With a little over a week remaining before votes are counted, Seattle’s mayoral race exploded into vitriol Saturday as rivals Bruce Harrell and M. Lorena González traded accusations of racism and enabling sexual abusers.

The spark was a new attack ad aired by González’s campaign, which accuses Harrell of siding with sexual abusers including ex-Mayor Ed Murray — a late hit that was blasted as desperate and racist by Harrell and allies including Black community leaders.

At a virtual news conference organized by Harrell on Saturday, speakers demanded that City Council President González pull the commercial, which juxtaposes images of Harrell with media accounts of the Murray sex-abuse scandal. The ad features a white rape survivor who says she could never vote for Harrell.

James Bible, a civil-rights attorney and former head of the local NAACP who donated $550 to the González campaign, called the ad “gut-wrenching” and “a race to the bottom” at the news conference. He added: “Lorena, you just demonstrated you would do anything to win.”

The 30-second ad seeks to contrast González, who was the first member of the Seattle City Council to publicly call for Murray to consider resigning several months into the 2017 scandal, with Harrell, who made no such public demands and at times defended the mayor from calls for him to step down.

The new commercial opens with the woman, identified only by her first name and initial, saying she’d been raped five years ago, and that the rapist was never prosecuted.


“It was horrifying to me to hear Bruce Harrell defend Ed Murray saying people shouldn’t be judged by what they’ve done in the past,” she says in the ad, adding later, “Bruce Harrell has repeatedly sided with abusers. As a survivor, I could never vote for him.”

Harrell and his allies Saturday called the ad blatantly racist, saying it reinforces tropes about dangerous Black men and sexual violence and has caused pain to people in the Black community, including those who have worked with sexual-assault survivors.

“It was more than a dog whistle. It was blatant,” said Harrell.

Gerald Hankerson, regional president for the NAACP, went further than others Saturday, saying González should apologize and resign. “You don’t deserve to hold any office,” he said.

Hankerson compared the ad to the “Willie Horton” ad in the 1988 presidential campaign, which stoked white fears of crime by showing a photo of a Black man who raped a white woman while on prison furlough.

Hankerson, like most of the speakers at the event, has endorsed Harrell.


The controversial González ad, which comes as she trails in publicly released polling, resurfaced a painful episode in Seattle history.

Murray resigned in September 2017 after a cousin became the fifth man to accuse him of decades-ago sexual abuse. Murray denied all the allegations and was never charged criminally. Three of his five accusers were Black, and all were teens at the time they say Murray raped and molested them.

Harrell was council president during the scandal and briefly served as interim mayor after Murray’s resignation. González also was on the council and had previously served as Murray’s legal counsel.

In July 2017, González called on Murray to consider stepping down before the end of his term after The Seattle Times reported that an Oregon child-welfare investigator had concluded in 1984 that Murray had sexually abused his foster son.

Harrell, like most other council members, did not join the call, telling reporters the mayor was still “doing his job” and adding Seattle residents “did not ask us to judge anyone for something that happened 33 years ago or maybe didn’t happen… I don’t want to be judged for anything 33 years ago.”

But Lincoln Beauregard, the attorney who represented Murray accuser Delvonn Heckard in the April 2017 lawsuit that broke the scandal into public view, defended Harrell at Saturday’s event and called the attack ad a dishonest and inflammatory portrayal.


He accused González of doing nothing substantive behind the scenes to oust Murray, despite her public statements.

González declined to pull the ad and doubled down in a statement from her campaign Saturday afternoon.

“Bruce Harrell has a troubling history of discrediting survivors of abuse and harassment. As Council President, he used his position to defend Ed Murray, even after multiple, credible accusations of child rape. His response to this ad is another example of him denying the facts and discrediting a victim,” the statement sent by campaign manager Alex Koren said.

The campaign also released a statement from the woman who appeared in the ad. “The facts are the facts. Like so many people, my rape was not taken seriously because of the dismissive and hostile system created by people in power like Bruce Harrell,” she said.

In support of its ad, the González campaign also cited an accusation published by a South Seattle Emerald columnist, Lola Peters, who wrote in August that about two decades ago Harrell had advised the board of a nonprofit organization she was on to discredit the reputations of people accusing a senior staff member of sexual harassment.

But Elma Horton, who served on the same nonprofit board, disputed that account at Saturday’s news conference, saying Harrell had never given any such advice. “It’s just not right. It’s just not true. And it’s disgraceful,” she said.


In addition to its news conference, the Harrell campaign released an open letter calling the ad “a new low in civic discourse” and demanding it be taken down. The letter is signed by some 40 Black community leaders, including state Reps. Jesse Johnson and David Hackney, and Michelle Merriweather, president of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle.

“We are writing to ask you to immediately cease broadcast of your factually inaccurate and racially charged advertisement wherein a white woman insinuates that Bruce Harrell, a Black man, is in some way connected to her trauma as a sexual assault victim,” the letter stated.

For more information about voting, ballot drop boxes, accessible voting and online ballots, contact your county elections office. Ballots are due by 8 p.m. on Nov. 2.

For more information on your ballot, in any county, go to: myvote.wa.gov