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A look back on Bruce Harrell's first two years as Seattle mayor

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City of Seattle
City of Seattle

This year marks the halfway point in the first term of Seattle's mayor, Bruce Harrell. Sworn in on January 1, 2022, he has accomplished many of his campaign promises over the last two years but has also elicited controversy for his treatment of people experiencing homelessness, his support of the Seattle Police, and recent moves against LGBTQ+ safe spaces made by city and county officials he had appointed.

In his first year on the job, Harrell appointed several city employees to higher positions. In February of 2022, Jessyn Farrell was made the director of sustainability and environment. In July, he nominated Gregg Spotts for director of transportation, and in September, he named Anthony-Paul Diaz superintendent of the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department.

As such, Diaz introduced the proposal to build a playground at Denny Blaine Park. The department ultimately decided to scrap the plan, following overwhelming protests from the LGBTQ+ community.

Diaz was also responsible for the removal of the BLM Memorial Garden in Cal Anderson Park. The free garden stood as a reminder of the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP), from the BLM protests in the summer of 2020, and had effectively worked to feed impoverished members of the community. In December 2023, the Parks and Recreation Department released a statement saying, "In recent months, the temporary garden has created unsafe conditions for all park users, including the vandalism of Cal Anderson public bathrooms, public drug use, unauthorized camping, and a significant rodent problem, among other issues."

The statement also informed the public that Mayor Harrell would be working closely with the department to relocate the garden. No information on a pending relocation has yet to be released, and the office of the mayor declined to speak to us on the topic.

Appointing department directors remained one of Harrell's shining accomplishments in his 2024 State of the City address on February 20, in which he noted he appointed an additional eight positions in 2023, and had helped to address apparent staffing shortages in the Seattle Police Department

Harrell's most controversial staffing move has proven to be Chief of Seattle Police Adrian Diaz, whom he appointed in September 2022. Following this, Chief Diaz demoted Captain Deanna Nollette and Assistant Chief Eric Greening, both of whom had also applied for the position.

At the beginning of this month, Nollette filed a lawsuit against the City of Seattle, the Seattle Police Department, and Chief Diaz for gender-based discrimination. In the suit, Nollette asserts that Chief Diaz has a known history of misogyny and purposely excludes female employees from higher positions and social events.

Diaz faced a similar suit in 2023 by SPD Detective Denise Bouldin, who alleged the chief had built his career on racial and gender-based discrimination.

Harrell has spent his first term as mayor working closely with Chief Diaz and the SPD. One of his highest priorities is reducing crime in the city, something that has been partially accomplished. In his first year, Seattle's statistics on property crimes decreased, as did reports of violent crime. However, homicides have risen under Harrell's tenure.

Harrell's commitment to the Seattle Police Department was echoed in his State of the City address, in which he noted that, under his leadership, applications to the SPD have increased to nearly 200 a month — a record high since the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. "We are urgently recruiting police officers who share our values," he said.

Though not in office at the time of the protests, Harrell continues to be impacted by the fallout from the movement. According to a public records request by the SGN, the City has accrued heavy legal costs under Harrell's administration: $25,869,941.51.

The City also reached a settlement in January with a group of peaceful protesters and journalists, and has agreed to pay a total of $10 million for damages caused by the Seattle Police Department. (This class-action lawsuit includes SGN Editor Renee Raketty.)

In the summer of 2023, Harrell changed the way parking tickets are issued in Seattle, making the Department of Transportation responsible for issuing fines instead of the SPD. This change led to the cancellation of 200,000 parking tickets and $5 million in refunds issued.

Both the decrease in property crimes and the increase in homicides may be linked to Harrell's strict approach to homelessness. While he did alter the city's 2024 budget to allocate more money toward fighting homelessness, Harrell has also stunted affordable housing programs across the city. Citing gentrification as his concern, he imposed limits on a recently passed law, so as to prevent the construction of low-income fourplexes and sixplexes in zones originally intended for single-family housing.

Harrell has also faced criticism for his increased crackdowns on homeless encampments. During the July 2022 heat wave, his administration backed the removal of encampments across the city without providing access to alternative housing. The Regional Homelessness Authority issued an official statement condemning the administration's decision, noting that the removal of encampments endangered the lives of several citizens during deadly weather conditions.

The following month, recordings from a meeting between Harrell and the Seattle Police Department were leaked by a local radio station. In them, Harrell is heard saying, "No one has a right to sleep on the streets," as he criticized the King County RHA and the City Council.

In his State of the City address, Harrell highlighted the importance of affordable housing in Seattle. He reminded voters that his administration was pivotal in passing a $970 million housing levy in 2023.

Climate change
Thanks to Harrell, Seattle is leading the country in the fight against climate change. In 2022, he signed a Green New Deal bill, in which the City will provide $6.5 million toward the transition to clean energy. Harrell plans on having all city-owned buildings entirely powered by green energy within the next ten years.

Liquor and drug use
Addressing the city's growing fentanyl crisis has also been a priority of Harrell's over the last two years. One of his proudest accomplishments of 2023 was passing legislation to address the consumption of illegal drugs, and approving $27 million toward new substance treatment programs and facilities.

In his State of the City address, Harrell also boasted that his increased police funding has helped the department confiscate 200 million individual fentanyl pills. Harrell's new drug treatment program is now the most comprehensive in the state, and will only continue to grow. In March, he plans to invest an additional $7 million in a postoverdose treatment center.

In April 2023, Harrell proposed a plan to "revitalize" downtown Seattle and address public drug use by allowing people to openly carry alcoholic beverages on the street, though this would only apply to people participating in First Thursday Art Walks.

Despite his liberating approach to the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board's rules on public drinking and intoxication, Harrell looked the other way in January when the WLCB issued several fines in the same night to prominent LGBTQ+ bars for reported "dress code violations." The board has since revoked these fines.

Since the night of the Gay bar raids, legislators in Olympia have been working to reverse the archaic LCB policies. Leading the fight is Sen. Jamie Pedersen. While Harrell has not commented on the specifics regarding the LCB policies, he did release a vague statement following backlash on social media, which read in part, "Under my administration we will not target people or communities based on their sexuality... We understand concerns raised by the community based on a perception of violating this principle."

Plans for the future
Harrell has worked to cooperate with the City Council to pass a total of 187 bills, as well as approving the 2024 budget. His plans for the future include pushing a strategy for economic growth by ensuring that Seattle is a place for "entrepreneurial workers," as he noted in his speech. "That's why in 2023 we put into action our Future of Seattle Economy agenda," he said, highlighting the economic program, which aims to help citizens start businesses and find "good jobs" while expanding capital for existing businesses.

As Harrell moves into the second half of his tenure, he is determined to invest more money in affordable housing and human services. The budget he signed into law for 2024 allocates record funds of $339 million toward affordable housing and $109 million toward the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, which aims to shelter and provide programs to those experiencing homelessness.

Still a strong supporter of the SPD, Harrell also allocated $4.5 million to the department to help expand "event staffing" and "police availability."