Seattle's mayoral candidates weren't supposed to spar over public safety until October 28, but M. Lorena González and Bruce Harrell couldn't help themselves last Thursday. During this election season's first televised debate, the former city council colleagues tried to delineate their positions on defunding the Seattle Police Department between comments on homelessness, Amazon, and zoning, among other topics. Here are some excerpts from those conversations.
Harrell: I've been talking to people in coffee shops and grocery stores and neighborhoods, working with small businesses. They are starving for effective leadership, sort of a no-nonsense approach. They want the homelessness issue addressed with a sense of urgency. They want people out of the parks and off the sidewalks and out of tents. They want them to have warm water. They want them to have heat. And they don’t want to be demonized for saying they want the parks back because they want them housed, and the people who want to be housed want services. We’re not getting that from City Hall. We’re getting finger-pointing, excuse-making, and I’m not seeing a sense of urgency.
We also have to look at police reform. People want seven-minute response times. They want an effective police department. That's why I don't subscribe to the defund narrative that my opponents and others have articulated.
González: I have made it my life’s work to stand up and fight for working families, whether it’s taking on a large corporation who’s engaging in discrimination, or holding police departments, including SPD, accountable for the extraordinary abuse of our life and liberty. This is the hard work that I have done all my life. As a parent, like so many of you, I know that we are at a critical crossroads. Will we be a city that is only accessible and available to the wealthy who can afford million-dollar homes? Or will we be a city that is inviting and welcoming to families of all incomes, where every neighborhood is a good one to live in and safe?
Just a few months ago, I lost my mother-in-law and my home in a tragic fire. Seattle showed me his deep generosity in that moment. And it clarified for me my motivation to serve as mayor and lift each other up through programs like affordable childcare, housing, and mental health care, rather than punching down on those who don't have as much as we do.
No. 1 Priority as Mayor
González: I think it's pretty clear that the next mayor's biggest opportunity and challenge to lead is on solving for homelessness. Like so many people in our city, I believe that people living in our open spaces in tents is unacceptable. I do not believe that people should be living outside. We need to work clearly and urgently to rapidly increase shelter. And to make sure that we are still looking at how we can build more affordable housing throughout our city and increase access to mental health care and substance use disorder treatment throughout the city.
Harrell: Same issue, homelessness, I think we understand that. I guess our approach, however, will be different. I have a sense of urgency that the first thing we will do is publish a plan. You'll see cost per person, cost per unit. You'll see a dashboard of where we are now, which is totally unacceptable. When I talk about moving people out of parks, out of sidewalks, out of playgrounds where you see syringes and these intolerable conditions, I'm talking about building and treating our way out of this issue with a sense of urgency.
Harrell: They have to pay their fair share of taxes, number one. Number two, they have to align their corporate social responsibility goals with that of the city. That will be affordable housing, that will be homelessness, that will even be some of the health care initiatives that we will roll out as mayor.
González: I don't think that Amazon's going to look at moving anywhere else but here in Seattle. We just saw that they announced that there are going to be 12,500 new jobs right here in the city of Seattle. Why? Because we're a beautiful city, their workers and their future workers want to live and work in this city. So it is critically important for us to make sure that we have a mayor who is serious about requiring all large, profitable corporations pay their fair share.
On Campaign Contributions
González: My opponent is benefiting from hundreds and thousands of dollars from our city's real estate developers who have gentrified our communities and have evicted our poor working families into the streets. And by Trump's top state donor [George Petrie]. Those are the facts. Follow the money, and the money will tell you that my opponent is benefiting, in this campaign, from those particular corporate and moneyed interests in our city.
Harrell: It's interesting people are confused by that, because that same donor, [who I've] never met, never talked to this person...this person also supported governor Jay Inslee, and many Democrats, as well. So it's a false narrative. And I think the voters will be smarter than that.
On Creating Jobs
González: I am committed to centering the needs of working class families when I get to City Hall, no more catering just to the corporate interests in this city. And my number one focus will be to create a strong, vibrant local economy that, again, invites our high-road employers to come into the city of Seattle, and to create those union-wage jobs for all of the people who want to work in this city.
Harrell: What I have done in the past is work closely with our Office of Economic Development, making sure that they use the regulatory structure of market to market strategies, making sure businesses have relationships with one another. But if you talk to small businesses, and I've been all around the city talking to small businesses, you have to meet them where they are: They want strong public safety. When my opponent made the commitment to defund the police by 50 percent, she missed the mark, because they want safety for their employees and for their customers, number one. Number two...I do not take jobs for granted. I do not assume that any of these small, medium, or large organizations will still be here in Seattle, because if you look at the job losses that are occurring, we are driving jobs outside of Seattle.
On Zoning Changes
Harrell: My opponent is fond of supporting the total elimination of single-family zoning, which is just not my narrative or my approach, but I still believe we have hundreds of thousands of unused zoning capacity that we should aggressively pursue. Increase density, increase height certainly where it makes sense, but I think this is going to be a collaborative discussion.... I want people to have generational wealth passed down. And that's why I'm not quick to say, the total elimination of single-family zoning, this has to be a citywide discussion. We will lead it, but we're not going to come in and say we support the total elimination of single-family zoning.
González: Seattle, as progressive as we are, we are not immune from the realities and the vestiges of racism that is left behind because of redlining practices. And when we look at this area, we know that the reality is that there's a very little part of our city that is absorbing all of the growth in our city. So I believe that it is important for us in order to create a city that is not just available to the wealthy, with exclusive neighborhoods and million-dollar homes, that we must reform our zoning laws to allow for more housing choice in our most attractive neighborhoods, and invite more families of varying incomes into those neighborhoods to live with us and benefit from some of the prosperity that many of our low-income families and our working-class families have been excluded from precisely because of the strict nature of our existing zoning laws.
González: I believe it is unacceptable for people to be living outside. I think it's unacceptable for people to be living in encampments. And I think it's unacceptable for people to live in our parks, in our doorways, and in our greenways. I think my opponent agrees with me to that point, but I think this is where the similarities end. My opponent has been on record saying that his approach would be to make sure there are consequences for people, for the government's failure to do our job, which is to make sure that there's a strong safety net, and that we're increasing rapidly the available shelter that is unique and needed for each individual's need. I also believe that the next mayor needs to not just focus on increasing rapidly the shelter available, not just by 2,000 units, because there are 4,000 people sleeping outside tonight, but by 4,000 units, and also making sure that we are adequately resourcing mental health.
Harrell: Many of you know, my wife used to be the CEO of United Way. And she and I have been in this space of homelessness and trying to help homeless, the homeless population for decades. So to suggest that I would criminalize poverty in any way just goes against everything I've been spending my life toward. Now we have to also talk about the face of the homeless. The face of the homelessness is multifaceted. Certainly there are people with mental illness and drug and alcohol issues. Some people just need a job. And that's why we are creating the Seattle jobs center. The fact of the matter is, there are also people in there that are engaging in sex trafficking, and preying upon the other demographics. We do have criminal laws for a reason.
On Neighborhood Business Districts
González: Small businesses, regardless of where their location is, are deserving of assistance and help from the City of Seattle. What I get worried about is a City Hall that continues to cater to big business, corporate interests, in downtown only. So my prosperity-for-all plan really focuses on workers first, how do we make sure that our workforce is being taken care of, has pathways to good jobs in our city?
Harrell: We're creating a Seattle jobs center…. Think of an economic generator where both employers and employees can get matched and also think about grants and programs, training opportunities, apprenticeships that often pay six-figure incomes.
González: You don't have to be mayor to stand up a Seattle jobs center, and I'm not sure that the city should be spending limited taxpayer dollars on setting up a privately funded Indeed jobs search.
On Potential Safety and Security Grants to Small Businesses
Harrell: This is where I think my opponent misses the mark. Because what small businesses are saying is they want public safety. Now I will support anything that's working right now, because I have a sense of urgency. And if [private security's] one option, and we can make that happen, that's fine. But at the end of the day, we have to have a funded police department. The police department in the city of Seattle, they have to meet their charter purpose, which is to protect everybody, and build community trust. So that's a stopgap measure. I don't think that is sustainable.
González: There's two issues with that proposal, the first one being that it's probably an illegal gift of public funds. And secondly, I think that the police officers guild might have a thing or two to say about contracting out work that is related to public safety.
Harrell: When you openly say your goal is to defund the police department by 50 percent, realizing that 90 percent of the costs of that department are personnel-related, there's going to be an aftershock of that. And one of them will be small businesses need protection, and they need help.
González: My opponent likes to point out that or create an inference that somehow I was committed to divesting from the police department to invest in community because I have some animus against officers. That's simply not true. I made a commitment to look at shifting dollars away from the police department in direct response to the murder of George Floyd and the action that we saw in our city.... What I'm pointing out is that there are deep cultural reform issues that cannot be simply fixed by asking them to watch videos of somebody murdered, or making them sign a pledge after they view that video.
On Police Applicants and Others Refusing Vaccine Mandates
González: I would tell that person that unfortunately, the city of Seattle and Seattle Police Department is not the right department for them. I strongly believe that it is important for all of our public employees to receive the vaccine.
Harrell: It's a mandate. You're a first responder. I expect you to take your oath of office to the point where you realize you have to lead with the vaccination. So this is not the place for you here in Seattle.