Independent political action committees are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to grab eyeballs in the contest for Seattle mayor, including a new attack ad that plays to anxiety about homeless encampments and departing police officers.
Ballots were mailed out Wednesday for the Nov. 2 election, which pits Bruce Harrell against M. Lorena González for the city’s top job.
Last week, a pro-González PAC began airing a television commercial that seeks to make a connection between Harrell and former President Donald Trump, via a donor.
Now a $400,000 ad by a pro-Harrell PAC is criticizing González on various points. In response, González’s campaign says Harrell’s deep-pocketed backers are going after her because they’re afraid of her raising their taxes.
Harrell was on the City Council from 2008 to 2019. González is a current council member. The independent PACs can spend on city races but are prohibited from coordinating with the actual candidates.
Spotlighting González, the new ad from the Bruce Harrell for Seattle’s Future PAC says: “She has no plan for removing tent encampments from our parks and streets.”
González has said she would generally not “forcibly remove people out of one public space and shift the issue to another public space.” She has said the city needs to help people into shelter and housing units that meet their needs.
The Bruce Harrell for Seattle’s Future ad lists its top donors. They are Goodman Real Estate founder John Goodman; Goodman Real Estate CEO George Petrie; his wife, Alyssa Petrie; finance executive John Meisenbach; and the real estate company Hudson Pacific Properties.
Asked about the ad Wednesday, González campaign manager Alex Koren said: “We have a homelessness crisis because the people funding this ad for Bruce Harrell do not want to pay their fair share of taxes. Lorena is the only candidate with a serious plan to deal with the crisis by making the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share so that we can get people out of tents and into housing. Her homelessness plan, which is available for anyone to read on her website, is precisely the reason they are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to try and stop her from becoming mayor.”
Polls have shown homelessness is the No. 1 issue for voters. Seattle declared a state of emergency in 2015, amid rising inequality.
Harrell has pledged to remove encampments by opening more shelters and affordable housing, calling for philanthropic funds. He has promised “consequences” for people who don’t accept offers of shelter.
González has vowed to fund more shelters and affordable housing with progressive taxes. She also has said she wants to combat Seattle’s housing shortage by allowing multifamily housing to be built on more blocks.
The anti-González ad continues: “She wants to defund the police. Three hundred officers have already left.”
During 2020’s racial justice protests, González and most of her council colleagues said they agreed with some advocates that the Seattle Police Department’s budget, which had grown rapidly in previous years, should be reduced by 50%, with the money moved to alternative solutions and other needs.
Mayor Jenny Durkan and the council ultimately cut a much smaller percentage of the city’s policing budget, in large part by transferring civilian employees like parking enforcement officers to other departments. Meanwhile, many police officers have retired or quit on their own in the past two years.
In her campaign, González has said she wants to continue to move some spending from police to new options, crime prevention and social services. Harrell has said he wants to grow the police force and provide alternatives.
Showing scenes of tents in a park, a person in a disposable mask looking out a window and González, the TV spot says: “This is what she’s done as City Council president. We can’t use our parks. And we feel unsafe.”
The ad closes with scenes of the Space Needle, Harrell and the message: “It’s time for a change. It’s time for Bruce Harrell.”
Asked about the commercial, Harrell campaign spokesperson Jamie Housen said: “Ending the status quo and helping people out of parks and into housing with individualized services is central to our campaign. We’re remaining focused on delivering our positive message of … restoring lives – and our public spaces.”
The first attack ad in the general election contest came from the Essential Workers for Lorena PAC, which has been funded by local and national unions that represent retail, service and hotel workers.
Showing footage from the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the ad notes that Petrie has made large donations to Bruce Harrell for Seattle’s Future and to the Trump Make America Great Again PAC.
“Bruce Harrell’s campaign is bought and paid for by wealthy developers, big corporations and elite Republican donors,” said Koren, from González’s campaign. “Lorena’s campaign is funded by regular working Seattleites.”
Harrell and González will face off in a debate Thursday from 7 to 8 p.m. Organized by the Washington State Debate Coalition and Seattle City Club, the debate will be broadcast on local television and radio and livestreamed on seattletimes.com.