When the ballots for voters arrived in Seattle, Mayoral candidates M. Lorena González and Bruce Harrell clashed in a televised debate Thursday night, highlighting the differences in homelessness, policing and corporate campaign contributions.
It was clear from the start that the rivals were ready to beat each other’s perceived weaknesses.
Harrell, a former city council president, attacked González, the current city council president, for the worsening homelessness crisis in Seattle and efforts to relieve the police department, and advocated an end to single-family home zoning.
Voters “hunger for effective leadership,” Harrell said in his opening address. “They want people to get out of the parks and sidewalks and tents … They don’t want to be demonized because they say they want the parks back, because they want them to be housed … we don’t get that from the town hall. ”
In her opening remarks, González highlighted her career as a civil rights attorney and councilor, saying she made it her life’s work to “stand up and fight for working families.”
González also went on the offensive early on, targeting some of Harrell’s biggest campaign supporters during a discussion of Seattle’s stance on Amazon and other big companies.
She referred to a political action committee backing Harrell, which was funded by business interests, to overturn the city’s new “JumpStart” payroll tax for companies with payrolls of $ 7 million or more.
“My opponent … is supported by the very people who are currently fighting in court for the abolition of a progressive tax for the largest and richest companies in our city. So that’s a great honor, ”said González, noting that one of the top donors to a pro Harrell PAC, property manager George Petrie, is also the top state donor to ex-President Donald’s political committee that year Trump is.
Harrell protested what he called a “false narrative”, saying he never met the big donors González mentioned, noting that Petrie also gave Democrats like Gov. Jay Inslee.
While Thursday’s debate was billed as a focus on business and business, the issues of homelessness and police were often the focus as the debate moderators and candidates realized that the issues are intertwined with the city’s business district and business climate.
Harrell repeatedly brought up González’s 2020 statements in which he supported cutting the Seattle Police Department’s budget by 50% and redirecting funds to other services. “When you talk to small businesses … they want strong public safety. And therefore [when] My opponent has pledged to relieve the police by 50%, she missed the target, ”he said.
González said she supported defunding efforts not out of some “animus” against the police, but in response to widespread protests against police violence.
“I pledged to turn dollars away from the police in direct response to the George Floyd assassination and the action we saw in our town,” she said.
Hundreds of Seattle police officers recently left the department, citing poor morale and lack of support from City Hall. But González said personnel issues were “before me” in the Council and a national issue. She also criticized the police department, saying that “deep questions of cultural reform” need to be addressed.
Urged on how the city should deal with homeless camps in parks and other public spaces, both candidates said they wanted to quickly offer more housing, as well as psychological and addiction counseling.
On the question of whether people who camp in parks should be forced to leave them even if they refuse shelter or treatment, González said, “We have to be careful when we cross this line,” comparing this to the Failed drug war tactics.
Harrell said he wanted to create better services to get people to leave parks voluntarily. But, he said, “The fact is, I want our parks back and I want our sidewalks back and I want to house people.”
Harrell repeatedly went after González for advocating “the complete abolition” of single-family zoning in the city and said he would include neighborhoods in the zoning discussions. González said she wanted to create a city “that is not only available to the rich, with exclusive neighborhoods and million dollar homes.”
Towards the end of the debate, the two candidates agreed on one point.
When asked what they would say to employees who do not want to comply with a COVID-19 vaccination order, they all essentially replied: Unlucky.
“I firmly believe that it is important for all of our public workers to receive the vaccine,” said González.
“It’s a mandate. You are a first responder. I expect you to take your oath of office to the point where you realize you need to lead with vaccinations, ”Harrell said.
Harrell raised about $ 1.1 million for his campaign while González raised about $ 914,000.
They have all received extra big money support from independent political action committees that have started bombarding voters with negative television and digital ads.
Bruce Harrell for Seattle’s Future has raised nearly $ 1.3 million with support from business and real estate executives. Essential Workers for Lorena has collected nearly $ 1 million from major unions representing hotel, food, and health workers.
Harrell won the August primary with 34% of the vote, less than 2% ahead of González.
The debate took place in the KCTS 9 studio without a personal audience. A second public health and safety debate is scheduled for October 28th at 7pm. Both debates are organized by the Washington State Debate Coalition and the Seattle City Club.
The debate was moderated by Mary Nam from KOMO and included questions from a media panel by Daniel Beekman from The Seattle Times, Amy Radil from KUOW and Chris Daniels from KING 5.