A life-size cardboard cutout in Bruce Harrell’s campaign office shows the Seattle City Council member in boxing gloves and shorts. There’s a smile on his face, but the muscular physique of the former University of Washington linebacker leaves little doubt that his punch could do some damage.
Tuesday afternoon, Harrell, 54, announced that he would enter the crowded field for mayor. While some other candidates have said the 2013 race isn’t about the incumbent but about their own vision for the city, Harrell wasted no time in landing a blow to Mayor Mike McGinn.
“I respect different styles of leadership. His style is ineffective,” Harrell said.
Harrell, a former corporate lawyer, is best known on the council for initiatives around police reform and social justice. He’s pushed for body cameras for officers and for a strong monitor to oversee federally mandated changes to the Police Department over the use of force and biased policing.
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Harrell is critical of McGinn regarding both of those efforts, noting that the mayor initially opposed the appointment of a monitor who was widely viewed as the most effective, because he wanted buy-in from the rank and file. Of body cameras for police officers, Harrell said McGinn didn’t include the issue in current union negotiations or make it part of the negotiated settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
Harrell said the best way to ensure accountability is to create a video record of every encounter between police and the public. “In cities such as Oakland and Cincinnati that have adopted body cameras,” he added, “both the police and the public have overwhelmingly supported them.”
State Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-37th District, said Harrell would bring great executive and management experience to the mayor’s office because of his background as chief counsel for what was then US West (now CenturyLink), a lawyer in private practice and a UW football player (Rose Bowl champions, 1978).
“He can manage a lot of complicated challenges, not least of which is implementation of the DOJ lawsuit. Both his legal background and his experience in athletics prepared him for those issues that require someone to bring people together,” Pettigrew said.
Former Mayor Wes Uhlman also is supporting Harrell for mayor. They met when Harrell was a 14-year-old student from Seattle’s Central Area, and Uhlman said he was impressed even then by Harrell’s intelligence and passion for justice.
“He’s a very bright guy. He has a strong sense of social justice. He wants to make the world right. But even though he’s principled, he also has a grasp of what’s practical in politics,” Uhlman said.
Harrell is a native Seattleite and the only minority on the City Council, the son of a Japanese-American mother and an African-American father. Harrell grew up hearing stories of his grandfathers persevering against racial bigotry through hard work and by taking advantage of the opportunities that were opened to them.
Ensuring that those pathways remain open is one of his priorities as a politician, he said.
But Harrell has drawn the ire of landlords and business owners for proposals to limit what they can ask about an applicant’s criminal history. Harrell said he wants to do something about the 409,000 people in King County with criminal records who struggle to find work.
“There’s a direct correlation between recidivism and a person’s inability to get a job,” he said.
Lynn Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8305. On Twitter: @lthompsontimes