Bruce Harrell, Former City Council President, Announces Campaign for Mayor

by Jack Russillo

Blocks away from where he was raised in the Central District, beside the high school where he was valedictorian and earned a football scholarship to the University of Washington, Bruce Harrell announced his campaign for mayor of Seattle.

Harrell, a former Seattle City Council president and longtime community leader, spoke to a small gathering of family members, supporters, and members of the media on Tuesday, March 16 as he made his announcement near the Medgar Evers Pool at Garfield High School. 

“It seems very fitting that, during the coming of spring, when we think about a rebirth, a revitalization, a resurrection if you will, that’s when I announce my candidacy for mayor,” said Harrell at the press conference. “This is not the Seattle where I was born. This is not the Seattle where my Black grandparents came from to escape the Jim Crow laws of the South for opportunity and hope. This is not the Seattle where my Japanese parents left their small village in Kumamoto, Japan to seek refuge and build a community for themselves and engage in hope and love. This is not the Seattle that was the basis of their dreams … My candidacy is going to be about bringing about effective leaders and letting their brilliance shine.”

Harrell, 62, joins a mayoral race that includes Lorena González, president of the Seattle City Council; Colleen Echohawk, executive director of the Chief Seattle Club; Andrew Grant Houston, an architect and interim policy manager for Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda; and Lance Randall, SEED Seattle executive director. The primary is scheduled for August 3 and the general election will take place on November 2.

This will be Harrell’s second attempt to become the Seattle mayor. In 2013, Harrell ran for mayor and won 15% of the vote, coming in fourth place in the primary election behind Peter Steinbrueck, then-incumbent Michael McGinn, and the eventual winner, Ed Murray. 

In addition to running for mayor in 2013, Harrell served three terms as a Seattle City Councilmember. He was first elected to City Council in 2007 and was re-elected in 2011 and 2015, defeating current City Councilmember Tammy Morales by less than 500 votes in his home district. In 2016, he was chosen as president of the City Council. Harrell chose not to run for re-election in 2019. 

In 2017, following Ed Murray’s resignation after allegations of sexual abuse of minors became public, Harrell became interim mayor for less than a week, from September 13 to 18, before he declined to stay in the position and was succeeded by Councilmember Tim Burgess. Harrell defended Murray for months, saying that Seattle residents, “did not ask us to judge anyone for something that happened 33 years ago or 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 … And I would challenge each of you to think about where you were 33 years ago. The question is, are you doing your job today right now?”

While on the City Council from 2008 to 2011, Harrell served as chair of the Energy, Technology, and Civil Rights Committee and was responsible for oversight of Seattle City Light and the City’s Department of Information and Technology. In 2010, he created a Rate Stabilization Account (RSA) for Seattle City Light, which protects the utility’s customers from the volatility of the wholesale power market. In 2011, Harrell sponsored a program to establish partnerships with technology companies and financial institutions to provide need-based internet access to students in the Seattle Public Schools. 

In 2011, Harrell wrote a letter to then-U.S. Attorney and current mayor Jenny Durkan asking the federal government to mandate body cameras for Seattle Police Department (SPD) officers. In 2013, Harrell introduced legislation to regulate the SPD’s use of drones and other surveillance measures in an effort to protect civil liberties. He also authored “ban the box” legislation passed in 2013, which prevents employers from rejecting applicants solely based on a criminal record. 

Members of Bruce Harrell’s extended family attended a press conference on Tuesday in which Harrell announced his candidacy for Seattle mayor.

Harrell noted at the press conference that, among his priorities, he will allocate more funds to the city’s seven districts to apply to problems they decide to focus on, such as preserving cultural institutions or addressing homelessness. Additionally, he said that he will work to create a preventative healthcare system for all, a job center, and other services that can support the basic needs of Seattle residents.

In June 2014, Harrell joined fellow City Councilmember Burgess in blocking a public campaign financing bill and, in 2016, he publicly expressed concerns about the Democracy Voucher program. However, Harrell said during Tuesday’s press conference that he will be accepting Democracy Vouchers to fund his campaign this year.

During his political career, Harrell accepted more than $134,000 in contributions from corporations and corporate PACs, according to PDC data. According to his last financial disclosure in 2019, he was worth $13.3 million. 

“I don’t need the job, but I think the job needs someone with my skillsets,” said Harrell. “In my conversations with friends, family, and community leaders, we’ve decided that this is our time. Not just my time, but our time. I think that generations have to race one another. I have had forums where more seasoned, successful people have lost touch with the younger generation. The younger generation is seeing inconsistencies in our society that they just can’t reconcile. They’ve seen the kind of wealth built in this city and, at the same time, they’ve seen people living in cars and under bridges. They can’t reconcile that. So what we need is someone with the relationships, the resources, and the battle scars to be able to pull this together so that all the systems are working.”

Before his time on City Council, Harrell worked as a lawyer, representing telecommunications companies and nonprofits. Harrell earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the UW in 1980 and a juris doctor degree in 1984. During his undergraduate years, he was a linebacker for the UW football team, earning recognition as an Academic All-American First Team in 1980. 

In his personal life, Harrell is married to Joanne Harrell, who serves on the Board of Regents for the UW, the Board of AAA of Washington, the Board of REI, and was previously the President and CEO of United Way of King County. The Harrells are raising their family in the Mount Baker neighborhood.

Jack Russillo has been reporting in Western Washington since 2013. He covers the environment, social justice, and other topics that affect a sustainable and equitable future. He currently lives in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood.

Featured image: Brucell Harrell announced his candidacy for Seattle mayor in a press conference on Tuesday, March 16 near Garfield High School. (Photo by Susan Fried)

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