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Bruce Harrell — ‘Love Has Been the Fuel in My Tank’ - Part 2

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What was the key inspiration for you to first run for office on the Seattle City Council in 2007?

My key inspiration to run for office in 2007 was that it was simply my time to serve. I had previously worked for the City Council in 1980. By 2007, I had experienced great success as a lawyer and business owner and I had vast experience in working with so many clients over the decades, including employees, employers, nonprofits, technologists, professionals, laborers, educators, community groups, clubs and churches — you name it. I felt that my experience in what it takes to build a pathway to success would be of benefit to the City and that I could implement policies to build that pathway.

Bruce as Seattle City Council President, 2019.

You have served for many years on the Seattle City Council and as Council President. What would you say are your most lasting legacies and perhaps most rewarding accomplishments?

Having served for twelve years, I sponsored or co-sponsored many pieces of legislation. Several stand out as ones I am very proud of.

In 2013, I was the sole sponsor of the Job Assistance Bill, also known as “Banning the Box,” which enhanced opportunities during job interviews for individuals with past criminal backgrounds while not jeopardizing the safety of other employees or customers of the employer. Seattle has over 120,000 people with arrest records; over 420,000 people in King County have criminal convictions. Before this groundbreaking legislation, many members of our society were not even afforded the opportunity to explain what they were arrested for, for example, a minor drug offense many years before their job application. I am very proud of this legislation.

In 2010, I developed “The Great Student” initiative that rigorously evaluated disparities in technology access and specifically targeted Seattle Public School students on the free- and reduced-lunch program. I championed the initiative to provide 20,000 SPS students access to computers and high-speed internet access for less than $10/month. The idea came from when I was tutoring kids at Seattle’s Madrona Middle School. For it, I was awarded the prestigious “Broadband Visionary of the Year Award” in Washington, D.C. by the National Association of Telecommunication Advisors and Officers Association.

I was the first elected official to propose and establish a City of Seattle partnership with South Seattle College to allow graduating high school seniors to attend SSC tuition free. I successfully placed $1.5 million in the 2017-2018 City budget for what was known as the “13th Year Promise.” Subsequently, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced a $5 million endowment to cover the tuition costs of future 13th year students and expand the program citywide. In 2021, President Biden announced his similar “community college free for all” platform as part of his national strategy.

I was a key elected official and member of Seattle’s Inequality Advisory Committee to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour, which took effect in 2015. On this, I worked collaboratively with employee advocacy groups, business owners and leaders, non-profit organizations, human service organizations, restaurant workers, hospitality organizations, and workers and businesses in the industrial and manufacturing job sector.

Public testimony from David Freiboth, from the Martin Luther King County Council, stated: “Councilmember Harrell is one of the unsung key people in the minimum wage campaign. A lot of people took a lot of credit… and a lot of people didn’t give enough credit for what you did in that committee. So I just want to thank you for that.”

My commitment to public safety is unprecedented. As a Public Safety Chair, I funded more police officers each year and reached 1,384 sworn officers by the end of 2016, the highest ever for the police department in city history.

Bruce at a Black Lives Matter protest over George Floyd’s murder, 2020.

The following year, in 2017, to ensure that more police officers did not equate to increased levels of police misconduct or their use of unreasonable force, I was the sole drafter of Seattle’s first “Bias Free” policing law, which became effective in 2019. It creates a private right of action for persons alleging to be a victim of racist or biased policing. It requires the City to collect specific data regarding “Terry” stops (police briefly stopping someone for a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity) and traffic stops to evaluate issues of racial profiling. It requires the Seattle Police Department to undergo specific training on Bias Free policing. All of these requirements will remain in force long after the federal consent decree overseeing the police department’s use of excessive force, which began in 2012, expires.

You have run, unsuccessfully, for mayor in the past. What is the prime motivation for you to run for mayor this year? Can you highlight your top vision and priorities especially in light of these most challenging times?

My prime motivation is that Seattle, the city I love, the city that has helped me achieve the dreams of my youth, and the city in which I raised my children, is at an all-time low point in my view. I am willing to serve the public with all of my energy, experience and passion to reset, rejuvenate, and revitalize it. I believe my personal heritage, my personal and professional experiences, my faith and the relationships I have spent a lifetime building, make me an ideal candidate to address the issues Seattle is now facing.

My vision can be captured through three overarching themes/priorities: Race and Social Justice, Economic Revitalization, especially for our ravaged small businesses, and Public Safety/Homelessness. I put the last two together as they are integrally linked. Obviously, there is a lot more to be said about these themes and I hope that readers will seek out more about my policy priorities, as well as my history of accomplishments.

What was your first visit to Japan like?

My first trip to Japan was with the Japanese American Leadership Delegation (JALD) in 2016 and was one of the most educational and life-changing experiences I had ever had. It was simply amazing to be able to shake hands and converse with the Prime Minister, meet with members of their federal congress or National Diet, meet with the Japanese royal family, and meet with ordinary Japanese families who want to improve relationships with Americans. The visit really helped me better understand my own culture and how a small island country could have such an established place in the world order.

What messages would you have for biracial/multiracial young people starting out their careers or considering political office?

My message for every biracial or multi-racial young person thinking about their career is to first know that your most powerful tools will be who you know, who you have relationships with, and what you read. The beauty of this strategy is that you have control over these things. Help as many people as you can if you believe in their ultimate goal. In the long run, it pays in dividends. And then, read everything you can about trends, answers, solutions and be the one in the group to volunteer in working on them. Perhaps last, and most importantly, try to keep the most positive attitude you can. At the end of the day, you will be defined by the attitude you bring. Again, this is something that ultimately is your choice.

Bruce’s family, from left: Adam, wife Joanne, Bruce, Joyce, Jason and Jamie with Kaiya, 2015.


*This article was originally publshed in the North American Post on July 9, 2021. All photos are courtesy of Harrell family.  


© 2021 Elaine Ikoma Ko / The North American Post

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