Bruce Harrell, who served on the Seattle City Council for 12 years, announced his campaign for mayor Tuesday, striking negative notes on the city’s political leadership and promising to “change the way we do things, radically.”
Harrell, 62, served on the City Council until 2019, when he declined to seek reelection, saying three terms was “sufficient.”
He ran for mayor in 2013, coming in fourth in a crowded primary. He was mayor for five days in September 2017, after then-Mayor Ed Murray resigned. Harrell, who became mayor by virtue of his role as City Council president, ultimately chose to return to the City Council, rather than serve out a mayoral term that would have ended a few months later, after the 2017 election.
He was one of three City Council members previously backed by Seattle’s business community who chose not to seek reelection in 2019.
On Tuesday, at a campaign kickoff at Garfield High School, Harrell pointed to the city’s homelessness crisis, to boarded-up businesses, to racial hatred and crime that are “commonplace” and said, “Look what Seattle has become.”
Last spring, Harrell said, during the early days of the pandemic, “We saw our government, at all levels, epitomize ineffectiveness, divisiveness, finger-pointing.”
“This is not the Seattle where I was born,” Harrell said. He cited his parents — his Black father came from the Jim Crow South and his Japanese-American mother had been incarcerated during World War II — and said, “This is not the Seattle that was the basis for their dreams.”
He proposed raising “millions of dollars” through private donations to go toward homelessness programs, but also said the city needs to explore new tax revenues “in a very collaborative way.”
He called for “immediate funding” and city personnel for “trash and debris cleanup” focused on parks, sidewalks and green spaces.
Harrell was City Council president when the council voted unanimously in 2018 to enact a head tax on large businesses, only to reverse course less than a month later under pressure from the business community.
Harrell was critical of the City Council’s push last year to cut funding to the Seattle Police Department. A majority of the City Council pledged to cut the department’s funding by half, before ultimately transferring or reallocating about 20% of the budget.
“When you want to build an effective organization, you do not starve it of resources,” Harrell said. He said he wants a “reimagined” police department, not a defunded one. He said he’d start by asking every police officer to watch the video of George Floyd’s death and to sign a statement: “The inhumane treatment of fellow human beings will not be tolerated in Seattle.”
“We’re going to start from that baseline,” Harrell said. “At the end of the day it is about training, it’s about dialogue, it’s about listening.”
Before his time on the council, Harrell worked as a lawyer, representing telecommunications companies and nonprofits. A Seattle native, Harrell graduated from Garfield High School and the University of Washington, where he played football. He also graduated from UW’s law school.
Harrell was first elected to a City Council citywide seat in 2007 and was reelected in 2011. After the city’s switch to district representation, he was narrowly reelected in 2015 in District 2, representing South Seattle.
On the City Council, he was often a swing vote between the council’s activist and moderate wings. He successfully sponsored legislation that led the city to “ban the box,” preventing employers from rejecting job applicants solely because of their criminal record. He pushed for years to get Seattle police officers to wear body cameras, which ultimately happened in 2017.
Mayor Jenny Durkan is not seeking reelection.
Other mayoral candidates include City Council President M. Lorena González, Chief Seattle Club Director Colleen Echohawk, architect and urban designer Andrew Grant Houston, and Lance Randall, the leader of a South Seattle economic-development nonprofit.