an executive order “demanding a full review of the approval processes, policies and implementation to expedite construction of affordable housing.”
Harrell’s plan for addressing homelessness is also still in the works. In his first quarter, he said Seattlites can hopefully expect a plan with a level of detail so “you can have a feel and a means by which you can measure what the heck we're doing.” The plan will evolve from there. If anything goes wrong, Harrell pointed to deputy mayor Tiffany Washington as the responsible party, as her new position includes a special focus on homelessness. She laughed as Harrell said she would be measured by the success of the administration’s ability to get people inside. Blink twice if you need help, Tiffany.
Harrell closed his address with more rousing we’re-all-in-this-together messaging that would give Troy Bolton himself a run for his money. He even called on the media to play nice – no idea who that was about.
“So in ‘one Seattle’, we’ll replace this fear I opened with, with love,” Harrell said. “We're stronger when we work together.”
Republican City Attorney Ann Davison Suggests Cracking Down on Misdemeanor Gun Violations
During her brief and virtual swear-in ceremony earlier in the morning, City Attorney Ann Davison, who became a Republican during the Trump administration ahead of her failed run for Lt. Governor, painted a portrait of a city gripped by fear and powerlessness to rampant crime.
“When you talk to people in Seattle today, you hear about fear,” she said. “Communities are afraid to use their parks. People are afraid to walk down 3rd Ave. Parents are afraid to send their kids to wait for the bus. Many feel powerless. Powerless to save their businesses. Powerless to make it safe to come to work. Powerless to stop bullets from flying through their windows.”
She vaguely implied that Seattle doesn’t “enforce” its laws, and she blamed her presence in office on “politicians” who were “more interested in hearing themselves talk than solving problems.”
As examples of this lack of enforcement, she mentioned the spot outside Seven Stars Pepper in Little Saigon and also 3rd Ave. She went on to imply that police failure to arrest someone on a misdemeanor gun charge led to the death of Conner Dassa-Holland, an 18-year-old who was shot and killed in May of 2020. “Conner should not have lost his life because weapons and those who use them have not been kept off the streets,” she said, pointing to a rubber bracelet she wears to honor his memory. The latest media reports suggest SPD has yet to solve the case, so we have no public information about a suspected shooter or his criminal history.
Davison took the opportunity to argue that prosecuting misdemeanor gun crimes was the City Attorney’s “duty,” and that doing so would ensure that “misdemeanor gun offenses don’t lead to felony homicides.”
According to the Seattle Police Department’s violent crime stats, reported homicides were down 14% in 2021, from 52 in 2020 to 39. The reported violent crime rate rose 8.5% between 2010 and 2020, again, according to SPD statistics. The City Attorney’s office only handles misdemeanor criminal offenses, though most of its budget lies on the civil side, a subject Davison did not address in her brief speech.
The Kumbaya Council
The first day back for City Council started out warm and fuzzy, with the council members unanimously electing Councilmember Debora Juarez as their president. The council president is the official head of the city’s legislative branch. As such, Juarez is responsible for leading council meetings, establishing committees, and covering for the mayor when he’s absent or incapacitated.
Juarez represents a more conservative faction of the council. The Seattle Times Editorial Board even vouched for her over Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who has been slightly more sympathetic to the movement to reallocate some police funding to community-based alternatives. However, her more progressive colleague, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, nominated Juarez even though she said they didn’t vote the same way on everything. Overall, the council echoed Harrell’s earlier sentiment of unity.
Councilmember Alex Pederson, who often votes with Juarez, said the vote for council president was an “opportunity to reset” and prepare to work with the new mayor. He urged the council to focus on common ground.
“Instead of labeling, let's listen. Instead of driving wedges, let's build bridges,” Pederson said. “I believe Councilmember – Council President – Juarez will enable us all to work together to deliver a better Seattle.”
In other housekeeping items, the city clerk swore in Mosqueda for her second term. She also welcomed a new council member, Sara Nelson, who will chair the Committee on Economic Development, Technology & City Light.
In her introductory remarks, Nelson referred to herself as a “pragmatic progressive,” even though Seattle’s moneyed conservatives largely bankrolled her campaign. She later clarified that her “pragmatic approach” means making a difference in people’s lives right now.
Nelson identified combating crime as her top priority. She said she will work toward adequately staffed and resourced police and fire departments, quicker 911 response times, and police reform.
Nelson pointed to homelessness as another big priority in her speech. On the campaign trail, she did not typically provide unique solutions to homelessness, but rather deferred to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority. She reaffirmed her support for KCRHA’s implementation plan, and made a plea for more money to fund mental health and addiction services.
“I know that my ability to deliver on all of this depends 100% on collaborating with my colleagues and our new mayor, because, look, in the end, the voters just want us to get things done,” she said.
Rich Smith wrote the stuff about City Attorney Ann Davison.