Rafu Wire and Staff Reports
SEATTLE — Garnering support from five former Seattle mayors, former Washington Gov. Gary Locke, and a large segment of the business community, Bruce Harrell defeated Seattle City Council President Lorena González to become Seattle’s first Japanese American mayor and second Black mayor.
The updated tally on Thursday showed Harrell had earned 65% of the vote.
An attorney and community volunteer, Harrell, 63, assumes the city’s top job for the second time in his political career. As City Council president in 2017, he briefly filled in as mayor following the resignation of Mayor Ed Murray.
Harrell’s parents witnessed intolerance early in life. His father, Clayton Harrell, was raised in the South during the Jim Crow era, and his mother, the former Rose Tamaye Kobata, was confined in a U.S. concentration camp during World War II. They lived in a redlined Seattle neighborhood.
Some political observers say that Harrell’s win, along with the election of Michelle Wu, a Taiwanese American, as mayor of Boston and Aftab Pureval, who is of Tibetan and Indian descent, as mayor of Cincinnati, signals a new empowerment of Asian American candidates and voters during a time when anti-Asian hate incidents have been on the increase.
Harrell’s campaign website contains the following profile: “Bruce was raised in a redlined Central Area home, the son of a Black father and Japanese mother who raised him to respect not only where he came from but also to believe in what was possible.
“Bruce’s mom and her family suffered discrimination and internment during World War II. Their property and small business in Capitol Hill were seized by the government, forcing them to rebuild and recover.
“Bruce’s father’s family came here — like so many African Americans fleeing the Jim Crow laws of the South — to find meaningful economic opportunity. His dad found meaning — and friendship — in the Garfield High music program, performing with Quincy Jones, who later introduced him to Bruce’s mom. Bruce’s parents worked hard, Dad a lifelong City Light employee and Mom at the library.
“A civically active leader, Bruce’s mom taught him the importance of standing up for what’s right and fighting for your community. Bruce graduated valedictorian from Garfield High School [and was congratulated by] his grandmother Lillian Harrell, a registered nurse at Cabrini Hospital in Capitol Hill. He then went to the University of Washington on a football scholarship to play linebacker.
“At UW, Bruce (#55) was a 1978 Rose Bowl champion and received the Most Valuable Defensive Player Award … He also volunteered his time with UW’s Prisoner Counseling Program, where he tutored inmates and graduated with a passion for advancing the rights and opportunities of those too often left behind.
“Bruce went on to law school and then worked in technology and telecommunications, later representing working people who experienced workplace discrimination and supporting small businesses pro bono, helping minority entrepreneurs pursue their dreams. Bruce married his wife Joanne, and together they raised their three children here in Seattle. Bruce is now a proud grandfather.
“In 2007, Bruce ran for City Council, and was twice re-elected, serving both citywide and his home neighborhood in southeast Seattle. On council, Bruce was an outspoken advocate for police accountability and a reform leader. He was the only councilmember to first meet with the family of Native woodcarver John T. Williams after he was killed by SPD, and the first elected representative to demand the use of body cameras.
“Drawing on his experience as a former tutor and attorney to the incarcerated – and because of his commitment to equity and opportunity – Bruce sponsored Seattle’s ‘ban the box’ legislation to prevent discrimination in housing and employment for formerly prosecuted individuals. Bruce supported the $15 minimum wage and worked hard to address the structural inequities in our public schools.
“On the council, Bruce worked with colleagues to bring service providers, nonprofit housing leaders, and businesses together to dramatically expand affordable housing in Seattle and invest in shelter and services. After retiring from the council in 2019, Bruce returned to private practice to expand affordable housing for low-income Seattleites; mentor small businesses and community groups; and continue his work improving access to education for all.
“In 2020, Bruce was selected to lead the city’s COVID-19 Small Business Recovery Task Force, working alongside local business owners, community leaders, and other advocates to support small businesses and their workers, and help chart a path toward an equitable recovery. After the death of George Floyd, Bruce marched in the streets, joining neighbors in peaceful protest for change and justice. Community members treated all with respect and ensured all voices were heard without violence.
“Now, Bruce is running for mayor to bring his tried and tested leadership to take on the tough challenges Seattle faces today, continue serving the city he has always called home, and ensure the next generation of Seattleites has access to the same opportunities he was afforded.”
Harrell’s endorsers included U.S. Reps. Adam Smith and Marilyn Strickland; former Seattle Mayors Norm Rice, Wes Uhlman, Charley Royer, Greg Nickels and Tim Burgess; Councilmembers Debora Juarrez and Alex Pedersen; State Sens. Reuven Carlyle, David Frockt, Jesse Salomon, Steve Hobbs and Kevin Van De Wege; State Reps. Sharon Tomiko Santos, Cindy Ryu, Steve Bergquist, David Hackney, Jesse Johnson, John Lovick, Jamila Taylor and Javier Valdez; Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus and Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards.
The campaign was not without controversy, according to **Northwest Asian Weekly.** On Oct. 25, after criticism from Asian and Black community leaders, Gonzalez pulled an ad that tangentially linked Harrell to a white rape survivor.
In 2017, when Harrell was council president, he defended then-Mayor Ed Murray over sexual assault allegations. Gonzalez called for Murray’s resignation, while Harrell suggested that Murray shouldn’t be judged “for something that happened 33 years ago or maybe didn’t happen.”
In Gonzalez’s ad, a woman identified as Caitlin F. says, “The person who attacked me was never prosecuted. So it was horrifying to me to hear Harrell defend Ed Murray.”
Black community leaders said the ad preyed on fear and racial stereotypes, and an open letter criticizing the ad was signed by more than 200 Asian community members.
Gonzalez said she stood by the core message of the ad but that it should have a centered on a survivor of color. She accused Harrell of making “deliberate choices to discredit survivors and defend those accused of sexual assault to protect people in power.”
Harrell said he was “sad and angry” when he saw the ad. “I want to run on issues and I would rather debate on policies with my opponent. It’s a poor display of leadership.”
He added, “The only one retraumatizing victims is her bringing this up constantly because people are not asking about that issue. They asking about homelessness, race or social justice, police reform, small business revitalization, or climate change.”