On occasion, more controversial politicians have upstaged Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell, but that speaks to his credit. Harrell wields his words like weapons: His voice is sometimes lost among the council’s parliamentary tedium, but it booms when he takes up an issue, including job rights for ex-convicts or public nursing rules for new mothers. And by announcing this week that he’s running for mayor, ready with a slew of ideas to set the city on a new course, Harrell will be thrust into the civic spotlight where he’s most at ease.
Facing six opponents, the chair of the council’s Public Safety, Civil Rights, and Technology Committee nonetheless finds himself at a convenient crossroads of support. He will be uniquely positioned to satisfy a base that knows him as a social-justice advocate—reining in a troubled police department—while appealing to influential business lobbies. They’re two constituencies that tend to clash, but then again, Harrell’s five years in office have defined him as uncommonly independent.
“Bruce has always been known as his own guy,” says Seattle city attorney Pete Holmes, who applauds Harrell’s work to appoint a strong court monitor to oversee police reforms (despite pushback from Mayor Mike McGinn).
Already, Harrell has made several specific promises, including a plan to fund a year of community college for all public high-school graduates, set rigorous new standards to gauge the police department’s effectiveness, and organize a statewide initiative on gun control. “My groundswell will come from peeling off a lot of people in the different bases,” Harrell says, citing labor, parents with children in public school, business, and legal blocs (he’s also an attorney).