Yay Team! (I Have A Cliche for That)


Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell’s inaugural State-of-the-City speech evoked memories of a classic verbal trip-of-the-tongue by (the first) Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley: “We must rise to higher and higher platitudes.”

Only Harrell was delivering from script with such lines as: “The homelessness crisis should be treated as the crisis it is.” Hizzoner pledged to “hold bad actors accountable,” promised a policy of “reducing silos locally and regionally,” and said he would create “a transparent dashboard to track progress” in the Emerald City. Immediate, specific responses were largely absent while generalities proved abundant.  Who could disagree with Harrell’s declaration: “Woodland Park is a gem of our City. Trash and fires are not acceptable,” or a promise of no deaths or injuries on “streets that prioritize people.”

“I believe in going back to basics,” said Harrell.  O.K., but how will he restore basic safety downtown? Some years back, Seattle officialdom sought federal money for the Downtown Bus Tunnel with artists’ depictions of a Third Avenue with people sipping lattes at outdoor cafes beneath shade trees.  Today, we have a reality of drug dealing, outdoor street sales of stolen merchandise, boarded up storefronts, and businesses hiring their own security. The city is feeling a sense of urgency. Harrell didn’t really promise anything on downtown, aside from having money to hire 125 new police officers.  He made a fleeting reference to the waterfront park. No strategy for neighborhoods, no hint of a housing policy. The promise of an “expanded tree canopy” was about as specific a promise as could be found.

Harrrell did pledge detailed strategies to come, built on a collaboration with the Seattle City Council that was absent under predecessor Jenny Durkan.  He managed to find praise for every member of what has been a divisive and tone-deaf council. (E.g. “I know Councilmember Sawant cares deeply about addressing inequality.”) When he was on the Council, Harrell was often late to commit and attuned to which way winds were blowing. He has taken that approach up to the 7th floor. The ringing conclusion of the speech:  “The challenges Seattle faces are real, but I am confident that my team can partner with the Seattle City Council to make real progress.  We can change the narrative in our city and make Seattle a better place for the people who call it home.”

The time to change that narrative is now, especially at a state of the city address, but we did not get a definition of “real progress.” Rather we saw a cautious guy, talking in the language of government, carefully wafting incense at the city’s interest groups, making fuzzy promises. He missed the moment, for the city is hurting, the town is impatient, and the new Mayor is promising only to be deliberate.

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and SeattlePI.com from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


  1. “When he was on the Council, Harrell was often late to commit and attuned to which way winds were blowing. He has taken that approach up to the 7th floor.”

    Winds of change have been blowing downtown, leaving big messes. The city faces significant challenges addressing in meaningful ways the current levels of empty retail storefronts, street crime, and so many mentally ill and unhoused on the sidewalks.

    Sure, Harrell was a non-committal, vacillating presence on the city council. Maybe he’s grown since then, and developed more than one forward speed. Hopefully he’ll start quickly assessing how city government best should to proceed on the multiple fronts where it now is faltering. Then he’ll need to convince the city council of the wisdom of his new policy proposals. They might listen to him.

  2. Let’s hope he’s the opposite of Ed Murray. I almost have protective amnesia, but it seems to me he was a big one for grand plans, that naturally failed to hit the mark. Harrell should hire a gang of competent administrators, and start to work making sure city hall does its job.

    Want to expand tree canopy? Consider making the permitting department take Seattle Municipal Code 25.11 seriously – that’s the current law protecting trees. SDCI makes the thinnest pretense at enforcing it, with the tacit approval of previous mayors, and the result is that trees that fall into SDCI’s hands are doomed. 25.11 was someone’s grand plan, in its day.

    Want to make SPD into an effective force that stops drug trafficking and petty crime downtown? Hire a good chief, and negotiate a good SPOG contract. Previous mayors failed at this and the result has been epic disaster.

    Etc. I hope Harrell never has an idea, and vetoes every idea he can that comes from the council. He should stick to making city hall do the job it’s supposed to be doing, and making sure it’s doing it well.

  3. The problems Seattle has didn’t emerge overnight, and they won’t disappear overnight. Harrell does have the platitudes down to a t, but let’s hope slow and steady wins the race.

  4. At least he isn’t mouthing the platitudes of the “champagne communists” and “parlor socialists” we have all gotten so used to.

    The bar of rationality in Seattle is low, very low, so low as to be just about on the ground. Still, few local pols manage to clear it. Harrell’s apparent lack of outright lunacy gets him over that low bar. Just barely over it.


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