Lorena González
Lorena González

Seattle mayoral candidates Lorena González and Bruce Harrell shared their priorities and plans for the city should they be elected mayor after the Nov. 2 general election at a community conversations hosted by the Queen Anne Community Council Sunday.

The event didn’t go entirely according to plan, as it was supposed to feature dialog between the two city attorney candidates Nicole Thomas-Kennedy and Ann Davison, but Davison had to pull out because of a family emergency. Independent local journalist Erica C. Barnett was also slated to moderate the mayoral candidate portion, but she was replaced by QACC Chairman Paula Mueller after the Harrell campaign requested Barnett be removed as moderator because of comments she had made prior to the event.

Questions addressed to González and Harrell largely centered around public safety, funding priorities, housing and public health services.

And while both González and Harrell agreed they would work with whomever was elected for city attorney, each had differing ideas on the best way to address and fund public safety and community services.

When asked how they would improve, expand or add mental and behavioral health services, González said the city needs to do more.

“I think this is a really critically important thing that the city has not invested enough in,” she said, adding the city has allocated a small amount directly for those services or to King County Public Health.

González said providing additional funding for mental and behavioral health services is one way she intends to address homelessness, and it is her “goal and commitment” to scale up those services and to work with community behavioral health organizations to  identify solutions for short-, mid- and long-term solutions.

“And I am the only candidate in this race who is making it very clear that we will pay for an increase in an enhancement of our behavioral health services by making sure that our largest, wealthiest corporations in the city are paying their fair share to fund the resources we’re going to need to meet the behavioral health crisis needs of all of our residents,” González said.

Harrell said, however, that he fully intends to work with the state Legislature to “aggressively attack our very regressive tax system” and pump money into an health initiative modeled after one in San Francisco. He said he also wants to work with industry and higher education leaders on what could be done to increase the number of professionals in the field and ensure they receive adequate pay.

When asked about public safety  reform and funding and the delay in implementing some of the programs city leaders promised last year, González said she was disappointed many of the alternatives presented had not been implemented with the speed she wanted but a number of them would begin in January.

“So that’s much needed relief and comfort to those of us who continue to believe that there are more appropriate ways to address people in mental health crisis and behavioral health crisis across our city than the status quo approach of simply hiring more officers and taking an armed law enforcement first approach to many of these social issues,” she said.

González advocated creating a community service officer program that would put unarmed officers back in neighborhoods to engage with community members and tackle quality-of-life concerns and less-serious criminal activity.

Harrell, on the other hand, said his plan is to develop an efficient front-end response to public safety that identifies which first responder is appropriate to dispatch when answering emergency calls.

He also wants to make sure treatment services are in place for people can get the appropriate care and case management according to their needs. Harrell said he is also considering creating a new kind of police officer and certification for community residents who want to go into public law enforcement but who do not want to carry a badge.

“So I have a more global public safety approach, which includes how we respond to these crises,” he said.

When asked about addressing property crime, González elaborated on her community engagement officer idea, stating that if community engagement officers were placed in neighborhoods, they could respond to property crime complaints, which would free up armed officers to respond to more serious criminal activity and investigations.

“The hideous murder of George Floyd calls upon us as leaders in our community and the future mayor to really disrupt the status quo of doing things the way we’ve always done them,” she said, adding that includes property crime issues.

Harrell said wants to have a “balanced approach” to police response. He advocates for having a police force capable of responding to calls, following through on investigations and upholding the law.

At the same time, Harrell wants to “do a deep dive,” including outreach, to determine why certain people are committing crimes and whether they are committing those crimes because there are no services available to meet their needs. Harrell said, however, it is important to understand that there are crimes in the city that are becoming problematic and need to be addressed by law enforcement. He said, at some point, city leaders need to recognize, when property or other crimes are committed, there are “real victims, as well.”

“So under my mayoral platform, we’ll have a balanced approach, but we have to make sure, we have to understand that we do not want to be a lawless city,” Harrell said.

He elaborated on his public safety response plan when the candidates were asked about how they would address concentrated areas of drug activity in the downtown.

He said first he would meet with the city attorney, police officers, store owners and public defenders to talk about the problem and develop a response strategy. He said it is important to separate the people who have addiction problems and need help from the people who are preying on them because they are “often separate demographics.”

He said, ideally, the different stakeholders would create an integrated approach to target the problems with different tools,  such as law enforcement assisted diversion programs, so poverty is not criminalized and people are receiving treatment that they need, but that recognizes that this activity is unacceptable in the downtown.

“This is not Seattle,” he said. “It should not be Seattle, and so under my leadership we’ll have a healthy integrated approach where we will use best practices as suggested by criminologists throughout this country.”

In her response, González stated a long-term solution of ensuring substance abuse treatment is available for people who need it.

González also advocates for city officials to work with downtown stakeholders to re-imagine what the area should look like and envisions building a public rest area where people could come to use the rest room and talk to ambassadors of how to get around the city and learn about services available.

González said, in the past, there were emphasis patrols deployed in the area, where officers responded for limited hours and used disperse, arrest and prosecute approaches to targeting crime and drug use.

“That has been tried and tried and tried over and over again,” González said. “It has not worked.   It is a failed policy. It is expensive, and that is not something that I would support doing as the next mayor of this city.”

Following the mayoral candidate questions, Washington Assistant Attorney General Jeff Sprung conducted a question-and-answer session with Thomas-Kennedy about her goals and plans if elected.

Mueller said QACC would like to schedule a similar session with Davison when she is available if possible.

People can watch the entire forum from Sunday by going to https://youtu.be/wfD4QVNQzUQ.

For residents who missed the Oct. 3 forum featuring the candidates running for City Council positions 8 and 9, highlights include:

• Teresa Mosqueda and Ken Wilson talking about decriminalizing drugs and setting up safe consumption sites: https://youtu.be/-SDe1mPpktA?t=1692

• Nikkita Oliver and Sara Nelson on how they would work with a mayor or city attorney with whom they disagree strongly: https://youtu.be/-SDe1mPpktA?t=2208.

• Or people can watch from the beginning by going to https://youtu.be/-SDe1mPpktA.