The easiest mistake to make in listening to Mayor Harrell’s “State of the City” address today is to believe that it was directed at the people of Seattle. We were convenient witnesses, but the audience was solely the nine City Councilmembers. Harrell presented them with his opening offer in the negotiations on how the Mayor’s Office and the Council will share power over the next four years. Here’s what he told them:
- First, he made his best case that he had the upper hand in the negotiations: that the voters put him in office with a mandate to end the acrimonious stalemate between the Council and Mayor that has in part led to the proliferation of homeless encampments across the city, the increase in crime, and the visible decay in public safety and “livability.”
- He read the room, repeating back to each of the Councilmembers their top issues – but perhaps more important, telling them that he is willing to ensure that they each get credit for progress made on those issues.
- He laid out the table stakes. Yes, Lisa Herbold can grow new civilian-based emergency response programs and hire a “different kind of police officer,” but in return Harrell is going to hire more police officers. Andrew Lewis can get more permanent supportive housing and more behavioral health programs targeting homeless individuals, but there will also be a centralized system for Seattle residents to report problematic homeless encampments so that the city and Regional Homeless Authority will address them. Teresa Mosqueda gets to keep her pet programs, including childcare and rental assistance, in the city’s budget, but there will be some belt-tightening too. Sawant gets to fight for workers’ rights and environmental justice grants, and in return Harrell wants a Jobs Center. And on.
What is notable is that Harrell is negotiating in public. That runs counter to both his reputation and the way he described himself on the campaign trail as an official who preferred to negotiate out of the spotlight. It serves his purpose, at least for the moment, in that it puts the Councilmembers on notice that Harrell is well aware that he enters office with leverage and momentum and he intends to get his way. Harrell is presenting the Council, hyper-sensitive to public opinion, with a path to make it win-win – if they choose to work with him. And if not, then by making the negotiation public he hopes that the public will hold them accountable.
Harrell has a difficult tightrope to walk here. He wants to assert his momentum and mandate without being perceived as a bully; he also doesn’t want to concede so much to the Council that he weakens his own power to negotiate. Elected officials are adept at selectively quoting; in their public responses we can be sure that the Councilmembers will choose to highlight Harrell’s concessions to their agendas without mention of what he asked for in return.
This is just the opening round of negotiations between the Mayor and the Council, and as always with Seattle City Hall, when all is said and done, there will be a lot more said than done.