Police, public safety flashpoints in Seattle mayoral debate

Police, public safety flashpoints in Seattle mayoral debate
Policing and public safety dominated the last televised debate between the two people vying to be Seattle’s next mayor

Policing, public safety and accusations of racism dominated the last televised debate between the two people vying to be Seattle s next mayor.

Lorena González and Bruce Harrell differed Thursday night over police staffing, with Harrell criticizing his opponent for supporting the defunding moment following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis

“She is on record saying she is going to defund by 50 percent,” said Harrell, a former City Councilman, who has called for hiring more police officers to stem a rise in shootings.

González, the City Council president, countered by saying the Seattle Police Department needs to be overhauled. The department is under federal supervision after the U.S. Justice Department found a pattern of excessive force and evidence of biased policing.

“SPD is no longer just a department we need to reform, we must transform it,” she said. González says she wants to re-evaluate how the city can invest in non-law enforcement systems for public safety that can complement officers on the streets.

And she said Harrell was using the “defunding police” label to deflect from his own lack of public safety alternatives.

“It’s not just about hiring more guns and badges,” she said.

Harrell said it was González who was trying to change the subject away from her support of cutting the police budget, which he said is a mistake. He said he would appoint a cabinet-level position to address rising gun violence in the city.

González said she would remove responsibility for traffic stops from the police department as one way to reduce biased policing. Harrell said he, too, was concerned about biased policing but said the current Council had not done enough to address the issue.

“Once again, they dropped the ball,” he said.

Tuesday’s Seattle mayoral election will be closely watched nationally to see which candidate the city’s liberal voters chose. The Northwest’s largest city is one of the municipalities where the debate over police funding and public safety are key issues. Democratic primary voters in New York’s mayoral race earlier this year chose a former police officer who objected to calls to “defund the police.”

Harrell, whose father was Black and mother’s family was Japanese and who grow up in a redlined neighborhood in the city, also slammed González for running “a very racist ad” that she agreed to pull off the airwaves this week.

The ad tried to remind voters of Harrell’s statements during a sexual abuse scandal involving former Mayor Ed Murray in 2017. At the time Harrell expressed doubts about the allegations and did not join González in calling for Murray to consider resigning.

Murray ultimately left office that year after several men accused him of sexually abusing them decades earlier. He denied the allegations.

Black political and civic leaders said the ad was racist because it used a white rape survivor — not a Murray accuser — who said she could not trust Harrell, a minority man.

González said the fact she had agreed to pull the ad showed she had reflected on the criticism it provoked.

“As a woman of color myself, I have also been subjected to discrimination,” said González, whose parents were migrant farmworkers in central Washington. “I have apologized and will continue to apologize to members of our communities of color.”

As council president, she has helped pass a payroll tax on big corporations, such as Amazon, to pay for city services, as well as worker protections such as a secure-scheduling law. She has been endorsed by many of the region’s labor unions.

Harrell has the backing of the city’s business community. He has said reforming Washington state’s regressive tax code that relies heavily on an income tax is key. He also said he wants to work with Amazon and other wealthy companies to help solve homelessness and other issues.

Incumbent Mayor Jenny Durkan is not running for re-election. The last three mayors elected by Seattle voters have not served more than one term.