I have a sinking feeling that the Seattle mayor’s race in 2025 will turn into a bruising but landslide re-election for Mayor Bruce Harrell. That shouldn’t happen at a time when the city (its downtown, its budget shortfalls, its crime and homelessness issues, its underperforming public schools, its disintegrating streets, its foundering arts groups) deserves a full debate and some alternatives to Mayor Half-a-Loaf.
Hence my suggestion. There ought to be a serious, substantive, energetic candidate entering the mayor’s race. Right now.
A candidate with strong ideas needs to start early, raising money, getting known, and getting educated about city issues. Typically, candidates such as Jessyn Farrell and Casey Sixkiller jump in late (as both did in 2021), scramble too late for endorsements and money, and then come in a respectable fourth (Farrell) and sixth (Sixkiller) place. We already have a ho-hum governor’s race (odds-on favorite is Bob Ferguson). The usual course for Seattle mayoral politics is to pit a center-left candidate supported by the business establishment, and a get-out-of-my-way candidate of the Left (Lorena Gonzalez), rather than one who has real management chops, striking policy proposals, and can navigate a course between those rocky coasts.
Ah, but who? Who is willing to buck the mayor and his labor and business and city hall allies? Here are some names that occur to me: Former Interior Secretary and REI chief Sally Jewell, Melinda Gates, County Councilman Girmay Zahilay; urban development consultant Kate Joncas, former State Sen. Reuven Carlyle, Attorney General-bound Nick Brown; former mayoral candidates Colleen Echohawk, Casey Sixkiller, Art Langlie, and Jessyn Farrell; Tacoma .Congressman Derek Kilmer, former City Councilmember Sally Clark, homelessness expert Helen Howell, attorney Gerald Johnson.
It will take several years for such a candidate to be taken seriously, especially if they propose solutions that defy entrenched interests. But at least such proposals will capture media attention, stirring push-back and creating the “right enemies.”
Money will be slow to flow to such a long-shot disrupter, with the serious money already tied up by Harrell and all the spending limitations and disclosure requirements for donors. But there are alternative funding paths. One is the Democracy Voucher route (though with incumbency-protecting limitations). National donations could flow from solutions-focused groups. A self-funded rich person could pump money into a race. Thousands of individual donations could be raised as the candidate catches fire and works the neighborhood groups and social media. Suppose, for instance, the candidate favored four mayor-appointed additional Seattle School Board members, which could tap national education-reform groups and dollars.
Even if such a candidate were not to survive the 2025 election, he or she would have stirred debate, put some strong solutions on the public table, cleared the ground for a late-entering candidate, and nudged Harrell into thinking about retiring and declaring victory after a single term. Moreover, Harrell would possibly become a better mayor if there were some real competition for his agenda and his (so-far) indecisive leadership style. That challenge is not something the evenly-divided and inexperienced City Council is likely to offer.
So, while I don’t see any broadly qualified and popular candidates taking such a gamble, from the public’s perspective I see only gains — even for Mayor Harrell. I look forward to other nominees you may have for this unsmart career move. Now is the time for somebody up to the job to come to the aid of our city!