By CHRIS GRYGIEL, Associated Press
SEATTLE (AP) – Police, public safety and allegations of racism dominated the last televised debate between the two people vying for the next Seattle mayor.
Lorena González and Bruce Harrell disagreed on police staffing Thursday night, with Harrell criticizing his opponent for supporting the defunding moment after the assassination of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“It is on record that it will give back 50 percent of the money,” said Harrell, a former councilor who has called for more police officers to be recruited to curb an increase in the shootings.
González, the city council president, countered by saying the Seattle Police Department needed an overhaul. The department is under federal oversight after the US Department of Justice finds a pattern of excessive violence and evidence of biased policing.
“The SPD is no longer just a department that we have to reform, we have to reshape it,” she said. González says she wants to reassess how the city can invest in non-law enforcement systems for public safety, which public safety officers can add to streets.
And she said Harrell was using the “Defunding Police” label to distract from his own lack of alternatives to public safety.
“It’s not just about renting more guns and badges,” she said.
Harrell said it was González who tried to steer the issue away from their support for the police budget cut, which he believed was a mistake. He said he would appoint a cabinet-level position to combat increasing gun violence in the city.
González said she would relieve the police of traffic controls in order to reduce biased policing. Harrell said he was also concerned about the biased police but said the current council had not done enough to address the issue.
“You dropped the ball again,” he said.
The Seattle mayoral election on Tuesday is being watched closely across the country to see which candidate the city’s liberal voters have elected. The largest city in the Northwest is one of those communities where the debate about police funding and public safety is central. In the New York mayoral campaign earlier this year, the Democratic primaries elected a former police officer who opposed calls to “police the police”.
Harrell, whose father was Black and her mother’s family were Japanese and grew up in a demarcated neighborhood, also criticized González for running “a very racist ad” that she’d agreed to show off the air this week come.
The ad attempted to remind voters of Harrell’s testimony during a sexual abuse scandal involving former Mayor Ed Murray in 2017. At the time, Harrell expressed doubts about the allegations and did not join González in considering Murray to consider his resignation.
Murray finally left office that year after several men accused him decades ago of sexually abusing her. He denied the allegations.
Black political and civic leaders said the ad was racist because it used a white rape survivor – not a Murray prosecutor – who said she could not trust Harrell, a minority man.
González said the fact that she agreed to remove the ad shows that she has thought about the criticism it provoked.
“As a woman of color, I was also discriminated against,” said González, whose parents were migrant agricultural workers in central Washington. “I apologized and will continue to apologize to the members of our color communities.”
As council president, she has helped enforce a payroll tax for large companies like Amazon to pay for city services, as well as worker protection like a safe planning law. It is supported by many unions in the region.
Harrell has the support of the city’s business community. He has said reform of Washington State‘s regressive tax law, which relies heavily on an income tax, is crucial. He also said he wanted to work with Amazon and other wealthy companies to solve homelessness and other problems.
The incumbent mayor Jenny Durkan is not standing for re-election. The last three mayors elected by Seattle voters have served no more than one term.
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