After six years of increasingly progressive governance, voters in Seattle have finally had enough. In November, they elected Democrat Bruce Harrell, a moderate former city council president, to be the city’s next mayor. Mr Harrell’s more liberal opponent in the nonpartisan mayoral election had campaigned to stop the city from cleaning up Seattle’s drug-infested homeless encampments and cutting the city’s police budget in half. town.
Mr. Harrell, on the other hand, has pledged to make public safety a priority and ensure that city spending on homelessness programs follows strict rules for moving people “off the sidewalks and out of the parks”. He pledged to restore civility to the city’s increasingly angry political discourse. “I never had to deviate from that message,” he told me in an interview this week.
Mr. Harrell’s election was not the only victory of common sense. Sara Nelson, a self-proclaimed “longtime Democrat”, defeated Nikkita Oliver, a well-known radical activist, for a seat on the city council. And in the race for city attorney, former public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, who had vowed to stop prosecuting misdemeanors, lost to a Republican, Ann Davison, who vowed to increase prosecutions. .
The three November winners were essentially out of Seattle politics just two years ago. Mr Harrell’s political fortunes had stalled and he refused to run for a fourth term on council in 2019. Then a Democrat, Ms Davison lost her 2019 bid for city council by 20 points. She joined the movement “on foot” and switched parties, losing her 2020 bid for lieutenant governor. Ms Nelson failed to win a Democratic primary for a council seat in 2017.
So why this sudden rebound?
Local politics in Seattle has traditionally been collegial. This spirit disappeared in the early 2010s when radicals began to invade the city council. Kshama Sawant, a member of the Socialist Alternative Party, pushed the council to the left with a confrontational style and links to a network of outside pressure groups and Twitter mobs.
When Mayor Jenny Durkan took office in 2018, there were hopes the former federal prosecutor might rein in the progressive council, but Ms Sawant and Seattle’s angry left dismissed it as a “Democratic enterprise.” Rather than looking for common ground, Ms Sawant sought conflict, even taking part in a march on Ms Durkan’s house.
Seattle politics boiled over in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd. Nordströmit’s
the downtown flagship store was ransacked and looted, along with 100 other businesses. Police cars were set on fire. Protesters converged on the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct building, demanding it be closed. Day by day the crowd grew and intensified. The left-wing council members showed up to support the protesters, not the cops.
The unsettled crowd could easily have been diverted to a nearby park, but the city allowed the mob to control the streets, night after night, for 10 days. Ms. Durkan gave up, the neighborhood was shut down and barricaded, and the six-block, cop-free Capitol Hill Occupied Zone, or CHOP, was born. It was later renamed CHAZ – the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. Ms Durkan publicly hoped it was the start of a “summer of love”, but instead of Woodstock, Seattle got Altamont. CHAZ was plagued with violence – muggings, robberies and shootings.
All of this misery has spawned even more extremism in 2021. Ms Oliver’s bid for city council was built around a vow to defund the police. Ms. Thomas-Kennedy, a candidate for city attorney, expressed her support for the idea of abolishing both the police department and the prison. On Christmas Eve 2020, she tweeted her wish that the police would catch Covid.
It was too much for Seattle voters. Mr. Harrell not only won the election, he won a mandate, beating Mr. Lorena González by 18 points. Ms. Nelson beat Ms. Oliver by 8 points. And Ms. Davison became the first Republican elected to office in Seattle since the Reagan era.
Seattle’s recovery will take time. The city’s political culture has been hurt by decades of terrible public policies, and not just by the mayor and city council. Judges are still allowing drug dealers armed with long rap sheets out of jail on little or no bail.
Mr. Harrell knows the healing process will be slow. “My strategies have to be sustainable,” he says. He acknowledges the help he will need from the city council and local prosecutors. Her immediate goal is to hire more cops, which is also a priority for Ms. Nelson on city council. “I’m down 400,” Mr. Harrell said, a reference to the massive resignations and retirements of Seattle officers in recent years.
Mr. Harrell’s other priority is not so concrete. He wants to bring back the happy, happy town he grew up in. “Seattle got grumpy,” he says. The public mood “reflects the angry tone of politics in recent years”. We must realize, he says, “that most people share the same goals.”
Seattle’s decline did not happen overnight, nor will it be resolved overnight. But the healing has begun.
Mr. Carlson is the morning host at 570 KVI in Seattle.
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