A large window in an office high in the Seattle Municipal Tower gives a panoramic view of a section of downtown Seattle; it is where Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell has been working since the week of his election this month and will continue to work until he assumes office in January.

In the thick of people, buildings and construction work below, Harrell zeroed in on largely illegible graffiti letters painted in bright pink on a barrier wall of I-5 southbound Friday afternoon. 

“I don’t think it’s monolithic. There could be some gangs involved, and there are some striking artists involved,” said Harrell, peering from his perch 41 stories up. “So I’m going to first investigate the culture and then I’m going to try to start a relationship with a lot of these folks,” Harrell said of his plan to “clean up” and prevent graffiti, a promise he repeated throughout his campaign. 

Those working closely with him during and after the campaign describe a similar research-relationships approach as a hallmark of Harrell’s, and say it will influence his search for transition team members and key city personnel. 

“It’s one of his greatest strengths, his ability to listen to folks and to take it all in and to change his mind if that is what he needs to do,” Monisha Harrell, the mayor-elect’s niece and campaign manager, said. “He’s really growth-oriented and focused.”

Harrell, who earned 59% of the vote to become mayor, says he’ll cast a wide net in his search for city leadership, but is leaning on familiar figures as he transitions into office. He is expected to announce other members of his official transition team on Tuesday.

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In the first two weeks of the transition, Harrell’s campaign carry-over team has “kept the band together,” relying on former campaign staffers to lead the charge on establishing priority-based transition committees, Monisha Harrell said.

“We have brought everybody who will come with us over to work on the transition. There’s a lot of heavy lifting in the city right now and we have a great group that works very well together,” she said Friday. “Any member who was on the campaign side is now a key member of the transition team.”

Aside from the mayor-elect and Monisha Harrell, others working out of the municipal tower include Annie Maher, who was an assistant campaign manager; and Christian Sinderman and Jamie Housen, with NWP Consulting.

The list of people Harrell says were most influential to his campaign is largely the same. 

“Christian Sinderman, Monisha Harrell, Jamie Housen and my wife, Joanne Harrell, they were critical voices as we continued to strategize,” Harrell said of his team. 

“Starting with Christian Sinderman, [he provided] strong policy advice, reaching out to leaders in different industries, such as climate change and transportation, and making sure that we articulated policies that were best practices. Jamie Housen on Christian’s team was just a strong policy wonk and, again, provided a lot of solid advice on the same areas,” Harrell explained.

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“Monisha Harrell [provided] excellent outreach strategies, talking to legislators on the state and federal level making sure that we were listening, and developed relationships,” Harrell said. “My wife, Joanne Harrell, who has a background in what’s called citizenship and public policy, [provided] public engagement, making sure that we had, again, a great think tank behind our ideas.”

Harrell said he wasn’t sure who in his campaign might serve on his transition team or in his administration, but did note that any role assumed by his wife, who is an executive with Microsoft and on the Board of Regents for the University of Washington, would be “strictly that of a volunteer” and joked that the city would “get a bargain” for any volunteer work she would do. 

Now the team is working on recruiting a “brain trust” to serve on transition committees to oversee some of Harrell’s top priorities. 

“We have been working through transition committees that are topically related so that we can gather some brain trust around some of the big issues that the city will be facing,” Monisha Harrell said. “Homelessness and housing and public safety are all issues that we want to hear from folks on. So we’re really just setting up the folks that we need to talk to in and around those issues.”

Bruce Harrell said the transition team will be named this week, but the search for more permanent members of the administration will take longer.

“Right now, we are talking about how the administration will be structured. Not from an individual personnel level, but from what type of organization and the types of positions that will be needed,” Monisha Harrell said. “So I’m helping to set up an org. chart.”

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Filling his administration will be more challenging than usual, Bruce Harrell says, noting the number of high-level city positions, like chief of police, currently vacant or served by an interim.

“I’ve been in office for 12 years and I served with many mayors, but it just seems like there’s an incredible amount of both vacancies and interim positions,” Harrell said.  

Former Mayor Norm Rice, an ally of Harrell’s who supported his campaign, said that the process, though tedious, is among the most important things a new mayor does. 

“The people you choose for your administration and the way you organize it really can set the tone for your next four years, so you have to be careful,” said Rice, who served two terms from 1990-97. 

Harrell and those around him unanimously agree that to succeed in the new administration, prospective leaders must be willing to dissent. 

“I think all you’ve got to do, in my mind, is hire people who tell you the truth, who aren’t afraid to tell you if you’re wrong,” Rice said. “And then you’ll be in a position where you can spend a lot of time talking to people, and hopefully bring some healing to the city.”

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Harrell similarly described his ideal hire. 

“As I said during the campaign trail, I’m a firm believer in diversity of opinions. And I’m not looking for someone that agrees with everything that I say or even my vision for that matter. I look for strong, opinionated people who do the hard work,” he said. “And the hard work will be research, [going] out there, talking to constituencies and having bold ideas.”

While Harrell has deep local connections as a UW alumnus, local attorney and three-term City Council member, he says he’ll expand his search beyond Seattle. 

“That’s the fun part of this job, really, seeing talent surface,” Harrell said. “So I’m having conversations with internal city employees and external employees and I’m taking calls from out of the city as well.”

Monisha Harrell also said the team would “observe” the transition committee members to comb for potential members of the administration.