Wanted: An Early Challenger to Mayor Half-a-Loaf

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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!

David Brewster
David Brewster
David Brewster, a founding member of Post Alley, has a long career in publishing, having founded Seattle Weekly, Sasquatch Books, and Crosscut.com. His civic ventures have been Town Hall Seattle and FolioSeattle.

10 COMMENTS

  1. It’s a source of wonder to me how Seattle continues to elect such inept, and frankly, oddball mayors. This current mayor is one of the strangest. It would be comedic material. Except that it’s so tragic. He actually addressed Seattle’s opioid addiction issue with this proposal to revitalize downtown by relaxing open-container alcohol laws. So, trendy and well dressed arts patrons can openly sip wine on First Avenue, and shoo away homeless addicts panhandling for fentanyl.
    He called it a “space-needle sized proposal” I think. So he’s also guilty of the worst cliches.
    I hate to see my hometown become such a laughingstock.
    Great article, David Brewster.

  2. Well said, David

    My only concern is that a misguided pied piper (remember Mike McGinn) will take such a plunge. Run a Charley Chong messianic campaign and slip through

    Oh, maybe that’s just my recurring nightmare

    Sam Sperry

  3. Interesting speculation, David. However, be careful what you wish for. You only mentioned possible centrist candidates. There are other lanes: notably the far left. One can see Sawant lieutenants stepping into the race, not to mention far rightists like Christopher Rufo (one remembers him as a failed council candidate, although maybe he’s too busy now working as DeSantis’ education-snuffing handmaid in Florida.) Labor, too, may want to have a bigger say with some of the pols they’ve backed in the past.

    • Jean and Sam raise wise cautions, since if Harrell were to exit or seem vulnerable for re-eledtion, a lot of candidates would jump in, especially from the left. That’s why a pre-empt candidate able to mediate among the factions would have to get started early. Fear of the McGinn scenario is one reason folks will rally behind Harrell, on the grounds that an open race would risk the modest progress that Harrell has made, so why risk it?

  4. Seattle city government badly needs a new blood transfusion. I say this with sadness but now without hope.
    As a kid growing up in Bellingham, visits to Seattle were wonderful adventure, whether buying Christmas presents with the folks, or later taking a date down to see an early Joan Baez/Bob Dylan concert.
    Starting work here in the 1970’s, we were America’s “most livable” city. Competent reformers ran the City Council. Constructive activists leaned on City Hall to save the Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square. Writers from national publications arrived to chronicle our good life, People magazine profiled a trendy young architect and his (then) familyon their Saturday morning trip to the Pike Place Market.
    What’s do we see now? Expensive deterioration. Just look around.
    Ironically, in selling my car this week, I traveled four Seattle arterials, all of which which bore “Fix this Street” when the city’s $310 million “Bridging the Gap” levy was passed in 2006. None has been fixed, even though we’re in final stages of a $930 million “Move Seattle” levy.
    Going to Virginia Mason for an appointment, we negotiated anew the city-created Madison Street mess, which has now roiled First Hill. For weeks, northbound access to hospital’s 9th Avenue entrance has been blocked by a project on which no noticeable work is being done.
    Then, last night, got an email from Councilman Andrew Lewis outlining Mayor Harrell’s plan to “tackle” the Fentanyl crisis. In Lewis’ words, the plan “emphasizes diversion and treatment while reserving arrest and prosecutions for extreme situations. The package includes a $27 million investment in new infrastructure for care and treatment.”
    What mush! What expensive mush! What ineffectual mush! If we are not in an “extreme situation,” then what the hell is? Seattle is becoming a poster child for right-wing media. Fentanyl is killing large numbers of people. Do we “divert” dealers who are accessories to homicide? Do we accep loss of once delightful places (e.g. Little Saigon).places .
    Harrell likes being mayor. He is doubtless getting quality ideas from Tim Burgess. But the city drifts and decays.
    Brewster is on the right track. Wake up city government. My pet notion would be to make Council member Tammy Morales work out of an office at 12th & Jackson. David has, however, a serious idea. A legitimate, capable reformer needs to show his/her face, establish a presence and stimulate debate. And face obstacles. Our “musty, crusty” City Council of the 1960’s took time to move. Curiously, the political left is now entrenched in its silos, with The Stranger acting as its Fox News. It’ll be difficult to dislodge.
    Quality folk have risen to the challenge in the past. They gave us a dynamic, forward-looking, engaged city. Do we now have the talent, wisdom and will to preserve it?

    • Thanks, Joel – on target, especially re the overly cautious proposal to deal with the sidewalk fentanyl crisis downtown, i.e. an approach that “emphasizes diversion and treatment while reserving arrest and prosecutions for extreme situations.”
      As you state – if the situation isn’t already extreme, “what the hell is?”

  5. David,
    Really . . . “Mayor Half-a-Loaf”
    And the instructions for our comments call for “Please be respectful.” With name calling like that, you’re reminding me of our last so called “President”! Sorry!!
    There is far, far more to the deterioration of our city than Mayor Harrell.
    Please look to a wide range of neglect of infrastructure and people over a number of administrations and councils.
    And the city council we’ve labored under for too many years . . . “Defund the police” REALLY?? C/M Nelson is clearly a breath of fresh air, but please let’s send C/M Morales packing.
    I think Harrell backed by a much better council could make progress, but digging out of the pit we’re in won’t happen in a single administration, no matter how vibrant they may be!

  6. What I recall of the reformers of the 1970s is bridges to nowhere and a steadfast refusal to recognize the existential fact of the human population explosion, resulting in the rejection both of building infrastructure to accommodate the influx and of closing the gates to state and city to block it, a la Tom McCall’s Oregon. (Same thing happened in Boston, speaking of gridlock.)

    Reading the roster of actual and potential candidates for Seattle city offices, and their constituencies, reminded me of the phrase that Mike Royko thought should be the official motto of Chicago: “Ubi est mea?” (Where’s mine?) Should that change, and the various identities of the Emerald City choose to put aside their ideologies and work together to get things fixed (and paid for), there’s a chance. If not, I think, there is none.

    I could accept railing against this, that, or t’other official if they had all been appointed to their posts by King Charles III, and served at his, and only his, pleasure. Such is not the case. All have been elected, all represent the choices of Seattle voters … or do they? Imagine if all registered voters who do not cast ballots in an election had their votes counted anyway, and were deemed to have voted for Nobody? Would there be an incumbent for *any* city office? Shouldn’t that be telling us something …?

    “We have met the enemy and he is us.” For the millionth time, thank you, Walt Kelly.

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