Today's big news—SPD Chief John Diaz's resignation—provides a great opportunity to compare the mayoral candidates.
Tim Burgess, Bruce Harrell, and Ed Murray all immediately issued statements. (Burgess, in fact, sent out two statements—one as a council member, and one as a candidate.)
How each one responded to the news hints at their instincts, priorities, and political acumen.
I'll take them in the order they came in.
First, Burgess' campaign issued this statement (shortly after announcing his candidacy in November, Burgess said that, if elected, he would've asked Diaz to resign):
The announcement today that Chief Diaz will retire re-enforces Tim’s position that there needs to be change at the top of the Police Department. While other candidates talked in vague terms about change and leadership, Tim was very specific about the kind of reforms he would implement, and who would implement them. Tim will continue to be a leader on public safety as the City begins the search for a new Chief of Police.
Confronted with losing one of his central campaign issues, Burgess turned the news into an "I told you so" moment. The brief statement is a little tone-deaf to the larger issues. For example, for Burgess to cite his leadership on public safety issues when he was chair of the public safety committee in the runup to the DOJ crackdown on SPD misses the boat as the public gets another reminder with the Diaz announcement of just how unstable things are at the police department.
Next in: Burgess' statement from his council office:
I thank Chief Diaz for his 33 years of dedicated service to the people of Seattle. The life of a police officer is rarely an easy one and John has served this city faithfully.
This is a critical time for our police department. New leadership is necessary for implementing the reforms that will lead us to where we should be focused: more effective and evidence-based policing, preventing crime rather than just responding to it after it has occurred and improved police-community relations.
Chief Diaz’s retirement gives us an opportunity to move forward with new leadership. The chief of police is one of the most important positions in city government.
Burgess' focus on his preferred batch of reforms is fine (he clearly has a theory about policing), but absent any substantive comments about what he wants in a new chief—"an opportunity to move forward"?—or expectations about the process to replace Diaz—his statement falls short.
Overall: Burgess gets a C+.
Next, we got a statement from city council member Harrell (from his council office, not his campaign). Harrell is currently chair of the public safety committee (he took over from Burgess in 2012). Harrell has been pushing for body cameras on police officers as an accountability reform.
I thank John for his years of dedicated service. John was a hard-working officer, protecting and serving the people of Seattle for three decades. He served with honor and distinction, and I wish him the best in retirement.
I urge the Mayor to immediately begin the process of identifying the next police chief through a national search and to allow for a thorough public review and Council consideration. I would like to see decisiveness and a sense of urgency to establish a clear chain of command to establish effective public safety. It is critical we have a leader that will communicate effectively with the public. The public should not tolerate randomness, arbitrariness or the dragging of feet. The public expects openness, transparency and collaboration in this hiring process that will serve as a basis to provide public confidence in its leadership.
I look forward to working with Interim Chief Jim Pugel to implement body cameras on our police officers to enhance police accountability and public safety, execute a strong proactive policing plan by setting public safety enforcement and performance objectives and advancing the long-lasting positive changes in the police department as part of the Department of Justice Settlement Agreement.”
While relying on some pretty vague language toward the end— "execute a strong proactive policing plan by setting public safety enforcement and performance objectives and advancing the long-lasting positive changes in the police department"—this is otherwise a solid statement from Harrell.
He outlines his expectations for the immediate issue—the search—and he deftly calls the situation "urgent," taking the time to remind people of the clumsy search that led to Diaz, which he no doubt hopes will put the spotlight on Mayor Mike McGinn, concluding that the "the public should not tolerate randomness, arbitrariness or the dragging of feet." Specifically Harrell's office tells us Harrell's referring to things like the slow response to reconfirming Katherine Olson, the director of the Office of Proffessional Accountability (the SPD oversight group), and the 11-month delay in the May Day riots report.
Harrell also tags keywords, "transparency" and "collaboration," referring to the upcoming search in the context of engaging the public. His statement is sure to resonate with social justice and police accountability groups.
Harrell gets an A.
Harrell and Murray played today's news well, but the news itself played McGinn.
Next in, we got a statement from Ed Murray's campaign.
With respect to today’s announcement that Seattle Police Chief John Diaz is stepping down, I am concerned that this announcement not be taken as a sign that SPD’s problems are now solved. The problem with SPD is a failure of leadership, and that leadership begins with the mayor. We need a new mayor, one who is committed to positive reform and who will work to transform the culture of our police department.
Make no mistake, we have a serious situation with SPD. It is an absolute embarrassment that a progressive city like Seattle is currently operating under a Justice Department consent decree -- and that this has happened despite the fact that the vast majority of our front line officers perform a difficult and dangerous job with grace, courtesy and bravery.
I am also very concerned about the timing of this announcement, coming as it does in the midst of a hotly contested mayor’s race. We must be very careful and deliberate in choosing the next chief. Given the challenges this department faces, we need to conduct a thorough national search to find the best possible replacement to bring about the cultural change that is needed. But I worry that the political uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the mayor’s race will lead many top tier candidates to not apply. And if we do have a new mayor in November, that leader has to be comfortable with the next chief, or the disruption in the department will be even worse.
In light of those facts, I believe that rather than launching a hurried search now, the better response would be to appoint a strong interim chief to act as a caretaker. That interim chief must have the confidence of line officers and make a clear commitment to continuing to implement the consent decree reforms. That interim would then manage the department until after the November elections, when a search would be launched. I know waiting that long is not ideal, but we need to get this right, and conducting a thorough search free from political uncertainties is critical to ensuring the process is a success. The prudent move would be to get past the current turbulent political landscape rather than rushing to select a new chief.”
Murray takes the opposite policy POV from Harrell, calling for appointing an interim chief and holding off on the national search until after this year's mayoral election.
While Murray risks sounding oblivious to the public's anxiety about the mess at SPD and impatience for action, he connects those issues to the choice voters are being asked to make in November.
His statement frames that message from the beginning. Calling the current situation—the DOJ consent decree— an "embarrassment," Murray says: "The problem with SPD is a failure of leadership, and that leadership begins with the mayor. We need a new mayor."
This frame is a political zinger—and would have been a difficult one for either Burgess or Harrell (both currently city council members)—to pull off.
Of course, we need more than political zingers, and Murray's statement lacks any specifics about SPD policy.
Murray gets an A- for framing the larger problem.
As for the mayor himself, McGinn thinks the search will last beyond November anyway, and announced that Assistant Chief Jim Pugel will serve as interim chief.
This both exacerbates the anxiety that Harrell was hyping and calls attention to the fact that the SPD is an ongoing clusterfuck that McGinn would carry into a second term—making McGinn look bad in both the Harrell scenario or the Murray scenario.
Harrell and Murray played today's news well, but the news itself played McGinn.
Meanwhile, candidate Peter Steinbrueck didn't release a statement.