A city deeply divided over homelessness, policing and equity, and reeling from crises of public health and infrastructure needs, must have decisive and effective City Hall leadership. In a crowded field for Seattle’s open mayor’s seat, Bruce Harrell clearly stands out as the best fit for tackling Seattle’s many challenges.

As a former three-term council member and interim mayor, Harrell understands well how City Hall power functions and how to assemble coalitions to back crucial, collaborative changes. For years, Seattle’s progress has been hobbled by infighting between a far-left city council majority and a progressive but more moderate mayor who hadn’t previously served in city government.

Seattle Times editorial board endorsements: Election 2021

To set this right, Harrell’s proven consensus-building ability isn’t just a comfort. It’s a necessity. 

His personal story is powerful and helped shape his strong public-service record. Since his childhood in the Central District with a Black father and Japanese-American mother, he saw how race and equity issues have shaped generations of Seattle lives. He rose and kept going: Garfield High School valedictorian, all-conference linebacker and Academic All-American for the University of Washington football team, successful attorney then city council member. 

Council colleagues picked him as the body’s president. He led successful pushes to put body cameras on police and restrict employers from using criminal records to disqualify applicants. Even on matters as granular as getting effective streetlights in poorer neighborhoods, Harrell put municipal machinery to work equitably. 

Seattle needs that effectiveness to serve residents, not ideology. City Hall dithering isn’t stopping the spread of tent encampments or restoring downtown vitality, both priorities high on the Harrell agenda. And the answer isn’t just slathering more resources into the same programs that have persistently failed.

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Harrell is resolutely behind the Compassion Seattle ballot proposal for providing 2,000 new housing units for homeless people within a year, moving away from congregate shelters, and providing treatment and other assistance. Voters should approve the proposal in November to ensure city power is laser-focused on helping people out of homelessness, and return parks and sidewalks to safe public use. A high-profile Harrell campaign stop at Broadview-Thomson K-8 School showed how he wants to leverage Compassion Seattle to help. There, governmental inaction has left a tent camp sitting on public property adjoining the school for months. The city ought not tolerate such a situation. Harrell leads the field on pressing to fix it. His well-established skills at building effective collaborations will keep Seattle from letting such problems fester because of jurisdictional disputes.

Harrell also recognizes that public safety will suffer if extremist calls for massive police cutbacks succeed. But he also recognizes the urgent need to further reform Seattle policing around accountability and public trust.

“People know the work that I’ve done representing people who have been accosted by the police, so I bring a level of credibility to the argument that African-Americans want good public safety, too,” Harrell said in an interview. “They want seven-minute response times, as well. But this is a common denominator, that we want public safety. And those who are talking about abolishing a police department, I can also articulate their reasons, because they have to feel heard.” 

Harrell is more than high-concept talk on police reforms. He has called for a series of critical oversight improvements in the next Seattle police union contract, and understands the challenge of negotiating them. Though deeply flawed, the now-expired police contract Harrell helped bargain in 2018 put cameras on officers and kept compliance with the federal consent decree. At the time, Harrell said that more accountability would be necessary. Now the demand for a reckoning puts political strength behind that cause.

Harrell also speaks from deep experience on the importance of restoring downtown Seattle as a safe, welcoming destination for residents, locals and tourists, and about ensuring the Port of Seattle has ample support from the city for international commerce. The city’s prosperity — and ability to expand services for workers, families and people who need help building stable lives — depends on those economic sectors driving jobs and tax revenues.

Harrell’s experience and insight place him squarely in front of the other 14 candidates who will appear on the Aug. 3 primary ballot.

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Current Council president M. Lorena González proved she is unfit to be mayor by fostering petty government bickering and undermining Seattle Police to the point that Chief Carmen Best quit. González refused to investigate Councilmember Kshama Sawant for marching protesters to the mayor’s home and into closed-down City Hall. She also does not have an adequate plan for making city streets safe, opposes Compassion Seattle and belittled the need to prioritize fixing downtown. And she self-righteously ducks responsibility for woes that have worsened while she led the council majority. In a July 9 Seattle Times profile, she blamed Mayor Jenny Durkan and state tax laws for stymieing the council’s homelessness solutions. In a June 22 essay in The Stranger, she cited the “self-interested approach” of “large corporations” for the city’s failures. Seattle needs constructive solution-seeking, not the unnecessary public antagonism that has percolated out of the council under González.

Besides Harrell and González, only former state Rep. Jessyn Farrell has significant elective experience, having been an effective three-term legislator. Farrell showed good understanding of this pivotal moment for public health and safety by standing up for Compassion Seattle, even though it displeased liberal groups in step with her staunch transit and climate advocacy. But Farrell also supports jarring land-use changes to pack density into neighborhoods of single-family homes. Harrell encourages more sensitively targeted development.

Harrell is the clear choice to be Seattle’s next mayor. Voters should support him in the primary and the November general election. 

Editor’s note: This editorial was updated to correct the number of terms Harrell served on the Seattle City Council.