Nine candidates are vying to be Seattle mayor. Times City Hall reporter Lynn Thompson sat down recently with Bruce Harrell to let him introduce himself in his own words and tell voters what’s important to them. The answers have been edited for length.
Q: You’re in your second term on the Seattle City Council. What other experience would you bring to the job of mayor?
A: Professionally, being a corporate lawyer and a practicing attorney (first with US West and then in a private firm) has allowed me to work on myriad issues, from companies losing revenue streams to employment issues to people who have an idea but no business plan.
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I’ve also been a community leader for nearly three decades working with churches, organizations and community groups, being a motivator and an example of what people can do when they put their heads together and their differences aside.
Q: What would you do to ensure the Seattle Police Department has strong leadership and undertakes the work of reform?
A: First of all, I try not to use the term “reform” because that implies that the structure is broken, and I do not believe that it is. My chief of police will be energetic, charismatic and will have no tolerance for a bad attitude. My Police Department will first be known as having a positive attitude.
They will then be given the tools to succeed, and the most important tool is the expectation of the mayor. How many arrests should be made in a given month? What is the plan of attack for open-air drug markets? Have we quantified the problem? We have to quantify it to solve it. I will make my expectations crystal clear.
Lastly, I will create a learning organization. I will tell my rank and file and my command staff, “If we make a mistake, say we made a mistake, and we will learn from it.” The police have to know they will have the political insulation and moral support to admit their mistakes. They are human beings and they will make mistakes.
Q: Seattle has a $1.8 billion backlog in deferred maintenance for transportation infrastructure such as arterial streets and bridges. That’s despite a $365 million Bridging the Gap levy passed in 2006 that was meant to catch us up. How would you address that?
A: In order to decrease the backlog, we have to spend about $90 million a year. We currently spend between $40 million to $50 million a year. The first thing I would do is spend $90 million so we don’t increase the problem. Secondly, we will be the most efficient organization in terms of work rules and our labor force. I demonstrated my ability to do that when I chaired the City Council Energy Committee, which oversees City Light. I drove down operations and capital costs.
But you cannot through efficiencies address a $1.8 billion backlog. So we have to convince our public again — and this is what a strong leader does — whether it’s working with the state on a taxing structure or a tolling structure, which we’ll have to use, we have to convince our public that these are critical investments in our city.
Q: What’s your strategy for getting through a crowded primary?
A: Everyone seems to be running as a social-justice advocate. I find that astounding. If that is an issue the voters care about, and I think it is, my record on social justice will resonate louder than anyone’s. My Jobs Assistance legislation is designed to help people who have committed crimes and served their time be able to gain access to employment. No other person even thought about advancing that legislation, because it comes with a cost.
I spent years in prisons and reformatories working with inmates. Where’s the grass-roots work my opponents have done? It’s not a hobby. It’s a commitment.
Q: Last year you were talking about legislation that would restrict what landlords can ask about an applicant’s criminal history. Now you’re working with the business community to try to come up with legislation that would restrict employers from asking about criminal history during the initial screening for a job. But you haven’t been able to get anything passed. How effective a legislator are you?
The Jobs Assistance bill should be ready to vote in another two weeks. But what’s most important isn’t just passing the legislation. It’s making this city realize it’s a societal problem and we all have skin in the game.
Lynn Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes