Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell faces critical challenges with Seattle’s economy


Almost a year ago, I wrote that an economic emergency was awaiting the next Seattle mayor.

Components then included the JumpStart payroll tax, which penalizes Seattle in the area, the rising crime rate and lack of awareness of public safety, homelessness and the emptying of offices caused by the pandemic. Behind this was an aversion to the business that prevailed in the majority of the city council.

Now mayor-elect Bruce Harrell is taking on most of these challenges. And while Seattle has a “strong mayor” government, the council has moved only slightly towards the center (small business owner Sara Nelson won the seat from M. Lorena González, Harrell’s opponent). Another bonus was Ann Davison’s win as a crime lawyer.

The voters sent a strong message. A poll by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber found that 68% of respondents thought the city was on the wrong track.

But Harrell will spend much of his time playing defense and trying to forge winning coalitions among councilors. This week, the council majority began considering cutting the police budget by $ 10 million, which Mayor Jenny Durkan and Harrell opposed.

But he understands – about the holistic nature of improving security, reducing the unprotected population, supporting small businesses and minority businesses, ending the divisive rhetoric against business, and addressing the challenges of the inner city to boost the city’s economy strengthen.

He understands that Downtown is not just another part of Seattle, as his opponent has suggested. The central core generates the majority of city business taxes and was the largest employment hub in the Pacific Northwest prior to the pandemic. 98,000 people live there, too, at a record breaking point.

While 87% of the Chamber’s poll agree that a thriving inner city is vital to our region’s economic recovery, the same proportion said the inner city cannot fully recover until homelessness and public safety issues are highlighted.

“Downtown Seattle was the hardest hit area during the pandemic,” Harrell told the Downtown Seattle Association. “The loss of office commuters, retail stores, service jobs and tourism has not only harmed our city – it has also harmed the entire economy and well-being of our region.”

As mayor, he promised to start a city-wide audio tour in the city center and hear from small business owners and employees. He also pledged to give priority to helping Seattle’s restaurants, nightlife, cultural institutions and hospitality industries. Homelessness and the reform of the police headquarters “without the threat of arbitrary defunding” are also on his downtown list, which would improve the whole city.

“Safe downtown streets are lively, lively places with people from all walks of life,” he told the association. “We also have to do everything we can to ensure that the residents of the city center feel safe and supported.”

He added, “A downtown Seattle that is thriving, welcoming, and safe is one that will once again serve as a focal point for our region’s prosperity and growth.”

But Harrell has to do more. He needs to build a constructive relationship with big corporations, including Amazon, not least because it’s a large part of the city’s tax base.

The fact that 800 “large companies” are included in the city council’s wage tax shows their importance. This sector is responsible for a large number of well-paying jobs and includes such large headquarters as Starbucks, Zillow, Weyerhaeuser, Nordstrom, Expedia and Amazon. These larger companies feed the small business ecosystem.

Bellevue, meanwhile, is hungry to take Seattle’s job because of the self-inflicted wounds.

Jenny Durkan never did what Harrell promises and has to do. She was also a lousy retail politician, another different from Harrell.

Remote work doesn’t last forever, especially as vaccination rates are rising. Nationwide, according to the Federal Office for Labor Statistics, the proportion of teleworkers fell from over 30% of total employment in spring 2020 to a little more than 10% this autumn due to the pandemic. Seattle has to be ready.

After Durkan surrendered part of the city to lawlessness and the previous Ed Murray scandal, Seattle desperately needs a successful mayor.

Every other major city I lived in had mayors and councilors focused on economic growth and attracting and maintaining good jobs.

Not here. Seattle was so rich in a diversified high-end economy that it seemed like a perpetual motion machine. Behind it were the assets to attract world-class talent and companies that benefited from the “back to the city” movement that began around the turn of the century and gained momentum in the 2010s.

With Amazon, a vibrant startup scene, big tech outposts from Silicon Valley, and ombudsmen like the late Paul Allen driving the economy, politics didn’t seem to matter. Until the time came. Since the middle of the last decade, the City Hall’s transition from pragmatic liberalism to the extreme left has become increasingly difficult.

Although evidence shows corporate headquarters are still drawn to Superstar Cities after the pandemic, everything in Seattle is at risk. Mayor Harrell and a tack to the center arrive just in time.