Tag: bruce harrell

New Tax Would Fund Behavioral Crisis Centers; Things to Look for in Harrell’s Budget Proposal

King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay speaks at a press conference on a county proposal to raise property taxes to fund walk-in crisis centers
King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay

1. King County Executive Dow Constantine proposed a new property-tax levy to fund five behavioral health crisis centers across King County, along with higher wages for health care workers and the restoration of residential treatment beds that have been lost in recent years. The levy, assessed at 14.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value—about $121 for a median $694,000 house—could be on a countywide ballot in April 2023, if the King County Council approves it this year.

Currently, there are no walk-in crisis centers anywhere in King County, and the wait for a residential treatment bed averaged 44 days as of July, according to the county. Since 2018, the county has lost more than 110 residential treatment beds and is down to 244 beds countywide. “A question that doesn’t get asked enough to the person who says ‘get people into treatment,'” King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay said Monday, is “‘get people into treatment where?'”

In a county with 2.3 million residents, Zahilay said, we have one crisis care facility with 46 beds”—the Downtown Emergency Service Center’s Crisis Solutions Center in the Central District, which only accepts referrals from police and other first responders. “If you break a bone in King County, you can walk in and get urgent care. If you’re going through a mental health crisis or a substance use disorder crisis, you have zero urgent care options.”

The nine-year levy proposal would also create apprenticeship programs and other supports for people entering the behavioral health care field, and would “invest in equitable wages for the workforce at crisis care centers,” according to the announcement, plus mobile or co-located crisis services that would operate until the first crisis clinics were open.

“If you break a bone in King County, you can walk in and get urgent care. If you’re going through a mental health crisis or a substance use disorder crisis, you have zero urgent care options.”—King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay

It’s unclear how many people would see higher wages under Constantine’s proposal, which his office released only in summary form. Pay for behavioral health care workers is so low that many employees qualify for the same services they sign clients up for, said Kristen Badin, a crisis counselor and representative of SEIU 1199NW.

The King County Regional Homelessness Authority has asked the city and county to provide an additional $15.4 million to permanently service providers’ baseline budgets by 13 percent in order to increase provider wages—part of an overall budget request that would add about $90 million to the regional agency’s budget, which is funded by the city of Seattle and King County through their annual budget process.

That process kicks off for both the city and county tomorrow, when Harrell and Constantine announce their 2023 budget proposals. On Monday, Constantine said he considered the KCRHA’s budget request “aspirational,” and confirmed that he does not plan to provide all the money the authority’s CEO, Marc Dones, requested.

That budget request, Constantine said, “was essentially a statement of need, and that neither the county nor the city’s budget could support that full request.” Harrell added that “we weren’t able to meet all of the requests, but you’ll see [during Tuesday’s budget announcement] the support we have moving forward with RHA and the support we have the people on the ground doing this important work.”

2. In 2019, the City Council passed legislation requiring the Human Services Department to build a cost of living increase into all new or renegotiated contracts with service providers, based on the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). At the time, inflation, as represented by the increase in CPI, was modest—between two and three percent.

“I drew a line in the sand [on the use of the JumpStart tax to backfill the city budget], and I want to make sure that we’re sticking to that, not only because it’s what we passed in statute, but because the agreement to use the higher-than anticipated revenue was to prevent austerity.”—City Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda.

Last year, the CPI-W increased 8.7 percent, meaning that compared to 2021, it cost 8.7 percent more to pay for the same goods and services. Any wage increase that’s lower than the CPI effectively constitutes a pay cut—something social service providers whose wages are funded by the city will likely be watching for tomorrow when Harrell rolls out his budget.

Council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda said she’ll also be watching for any effort by Harrell to transfer additional funds from the JumpStart payroll tax, which is earmarked for housing, small business support, Green New Deal programs, and equitable development. Earlier this year, Mosqueda proposed using excess payroll tax revenues to help close the budget gap; those extra revenues are projected at $71 million and $84 million in 2023 and 2024, respectively.

“I drew a line in the sand,” Mosqueda said Monday, “and I want to make sure that we’re sticking to that, not only because it’s what we passed in statute, but because the agreement to use the higher-than anticipated revenue was to prevent austerity. And part of preventing austerity is keeping our promises, [including] our promises to human service providers.”

New Leadership on Every Floor of City Hall as 2022 Begins

1. Incoming city Attorney Ann Davison painted a dire portrait of Seattle in her official swearing-in speech on Tuesday morning, framing her plans to crack down on misdemeanor offenses as a fight to “stand up for victims” who have been unrepresented at City Hall.

“Communities are afraid to use their parks, people are afraid to walk down 3rd Avenue, and parents are afraid to send their kids to wait for the bus,” Davison said, pointing to the Seven Stars Pepper restaurant at the intersection of S. Jackson Street and 12th Little Saigon as a case study in the consequences of rising petty crime. The owner, Yong Hong Wang, warned last fall that her restaurant is on the brink of failure because customers are afraid of the ad hoc street market — a group of vendors selling everything from shampoo to narcotics — at an adjacent bus stop.

“She will lose her life savings because criminal activity has gone unchecked,” Davison said of Yong. “She should not have to pay the price.”  

Davison also raised the specter of gun violence, citing the May 2020 shooting of 18-year-old Connor Dassa-Holland in Rainier Beach. “It is the duty of the city attorney’s office to prosecute weapons charges and take guns off the streets so that misdemeanor gun offenses don’t lead to felony homicides,” Davison said.

Only a handful of gun-related crimes are misdemeanors under Washington law, including “unlawfully displaying” (or brandishing) a firearm as an intimidation tactic and carrying a concealed handgun without a permit. Davison’s office can only prosecute misdemeanors; the King County Prosecutor’s Office is responsible for filing felony gun possession charges.

Davison did not mention her office’s civil division, which defends the City of Seattle in lawsuits and advises the city council and mayor’s office as they develop new legislation.

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Davison’s tough-on-crime rhetoric prompted the city council to consider adding diversion to the city attorney’s charter duties in 2021. The council demurred in December, opting instead to require the city attorney to notify the council within 90 days of making any changes to, or eliminating, the office’s diversion programs, and provide quarterly reports to the council about the effectiveness of diversion programs. Davison was critical of the reporting requirement, accusing the council (six women, three men) of holding her to an unfair standard because of her gender. Davison is the first woman to hold the city attorney’s office—a detail she underscored in her remarks on Tuesday. Her general-election opponent, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, is also a woman.

2. Shortly after Davison wrapped up her speech, new mayor Bruce Harrell held his own ceremonial swearing-in at City Hall. In an optimistic, mostly lighthearted speech that offered few policy details, Harrell pledged to work with people who opposed his election,  and make quick progress on major issues including homelessness, health care, and the selection of a permanent police chief.

Harrell previewed a handful of upcoming executive orders and decisions, including one order that will direct the city’s public utilities “to proactively provide us information on utility shutoffs, which is often an indicator of homelessness vulnerability or human service needs.” No utility customer has lost power or water since mid-2019, thanks to a combination of legislation and a moratorium on utility shutoffs during COVID.

Asked about the practical impact of the order, a Harrell spokesman said it would identify “people most at risk of homelessness or housing instability, as those facing arrearages or utility shutoffs—enforced or not—are often those most in danger of losing their housing. So the order is focused on driving greater coordination between SPU, City Light, and Offices of Housing and Human Services to prevent homelessness.”

Alluding to the longstanding debate over police funding, Harrell said that a “safe city needs the right kind and right number of police officers.”

In his speech, Harrell also vowed to review barriers to affordable housing construction, such as reducing permitting delays—a common obstacle that can add thousands to the cost of housing construction. During his campaign, Harrell made it clear that believes dense housing should be confined to specific areas (the longstanding “urban village” strategy), but reducing barriers to development is a pro-housing step—as is Harrell’s appointment of Marco Lowe, a City Hall veteran who worked for mayors Greg Nickels and Mike McGinn before taking a position at the Master Builders Association, where he advocated for pro-housing policies.

Harrell, responding to a reporter’s question, said he would not immediately launch a national search for a permanent police chief, instead giving interim Chief Adrian Diaz “real measurement criteria by which I can see what he’s doing” before deciding whether to “lift the ‘interim’ or do a national search” at some point before the end of March.

Alluding to the longstanding debate over police funding, Harrell said that a “safe city needs the right kind and right number of police officers.” Deputy mayor Monisha Harrell, who served as the interim police monitor overseeing the federal consent decree, will oversee policing policy for Harrell’s office and will play a key role in determining what the administration believes “the right number” is.

3. After weeks of behind-the-scenes drama, the city council elected District 5 Councilmember Debora Juarez the first Indigenous council president on Monday. (Backstory here). The council also approved a new list of committees and committee chairs that reflects the relative power (and individual interests) of the eight other councilmembers. (Council presidents, who oversee the business of the legislative branch, generally don’t take on high-profile committees). Continue reading “New Leadership on Every Floor of City Hall as 2022 Begins”

King County Won’t Proactively Test Shelter Guests; SPD Sex Crime Case Referrals Plummet; Harrell Announces Appointments

1. King County Public Health will not provide routine COVID-19 tests for people who enter temporary winter shelters during the cold-weather emergency, a spokeswoman for the department told PubliCola. Instead, the department will test shelter guests when a shelter provider calls to report having two or more guests or staff with “COVID-like illness,” or one or more confirmed COVID cases, and will direct people to isolation and quarantine sites if they test positive. The county will also do contract tracing when there’s a confirmed COVID case at a shelter site.

“Public Health does not have the staffing capacity to provide proactive, daily testing at each of these sites,” the spokeswoman, Kate Cole, said. “As we do for all other homeless services sites in King County, if a shelter has staff or residents who appear to have COVID-like illness, our homeless services support team will provide on-site testing and consultation to help control any potential COVID spread.”

When the department gets word of a possible COVID outbreak in any homeless shelter, including winter emergency shelters, “Our testing team calls the shelter to discuss the individual symptoms to determine if it is likely COVID-like illness, in addition to providing ASAP guidance on steps to take to limit spread, and then (assuming team believes it is COVID-like illness), our team visits to conduct on-site testing for all staff and residents who agree to be tested,” the spokeswoman, Kate Cole, said.

The spread of the omicron variant has been startling, with positive rates at some testing sites nearing 50 percent. That’s for the general population; people living in crowded congregate settings, such as bare-bones mass homeless shelters, are even more at risk. Cole said the health department is not currently experiencing a shortage of rapid COVID tests.

2. The Seattle Police Department has referred roughly one-quarter fewer cases to the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office’s sex crimes and child abuse unit this year than it did before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of felony cases that SPD referred to the prosecutor’s office dropped sharply in the first months of the pandemic. In May 2020, the office received 30 felony sex crimes cases from SPD; in June, the office received fewer than half that number. While the number of monthly referrals has fluctuated since then, the average over the past eighteen months has fallen to 19 cases, compared to an average of 26 cases per month before the pandemic.

While a reduction in SPD’s ranks after two years of high attrition—and the resultant transfer of many SPD detectives, who are responsible for criminal investigations, to patrol units since last fall—may contribute to the decline, the trend is not limited to Seattle. At a presentation to the mayors of the largest South King County cities earlier this month, the prosecutor’s office presented data showing a widespread decline in the number of felony cases referred to their office from police departments across the county. The police departments of Kent, Renton, Federal Way and Auburn, for instance, have referred nearly 30 percent fewer felony cases to the prosecutor’s office since the start of the pandemic.

Other reasons for the shift may include a decline in the number of people reporting sex crimes and child abuse. PubliCola has reached out to SPD for comment.

3. Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell announced another round of leadership appointments on Wednesday, including the sister of police-violence victim Che Taylor, a leader of King County’s No Youth Jail movement, a former state legislator and Seattle Port Commissioner, and a reality-TV producer. Continue reading “King County Won’t Proactively Test Shelter Guests; SPD Sex Crime Case Referrals Plummet; Harrell Announces Appointments”

Harrell Announces Key Staff, Veteran Budget Director Departs, Council Adopts New Rules and Transparency Requirements

1. Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell announced a list of top staff on Monday headlined by his campaign manager, niece, and now incoming senior deputy mayor Monisha Harrell.

But the biggest throughline in Harrell’s list of appointees wasn’t family—Harrell, who was omnipresent during her uncle’s campaign, was widely expected to take on a key role in his administration—but the elevation of so many longtime insiders to top roles in the new administration.

Of the ten appointments announced yesterday (and an eleventh, Chief of Staff Jennifer Samuels), all but one are current or recent city of Seattle staff, and half are current appointees or allies of outgoing Mayor Jenny Durkan.

Tiffany Washington, the former head of the city’s Homelessness Strategy and Investment division, is currently Durkan’s deputy mayor, and will continue in that role under Harrell. Julie Dingley, the incoming interim budget director (more on that in a minute), is Durkan’s interim Innovation and Performance director and the former lead budget staffer in Durkan’s office. Adiem Emery, the new Chief Equity Officer (“tasked with delivering on the mayor-elect’s vision to make tangible progress embedding equity across City departments and programs,” according to a a press release), is currently a division director at SDOT.  Pedro Gómez, the incoming head of external affairs, is currently director of Small Business Development for the Office of Economic Development. Harrell’s longtime council aide Vinh Tang works in the city’s IT department.

And former city council member Tim Burgess, who will head “strategic initiatives” in a position listed just below Harrell’s two announced deputy mayors, is a longtime Durkan ally—and, of course, Harrell’s former colleague.

Filling out the list are several longtime insiders who worked elsewhere in the city or are returning after an absence. Chief operating officer Marco Lowe (who will focus “on driving efficiencies in Seattle’s public utility agencies, making Seattle government more transparent and accessible, and streamlining housing and infrastructure construction,” per the press release) worked in two mayoral administrations; policy director Dan Eder is deputy director of the city council’s central staff; and chief of staff Samuels worked for Harrell’s council office.

In fact, besides Monisha Harrell—who serves as deputy monitor overseeing the federal consent decree over the Seattle Police Department—the only City Hall “outsider” on Harrell’s team is former Seattle/King County NAACP leader Gerald Hankerson, who will be Harrell’s external affairs liaison.

“One of the issues over the past few years on the council is that it hasn’t always been completely clear when a deputy of the mayor is speaking for the mayor, and I don’t think there will be any ambiguity at all that when Monisha speaks, she is speaking for her uncle. I think that’s one of the advantages of having a family member in a position like that.”—City Councilmember Andrew Lewis

City Councilmember Andrew Lewis, a member of the public safety subcommittee of Harrell’s transition team, said he has “a lot of confidence in [Monisha Harrell’s] commitment” to pursue non-police responses to emergency and crisis situations. “That’s the real nucleus for moving forward on this intractable argument that we’ve had around what the future of policing is going to be—how can you set up response alternatives?” Lewis said.

The city’s ethics code only raises conflict-of-interest alarms when a city employee supervises an “immediate family member,” which does not include nieces or nephews. (King County’s law is both more prescriptive—the Harrells would be considered each other’s “immediate family”— and slightly more vague.) Former mayor Charley Royer, who served three terms, appointed his brother Bob deputy mayor in 1978, a position the younger Royer held for more than five years.

Lewis said he believes having a mayor and deputy mayor who are related could be an asset. “One of the issues over the past few years on the council is that it hasn’t always been completely clear when a deputy of the mayor is speaking for the mayor, and I don’t think there will be any ambiguity at all that when Monisha speaks, she is speaking for her uncle,” Lewis said. “I think that’s one of the advantages of having a family member in a position like that.”

2. Seattle City Budget Office director Ben Noble announced last week that he is leaving the city after more than 20 years. A longtime city council central staffer who became central staff director in 2006, Noble took over the reins at the budget office in 2014 under Mayor Ed Murray and continued in the position under Durkan, where he often found himself on the opposite side of testy exchanges with his former colleagues over Durkan’s approach to budgeting.

In recent years, Durkan repeatedly attempted to fund her own annual priorities using funds that had already been committed to other purpose (in one case, by Durkan herself), sparking heated debates between the council and the budget office. Last year, Durkan vetoed both the budget and legislation funding COVID relief, both times unsuccessfully.

City Councilmember Alex Pedersen prevailed Monday on a change to the city council’s rules that will allow him (and other council members) to abstain rather than vote on council resolutions unrelated to city business, like the one praising Cuba for its response to the COVID pandemic last year

In a letter to city staff, Noble provided little detail about why he is leaving, calling it “very much a personal decision.” Whatever prompted it (former colleagues speculated burnout, but Noble demurred), his departure opens up a major position in the Harrell administration—and represents a significant loss of institutional knowledge, brainpower, and longstanding relationships between the executive and legislative branches.

3. City Councilmember Alex Pedersen prevailed Monday on a change to the city council’s rules that will allow him (and other council members) to abstain rather than vote on council resolutions unrelated to city business, like the one praising Cuba for its response to the COVID pandemic last year. The legislation was part of a package of council rule changes that will, among other things, move City Council meetings to Tuesdays and limit the amount of time council members can speak to a pending motion. The new rule, which Councilmember Lisa Herbold opposed as vague and open to “unintended consequences,” says that council members can abstain from any resolution that, according to the council president, “does not pertain materially to the City of Seattle.”

Pedersen has long complained that nonbinding resolutions, many of them proposed by his ideological opposite Kshama Sawant, are pointless wastes of the council’s time; in early 2020, he proposed and passed a sarcastic resolution condemning “all forms of oppression affecting communities throughout the world—a response to a Sawant resolution in on national policy in India and Iran.

4. Pedersen cast the lone “no” vote against legislation that will require incoming city attorney Ann Davison to notify the council within 90 days of making changes to, or eliminating, the city’s pre-filing diversion programs, and provide quarterly reports to the council about the effectiveness of diversion. Continue reading “Harrell Announces Key Staff, Veteran Budget Director Departs, Council Adopts New Rules and Transparency Requirements”

Harrell Announces 129-Member Transition Team after Most Expensive Mayoral Race in History; Davison to Take Over Depopulated City Attorney’s Office

1. Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell announced a 129-member transition team yesterday that includes Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan, current city council member Teresa Mosqueda, former mayoral candidate Jessyn Farrell, a long list of former Greg Nickels, Ed Murray, and Jenny Durkan staffers, and an entire committee overseeing “sports and mentorship” programs, headed by regional NAACP president Gerald Hankerson. Also on the team: Two of the leading opponents of a bike lane in Lake City that Mayor Jenny Durkan ultimately killed.

The team seems likely to grow; late on Tuesday, city council member Andrew Lewis confirmed that he will serve on the team’s public safety committee, one of 12 subject-area committees that make up the advisory group.

Harrell’s transition team also includes a “philanthropy” committee that includes representatives from the Ballmer Group, Amazon, Tableau, and a number of local foundations—echoing Harrell’s campaign promise to fund some city needs, such as programs to address homelessness, using voluntary donations from individuals and corporations.

The new administration’s transition team, for those keeping score (sports metaphor?), is more than twice the size of the transition team outgoing mayor Jenny Durkan announced when she was elected in 2017, and almost three times larger than the team ex-mayor Ed Murray set up in 2013.

Transition teams typically help mayors staff up and set priorities, but their primary role in recent years has been to demonstrate broad political support after a bruising election campaign, which this very (very) large and diverse group certainly does.

Harrell’s niece and campaign manager Monisha Harrell told the Seattle Times that Harrell would comb the transition team for potential members of the administration.

Since the August primary election, when voters kicked three-term incumbent Pete Holmes off the ballot, the city attorney’s criminal division has lost eight prosecutors, or nearly a quarter of its entire prosecution team.

As a point of recent historical reference, just two members of Durkan’s transition team joined the administration: former Transportation Choices Coalition director Shefali Ranganathan, who was one of Durkan’s deputy mayors, and former Building Changes director Helen Howell, who served briefly as interim director of the Human Services Department before joining the King County Regional Homelessness Authority as deputy CEO in July.

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2. Harrell’s campaign also set a record this year—it was the most expensive mayoral campaign in Seattle’s history by a long shot (sports metaphor?). According to campaign records, the official Harrell campaign raised just over $1.4 million in direct contributions, including $19,250 from Harrell himself.  By the same point in her campaign, Durkan had raised just over $970,000.

That’s a significant increase—Harrell has raised half again as much as Durkan had by the same point in November 2017—but it’s dwarfed by the total amount of money poured into the campaign by independent spending, primarily a real estate-backed IE called Bruce Harrell for Seattle’s Future. That campaign has raised $1.4 million, almost entirely from commercial real-estate developers and property managers; combined with independent spending from the National Association of REALTORS and the Seattle Firefighters PAC, independent groups spent almost $1.6 million getting Harrell elected, a sum that dwarfs the $835,000 an Amazon-backed group called People for Jenny Durkan spent on Durkan’s behalf.

At the time, editorial and news writers found it at least noteworthy that at a time when publicly financed “democracy vouchers” were supposed to get big money out of campaigns, the mayoral election went to the candidate who had hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate money propping her up. This year’s election, in which the winning campaign cost $3 million, or almost $20 per vote, makes 2017’s shocking outlays look almost quaint.

3. Ann Davison, the city attorney-elect, had a simple campaign platform: Unlike my opponent, I will prosecute crime. (Davison’s opponent, public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, pledged to phase out most misdemeanor prosecutions.) She’ll enter office with her work cut out for her: Since the August primary election, when voters kicked three-term incumbent Pete Holmes off the ballot, the city attorney’s criminal division has lost eight prosecutors, or nearly a quarter of its entire prosecution team. The chief of the criminal division, Kelly Harris, left the division for a private-sector job last month.

Continue reading “Harrell Announces 129-Member Transition Team after Most Expensive Mayoral Race in History; Davison to Take Over Depopulated City Attorney’s Office”

“In This House,” Seattle Votes for the Status Quo

Bruce Harrell campaign sign with extra sign reading "MODERATE."

By Erica C. Barnett

On Tuesday, less than 18 months after nationwide protests against police violence prompted Seattle leaders to consider new approaches to public safety, Seattle voters endorsed a return to the pre-pandemic status quo, electing a slate of candidates who promised to hire more cops, crack down on crimes associated with poverty and addiction, and remove more unsheltered people from public spaces, with “consequences” for those who refuse to go.

Longtime former city council member Bruce Harrell will be mayor;  longtime city council aide-turned-“take back Seattle” brewery owner Sara Nelson will replace Lorena González on the city council, and Republican (and three-time candidate) Ann Davison will be city attorney.

The new regime is a significant win for the business and political leaders who have been shouting for the past year and a half that Seattle Is Dying because the city’s mushy progressivism has gone too far. What’s ironic about that view is that “the left”—that is, people on Twitter who have the unique ability to send mainstream pundits into fits of derangement—has essentially no power in Seattle city government.

Yes, there are a few more progressive faces on the council than there were a dozen years ago. But that doesn’t mean they’ve had much luck changing city policy (and on many issues, the council is still sharply divided). Under Seattle’s form of government, the mayor controls almost every city department and has the authority to ignore or reverse the council’s policy and spending directives, meaning that even if the council were to tell the mayor to, say, cut the police department by 50 percent, the mayor could and probably would just ignore them—as Seattle’s current moderate mayor, Jenny Durkan, has done with policy after policy. If the council’s progressive bloc could spend money or establish policy by fiat, you would see a whole lot more hotel-based shelters, public restrooms, and handwashing sinks around the city.

Of course, if your entire understanding of how politics currently operate in Seattle is based on Twitter, you might believe that the “Nikkita Oliver left” is actually in charge of things. It’s an analysis that feels right—if you choose to ignore the list of people who are actually running the city and the policies they have created.

For the past several years—the period when centrist pundits claim that Seattle was controlled by a far-left progressive bloc—the city has stayed the course on any number of policies that previously failed to address the city’s problems—pouring money into downtown Seattle at the expense of other neighborhoods, offering huge hiring bonuses to new police officers, and ramping up encampment sweeps to pre-pandemic levels. (Prior to the current administration, encampment residents generally got 72 hours’ notice before a sweep.)  Progress on Vision Zero, a plan to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030, has not only stalled but reversed, with more people killed by traffic violence last year than in any year since 2006. Exclusionary zoning laws continue to prohibit new housing except in tiny strips of land along major arterial roads. And overdose deaths have increased dramatically, an outcome that could have been mitigated by opening the supervised consumption site King County recommended in 2016, and which Durkan has consistently (and successfully) opposed.

The claim that Bruce Harrell, Sara Nelson, and Ann Davison represent a set of “fresh new faces” with “new ideas” may be the most confusing piece of conventional wisdom being pushed by Seattle’s pundit class. Harrell served on the council for 12 years before stepping down at the end of 2019. His homelessness policy, a copy-and-paste of the failed Compassion Seattle charter amendment, was drafted by 12-year council veteran Tim Burgess. And Nelson’s old boss, Richard Conlin, was a 16-year incumbent.

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As mayor, Harrell’s campaign promises sound pretty much the same as Durkan’s when she came into office: More, better, reformed police, lots of new shelter beds, and a “pragmatic” approach to the city’s basic issues, like transportation. (Cycling advocates have considered Durkan particularly hostile to their requests for safer infrastructure; at a recent campaign forum, Harrell made a point of mocking bikes as a viable transportation option.) Durkan never did build all 1,000 tiny houses she promised to complete by the end of her first year, and the police department is so far from “reform” that it remains under a federal consent decree, after Durkan and outgoing city attorney Pete Holmes prematurely tried to terminate the agreement in 2020. At the beginning of her term, Durkan vowed to apply a compassionate but tough approach to the city’s most pressing issues. Now that her four years are up, Harrell is proposing more of the same.

Seattle has always been a wealthy, mostly white, fundamentally centrist city that wears its thin veneer of progressive politics like a “Black Lives Matter” sign slapped in the window of a single-family house in a segregated neighborhood.

Of course, if your entire understanding of how politics currently operate in Seattle is based on Twitter, you might believe that the “Nikkita Oliver left” is actually in charge of things. It’s an analysis that feels right—if you choose to ignore the list of people who are actually running the city and the policies they have created. For people who are well represented by the current status quo, it can feel like oppression to listen to how people talk about you and your political allies in an online space that you chose to enter. But look around: Seattle has always been a wealthy, mostly white, fundamentally centrist city that wears its thin veneer of progressive politics like a “Black Lives Matter” sign slapped in the window of a single-family house in a segregated neighborhood.

Davison, admittedly, is a special case—one Seattle’s center left may soon regret supporting as gleefully as they backed moderates Nelson and Harrell. On election night, several Davison supporters at Harrell’s party referred to her, somewhat apologetically, as “Republican-Lite,” but there’s little question about the views she has expressed in public. When Davison ran against city council incumbent Debora Juarez (one of those moderate council members the pundits who scream about the “far-left council” never mention) in 2019, she proposed fixing homelessness by rounding up unsheltered people and busing them to warehouses on the outskirts of the city, where they would somehow be kept alive for less than $1,500 a year. A year later, she declared herself a proud Republican and ran for lieutenant governor on the Donald Trump/Loren Culp ticket. Her plans for that office were even easier to fit on an index card: If elected, she said, she would abolish the office.

Seattle spent much of 2020 in righteous convulsions over Trump’s revanchist, neo-1968 law-and-order rhetoric. But when it comes to quieter dog whistles—protecting single-family zoning, “reclaiming our parks,” and “reforming” the police department—Seattle always responds on cue.

And there is considerable overlap between Harrell’s supporters and Davison’s (they even share some of the same consultants). On election night, after Harrell made his celebratory speech, a number of people from Harrell’s party piled into their cars and headed over to Davison’s celebration party. One was former Ed Murray public safety advisor (and Davison endorser, Chris Gregoire’s son-in-law) Scott Lindsay, who could hold a high-ranking position in the Davison city attorney’s office. Although most of the work of the office is in the civil division, Davison has said her top priority would be prosecuting misdemeanors—a radical reversal of the policies Holmes has put in place over the past 12 years, and a retreat into the zero-tolerance, broken-windows approach Lindsay has advocated.

Seattle spent much of 2020 in righteous convulsions over Trump’s revanchist, neo-1968 law-and-order rhetoric. But when it comes to quieter dog whistles—protecting single-family zoning, “reclaiming our parks,” and “reforming” the police department—Seattle always responds on cue. “In this house,” Seattle votes for the status quo.

On Election Night, Voters Reject Progressive Slate

By Erica C. Barnett

With reporting by Paul Kiefer and Clara Coyote

Even before election results appeared on the big screen at presumptive mayor-elect Bruce Harrell’s campaign party Tuesday night, the mood in the room—a cavernous upstairs event space overlooking Second Avenue downtown—was jubilant. The campaign for mayor has been unusually ugly, and the candidates’ dislike for each other has been palpable.

A late-breaking dispute over a González ad that the Harrell campaign denounced as “racist” didn’t help González’s campaign, but it’s hard to attribute a blowout margin of almost 30 percent to a single event. Instead, it looks like Seattle voters went hard for a slate of candidates who promised to return Seattle to the time before last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, when there was no question that the city’s job was to hire more police, remove encampments, and make Seattle a business-friendly climate with parks activated by giant Connect-4 sets and jazz trios, not marred by the visible evidence of the homelessness crisis.

Besides Harrell, the leading candidates in last night’s city of Seattle races were Republican city attorney candidate Ann Davison (leading public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy 58 to 41 percent) and Fremont Brewing owner and Position 9 candidate Sara Nelson (leading attorney and activist Nikkita Oliver 60 to 39 percent). Even Kenneth Wilson, the Position 8 candidate whose campaign against incumbent Teresa Mosqueda boiled down to “reopen the West Seattle Bridge,” tallied almost 60,000 early votes, trailing Mosqueda by just 47 to 52 percent. This wasn’t a long-tail election; it was three separate blowouts, plus a warning: Candidates who (like Mosqueda) are seen as progressive can’t count on their seats anymore, not even in Seattle.

The undercurrent of backlash was evident at Tuesday’s Harrell celebration, attended by a long list of current and former Seattle power brokers who no longer wield the influence they once did at city hall. Current deputy mayor and former mayoral candidate Casey Sixkiller was there, as were ex-council member (and “Compassion Seattle” founder) Tim Burgess, former Murray public safety advisor-turned-pro-police quote machine Scott Lindsay, former city council member Jan Drago, and the CEOs of both the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Rachel Smith, and the Downtown Seattle Association, Jon Scholes.

The current mayor, Jenny Durkan, was in Glasgow for the C40 climate conference. She did not endorse any candidates in this year’s elections.

Surrounded onstage by family members and former Seattle mayor Norm Rice—the city’s first Black mayor—Harrell said he and his team were “going to put Seattle on fire with our love. … We’re going to have a new conversation on homelessness, a new conversation on education, on transportation, on climate change… rooted in the love we have for each other and the love we have for the city.”

Support for Harrell’s campaign came largely from business and real estate interests, which poured more than $1.3 million into an independent expenditure effort on his behalf. (Harrell’s own campaign raised about $1.2 million, making the campaign the most expensive in Seattle’s history).

Over at González HQ—for election night, Hill City Tap House in Hillman City—the mood was less dour than one might expect, oddly, even jovial, given the immense hill González would have to climb to reverse the night’s results. (Officially, neither mayoral candidate declared victory or conceded). Campaign staff and supporters passed around pints of beer, union members and a large group city council staffers packed together under the outdoor awning, and a who’s-who of progressive political figures, including 37th District state Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley and former mayoral candidate Andrew Grant Houston gestured at one another with slices of pizza. Gonzalez’s sister and nephew flew in from Kansas City.

Speaking to the crowd, González said it was still too early to concede. “We are used to being underdog in every which way, and this is no exception,” she said. “The fact that so many of the votes of our voters, who tend to vote at the very end, means that we may not know who will be the next mayor until later this week.” Her own longtime staffers, however, looked visibly shaken. Continue reading “On Election Night, Voters Reject Progressive Slate”

Former OneAmerica Head Files Ethics Complaint Against Mayoral Candidate Bruce Harrell

By Erica C. Barnett

Rich Stolz, the former head of the immigrant rights group OneAmerica, has filed a formal complaint asking the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission to investigate mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell’s actions as a council member to “discourage [an] investigation” by the city’s Office of Labor Standards into allegations of unpaid sick leave and wage theft brought against the Royal Esquire Club, the Black men’s social club that Harrell chairs.

As we’ve reported, Harrell called the OLS investigator looking into the case to ask for information about the investigation, mentioning that “he helped construct the Office of Labor Standards and would have to look in the future if any changes in funding need to be implemented,” according to the investigator. The club settled the complaint, which involved five women, for a total of just under $11,000 in June 2019.

Four months after the agreement was finalized, Harrell proposed spending $50,000 to survey businesses investigated by OLS, whose employees Harrell called “extremely unprofessional.” In pitching the business poll, Harrell said he had heard from many minority-owned small businesses that were “devastated” or even “forced to close” by enforcement actions over what he called “good-faith disputes” with workers, not “wage theft in the traditional sense.”

In his complaint, Stolz—a González supporter—alleges that Harrell “misused his official position to influence an Office of Labor Standards (‘OLS’) investigation into serious workplace violations at the Royal Esquire Club (‘REC’) when Councilmember Harrell was the Board Chairman. Councilmember Harrell’s misuse of public office included a threat to OLS, with the implication that if OLS did not conclude its investigation in a way that Councilmember Harrell approved, its funding would be in jeopardy.”

His current opponent for mayor, Lorena González, objected back then to what she called a “hit piece on OLS” with “a predetermined outcome,” saying that if someone had conducted a survey of all the people she had sued for labor law violations over the years, “I suspect that the results of that survey would resoundingly say that they hated me, and that… my clients’ claims were frivolous.”

In his complaint, Stolz—a González supporter—alleges that Harrell “misused his official position to influence an Office of Labor Standards (‘OLS’) investigation into serious workplace violations at the Royal Esquire Club (‘REC’) when Councilmember Harrell was the Board Chairman. Councilmember Harrell’s misuse of public office included a threat to OLS, with the implication that if OLS did not conclude its investigation in a way that Councilmember Harrell approved, its funding would be in jeopardy.”

The complaint includes a memo from OLS’ file on the wage theft investigation about an apparently awkward meeting between two OLS investigators and a representative of the club who complained about the investigation and informed them that Mayor Jenny Durkan supports the club and has called herself an “Esquirette.” Continue reading “Former OneAmerica Head Files Ethics Complaint Against Mayoral Candidate Bruce Harrell”

In the Seattle Mayor’s Race, A Flawed Ad Raises Fair Questions

Mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell and his supporters have spent several days denouncing his opponent, city council member Lorena González, as “racist” because of an ad she ran featuring a white, female sexual assault survivor. In the ad, the woman—identified only as Caitlyn F.—says she could “never” support Harrell because he defended former mayor Ed Murray, who resigned amid allegations that he sexually assaulted young men, including Black boys, in the 1980s. The ad also notes allegations that Harrell advised a legal client to “discredit” women who raised allegations of sexual harassment at a Seattle nonprofit he represented.

Given the long history of racist attacks on Black men in America, including vile, centuries-old tropes about Black men preying on white women, having a white woman issue this criticism of Harrell was profoundly tone deaf, at best. On Tuesday, González conceded this point, pulling the ad and apologizing for centering a white sexual assault survivor instead of survivors of color.

Having said that: The allegations the ad alludes to are both substantive and well-documented. That Harrell questioned whether Murray should be “judged” for “maybe” assaulting his own foster children is not in dispute. Nor is the fact that several of Murray’s alleged victims were young Black men, including one who died of suicide in 2018.

Here is what Harrell had to say on July 17, 2017, hours after González became the first Seattle elected official to call for Murray’s resignation: “The people of Seattle … did not ask us to judge anyone for something that happened 33 years ago or that maybe didn’t happen. We just don’t know. And I would ask that I don’t want to be judged for anything 33 years ago.” Addressing his council colleagues, he continued. “And I would challenge any of you to think about where you were 33 years ago. The question is, are you doing your job right now?”

Harrell has repeatedly evaded questions about his decision to make a public statement supporting Murray when the allegations came to light. (He eventually joined the rest of the council in calling for Murray to resign.) When Real Change asked him why he defended Murray, he said he didn’t. “I never defended Ed Murray,” Harrell told the paper. “I stated the facts.”

Given the long history of racist attacks on Black men in America, including vile, centuries-old tropes about Black men preying on white women, having a white woman issue this criticism of Harrell was profoundly tone deaf, at best.

One incident the ad doesn’t mention happened in 2018, when Harrell—then city council president—attempted to intervene in a city investigation into wage theft allegations made by five women who worked at a Black men’s social club where he serves as chairman, the Royal Esquire Club. (The club does not allow women as members but does hire them as waitresses.)

When the city’s Office of Labor Standards began looking into the wage theft allegations, Harrell contacted the city employee who was investigating the case, Daron Williams, to remind him that the council and mayor had the power to cut OLS’ budget. According to Williams’ contemporaneous notes, Harrell also mentioned that the current mayor, Jenny Durkan, was a supporter of the club, complained about the fact that Williams, who had been on vacation, did not immediately respond to his call, and demanded to know who had initiated the investigation.

Harrell alluded twice in city council meetings to OLS’ “horrible” treatment of an organization currently under investigation in his district, presumably the Royal Esquire Club, and sought to add $50,000 to the city’s annual budget for a survey of businesses about how the office had treated them. (OLS investigates claims against businesses, including claims of wage theft, so the likely result of such a survey would be a negative review of OLS.)

According to the eventual settlement, the club had to pay the women about $12,000 in back wages and fines.

In addition to Harrell’s supporters, a number of local right-wing pundits (including FOX’s Brandi Kruse and KTTH Radio’s Jason Rantz) have gleefully seized on the ad, using it as another opportunity to discredit González, a frequent target.  Meanwhile, the Seattle Times, which has endorsed Harrell, ran a story on the controversy that dutifully parroted Harrell’s claim that the entire Black community in Seattle is united in outrage on his behalf—an insulting oversimplification that is as exploitative as it is inaccurate.

One incident the ad doesn’t mention happened in 2018, when Harrell—then city council president—attempted to intervene in a city investigation into wage theft allegations by five women who worked at a Black men’s social club where he serves as chairman, the Royal Esquire Club, telling the investigator that he had the power to cut their budget.

In general, attack ads provide the opposite of useful information; they’re designed to stir emotion while drawing contrasts, all in the space of 20 to 30 seconds. But the fact that Seattle’s largely white pundit class has spent several days talking among themselves about whether one of two mayoral candidates of color, (a first in Seattle) is “racist” represents a win for Harrell, who continues to evade important questions, including one posed by González’ flawed ad: Why did Harrell support Murray for so long—long after many of his colleagues had demanded his resignation, and what does that say about his judgment?

Why is Harrell’s donor list dominated by big real-estate and corporate interests, including Trump’s largest Washington State donor, and are these the people who will have his ear as mayor?

And, if elected, will Harrell listen to advocates who happen to support different policies than he does (those who disagree with Harrell’s commitment to expand the police force and double down on encampment sweeps, for example)? Or will he continue to respond to substantive criticism by attacking, evading, and shutting critics down?

PubliCola Picks: Lorena González for Seattle Mayor

©2019 Steve Dipaola

In July, PubliCola endorsed city council president Lorena González for mayor, crediting her for having “well-defined agenda, a solid track record, and a set of achievable plans for addressing the city’s thorniest issues,” including homelessness, the role of police in public safety, and housing. In her two terms on the council, we wrote, González pushed for, and passed, important worker protections, election reforms, legal assistance for immigrants facing harassment and deportation in the Trump era, and a police accountability ordinance that advocates hailed as a groundbreaking step for reform.

We also criticized one of the other leading candidates, former council member Bruce Harrell, noting that he passed almost no major legislation during his 12 years on the council and “uses warmed-over management jargon to promote an agenda that would maintain the status quo.”

Now that the two candidates have had many opportunities to present their visions for Seattle in head to head debates, the choice is even clearer and more urgent. González wants to eliminate racist, exclusionary zoning policies, adequately fund homelessness programs, and enhance worker protections; Harrell wants to double down on the failed status quo by preserving exclusive single-family areas, and—even worse—reverse course by re-empowering the homeowner-dominated neighborhood council that helped block housing for decades. Moreover, his plan to address police accountability is a rehash of the wishful thinking embraced by one-term mayor Jenny Durkan and former police chief Carmen Best—the idea that if Seattle just commits to more anti-bias trainings, and to hiring “the best of the best,” as Harrell puts it, the police department will fix itself.

González rejects the myopic view that “love” and “coaching” is all it will take to fix a fundamentally broken approach to public safety.

We’ve had four years of slow, incremental change from a mayor who has resisted every effort to meaningfully shake up systems that harm people of color, poor people, renters, and people experiencing homelessness—four years of a mayor who represented the interests of her friends and donors while ignoring constituents who didn’t share her views. The race to replace Durkan presents a clear choice between a candidate who offers more of the same and one who embraces progress and change.

Harrell frequently mentions the fact that he was “born right here in Seattle,” a classic Seattle dog whistle that frames González as an inauthentic outsider because she moved here from somewhere else. (In other words: Unlike Harrell, González chose Seattle, as did the majority of people who live here.) At a recent debate, for example, Harrell said he has “skin in the game” on issues like police violence in a way that González, a first-generation Mexican American whose parents were migrant farmworkers in Eastern Washington, does not. “It’s not hard for me to talk to people when I walk the streets of Seattle,” he said. “This isn’t just academic for me. This is real stuff I’ve been dealing with decades and decades.”

This attempt to portray González as some kind of elitist outsider is both parochial and a distraction. Both candidates have lost family members and friends to police violence, and both are invested in eliminating police bias and racial profiling; the difference is in how they would address these problems. González may not be “from here,” but she actually prosecuted the Seattle Police Department for racist violence—representing a Mexican American beating victim in the infamous “Mexican piss” case—and won.

On this issue, the candidates might as well be running in different decades. Harrell says he will “change the culture of the police force,” “hire the best of the best,” and enforce a 2017 law that requires SPD to conduct anti-bias trainings and track data designed to reveal racial bias in policing. (While the city did require more anti-bias trainings, they’ve hardly led to a less biased police force, as González has pointed out.) On his website, Harrell promises he will “personally recruit officers looking to be internal change agents, heroes within the department to help coach, train, love and inspire our officers to be the department we all deserve.”

González, in contrast to Harrell, has committed to supporting new progressive taxes, aimed at the same wealthy corporations Harrell plans to hit up for donations, to fund the billions of dollars the city will need to truly address homelessness and, incidentally, help people move on from tent encampments in public places.

Harrell’s approach represents a retreat to the pre-June 2020 status quo, before weeks of protests led to a growing consensus that an incremental approach to police “reform” doesn’t work and probably never could. González rejects the myopic view that “love” and “coaching” is all it will take to fix a fundamentally broken approach to public safety. Instead of proposing data dashboards or more trainings of dubious value, she wants the city to invest in alternative crisis responders inside and outside the city, diversion programs that address the root causes of crime while keeping people out of the criminal legal system, and early intervention programs to put young people on “on a path towards towards actual resilience and empowerment,” as she put it during a recent debate.

Similarly, Harrell’s plan for addressing homelessness would turn back the clock to the pre-pandemic era, when the city swept multiple encampments a day. His homelessness plan replicates every provision of Charter Amendment 29, the so-called “Compassion Seattle” initiative, down to the number of shelter beds he proposes adding with no new funding (1,000 in the first six months, 2,000 in the first year) and the percentage of the city’s budget he proposes using for this purpose (12). This fear-based approach doesn’t acknowledge or address the fundamental economic and social problems that underlie homelessness, nor has building shelter, in itself, ever been the solution to encampments. People aren’t dots on a data dashboard, and they have legitimate reasons not to “accept” an offer of a random shelter bed.

Harrell offers lip service to the idea that solving homelessness will require housing and services. But his big idea to pay for those things—convincing large corporations to voluntarily give money to the city—is fanciful. Companies do run internal philanthropy programs, but big corporate gifts typically flow directly to nonprofits and pay for discrete projects—a shelter for women and children on Amazon’s campus, for example—that benefit the company’s reputation. Harrell has not presented any plan to convince Microsoft to pay for drug treatment for chronically homeless men, for example, and his plan seems to rely on his personal “social capital” and networking abilities rather than any kind of coherent strategy to convince companies to pay their “fair share” voluntarily. Continue reading “PubliCola Picks: Lorena González for Seattle Mayor”