Harrell sees himself as fitting the city's needs

The city council member views the political opportunities lining up well with his record, his positioning in the race.
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City Councilman Bruce Harrell, during an interview with Crosscut writers and editors

The city council member views the political opportunities lining up well with his record, his positioning in the race.

Bruce Harrell was asked to take off his candidate hat, put on a supposedly neutral political analyst hat, and answer this question: How can Harrell win the Seattle mayor's race when he's stuck halfway back in a large and strong field of candidates?

A recent poll conducted for KING 5 News that showed "undecided" leading at 23 percent. Incumbent Mike McGinn was in second place at 22 percent, Peter Steinbrueck at 17 percent, Ed Murray at 15 percent, Harrell at 12 percent and everyone else much farther behind. The poll questioned 552 people.

Harrell, who majored in political science as an undergraduate, was quick with this Tuesday analysis for a group of Crosscut editors and writers:

Tim Burgess's withdrawal removed the most conservative candidate — "conservative" being moderate in the predominantly liberal city. Harrell is to the right of McGinn, Murray and Steinbrueck — meaning he could be the logical candidate for Burgess' supporters to move to. The only candidate to Harrell's right is Charlie Staadecker, who lags far behind in the polls. In 2009, incumbent mayor Greg Nickels polled 24 percent in the June 2009 KING TV survey, which translated to a third-place 25.6 percent and being eliminated in the later three-way primary  — supposedly not a good sign for McGinn.

Harrell — a 55-year-old attorney of Asian and African ancestry — has a lifelong track record in Seattle's minority community matters. "The fact is that minorities tend to vote in voting blocs." Seattle's population is slightly more than 30 percent non-white, and Harrell is the only mayoral candidate of color. While McGinn has helped the communities of color as mayor, Harrell portrayed him as a Johnny-come-lately, who had no involvement with those same communities prior to 2009. Harrell contended that his own supporters tend to get overlooked in polls because many — young or looking to save money —  do not have land phone lines, which pollsters target.

Harrell described McGinn as too combative and lone-wolfish ("He's the most untrusting person I've met holding public office"); Steinbrueck as against many proposals while offering little that is new; and Murray as having a weaker overall message to Seattle residents. And Harrell contended his campaign has picked up momentum in the past several weeks.

"I think the city wants a contrast from McGinn ...," Harrell said. "I think (voters) value honesty more than anything else in this election. McGinn lost that." Harrell pointed to the mayor's apparently broken campaign promise on the downtown tunnel project (McGinn defends his record as fitting with what he said before the election), his communication problems with city council members and a belligerent stance toward the U.S. Department of Justice on installing a police monitor in the wake of some brutality incidents. 

While Harrell has been in the middle of the pack in several polls, observers and news accounts have said that he has been one of the stronger performers among the eight original candidates in several forums. "I'm the strongest debater," he said.

Harrell is midway through his second four-year term on the Seattle City Council. He chairs the council's Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee. He was chairman of City Light from 2008 to 2011. Harrell helped lead successful efforts to overhaul the city's streetlight maintenance to fix a long-standing problem of thousands of broken lights, and to trim the city's power rates to 40 percent lower than the national average. He also played a leading role in a successful effort to provide 20,000 public school students —- including the poorest ones — with cheap access to computers and the Internet. Also, he pushed for body video cameras on police officers.

Some of Harrell's proposals as mayor are as follows:

  • Expand the "13th Year" program in which graduates from Cleveland and Chief Sealth high schools get financial aid to attend South Seattle Community College, enabling average students to get a toehold on a college education. Harrell believes that a $20 million endowment fund is needed to expand this program across Seattle, wanting to target the area's millionaires for donations. "We've only scratched the surface of millionaire philanthropists in this area," he said.
  • Have the city stay away from the notion of assuming control of Seattle's school system. McGinn has at times flirted with a take-over idea. Harrell floated his own idea about how the city should use its community centers for education-related mentoring programs.
  • Bring back the kind of police officer who specializes in community patrolling and outreach. In a related matter, Harrell said he obtained funding to head off the likely loss of 31 officers this year due to attrition. 
  • Expand the city's economic development office and centralize the city's technology department.

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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8