Almost a year ago I wrote that an economic emergency awaited Seattle’s next mayor.

Then, the components included the JumpStart payroll tax putting Seattle at a disadvantage in the region, rising crime and lack of attention to public safety, homelessness and the pandemic emptying offices. Behind this was an antipathy to business by a majority on the City Council.

Now, Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell inherits most of the same challenges. And although Seattle has a “strong mayor” form of government, the council budged only slightly toward the center (small-business owner Sara Nelson won the seat held by M. Lorena González, Harrell’s opponent). Another plus was Ann Davison’s win as an anti-crime city attorney.

Voters sent a strong message. A poll by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce found that 68% of respondents felt the city was on the wrong track.

But Harrell will spend much of his time playing defense and trying to forge winning coalitions among council members. This week, the council majority began considering a $10 million cut to the police budget, something opposed by Mayor Jenny Durkan and Harrell.

But he does get it — about the holistic character of improving safety, reducing the unsheltered population, helping small and minority-owned businesses, stopping the divisive rhetoric against the business community, and addressing downtown’s challenges, all to bolster the city’s economy.


He understands that downtown is not just another Seattle neighborhood, as his opponent implied. The central core generates the majority of city business taxes and was the largest employment center in the Pacific Northwest, pre-pandemic. A record 98,000 people live there, too.

In the chamber poll, while 87% agree that a thriving downtown is critical to our region’s economic recovery, the same proportion said downtown can’t fully recover until the homelessness and public safety problems are stressed.

“Downtown Seattle was the most impacted neighborhood throughout the pandemic,” Harrell told the Downtown Seattle Association. “The loss of office commuters, retail destination commerce, service sector jobs, and tourism hurt not only our city — but impacted the entire economy and well-being of our region.”

As mayor, he pledged to begin a citywide listening tour downtown, hearing from small-business owners and employees. In addition, he promised to prioritize help for Seattle’s restaurants, nightlife, cultural institutions and the hospitality sector. Taking on homelessness and reforming the Police Department “without threat of arbitrary defunding” are also on his downtown list, things that would improve the entire city.

“Safe downtown streets are vibrant, lively places with people from all walks of life,” he told the association. “We must also do everything we can to make sure those who live downtown feel secure and supported.”

He added, “A downtown Seattle that is thriving, welcoming, and safe is a downtown that once again will serve as a focal point of our region’s prosperity and growth.”


But Harrell must do more. He must build a constructive relationship with big business, including Amazon, not least because it constitutes a large piece of the city’s tax base.

That 800 “big businesses” are swept up in the City Council’s payroll tax shows its importance. This sector is responsible for large numbers of well-paying jobs and includes such major headquarters as Starbucks, Zillow, Weyerhaeuser, Nordstrom and Expedia, as well as Amazon. These bigger companies feed the small-business ecosystem.

Meanwhile, Bellevue is hungry to take Seattle’s jobs because of the city’s self-inflicted wounds.

Durkan never did what Harrell promises and must do. She was also a lousy retail politician, another difference from Harrell.

Remote work is not forever, particularly as vaccination rates grow. Nationally, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, the share of people teleworking because of the pandemic has fallen from more than 30% as a share of total employment in spring 2020 to slightly higher than 10% this fall. Seattle needs to be ready.

After Durkan surrendered part of the city to lawlessness, and the preceding scandal of Ed Murray, Seattle desperately needs a successful mayor.


Every other major city in which I’ve lived had mayors and city councils that focused on economic growth and attracting and retaining good jobs.

Not here. Seattle has been so rich in a diversified and high-end economy that it seemed a perpetual-motion machine. Behind it were the assets to attract world-class talent and companies, capitalizing on the “back to the city movement” that began at the turn of the century and gathered momentum in the 2010s.

With Amazon, a vibrant startup scene, outposts of the Big Tech from Silicon Valley, and civic stewards such as the late Paul Allen powering the economy, politics didn’t seem to matter. Until it did. Since the middle of the past decade, City Hall’s shift from pragmatic liberalism to the far left became ever more of a drag.

Now, even though the evidence shows that, post-pandemic, corporate headquarters will still gravitate to Superstar Cities, everything is at risk in Seattle. Mayor Harrell and a tack to the center are arriving just in time.