Seattle City Council president Bruce Harrell takes the oath of office as acting mayor of Seattle. Left to right: Mayor Harrell, City Attorney Pete Holmes, District 4 Councilmember Rob Johnson, District 5 Councilmember Debora Juarez, and City Clerk Monica Martinez Simmons. Photo by Casey Jaywork

City Hall

As Bruce Harrell Is Sworn in as Mayor, Uncertainty About the Future of the Office

The City Council president has five days to decide whether he will continue in the interim position.

Wednesday evening at about 5 p.m., Bruce Harrell took the oath of office to become the 54th Mayor of Seattle. The president of the Seattle City Council ascended from the 2nd floor of City Hall to the 7th following the resignation of Ed Murray after a fifth man accused the now-former mayor of sexual abuse. Flanked by many of Murray’s cabinet and six of the other eight councilmembers, Harrell said that the stability and success of the city is his highest priority.

“We as a team will see the next remaining months as an opportunity to help define who and what Seattle is,” Harrell said. “I do not see this as a care-taking obligation. I see this as an opportunity to set the stage for excellence. I have too much appreciation for the issues that our city faces to simply be a caretaker on any day of the week.”

Harrell has five days to decide whether to fill out the rest of Murray’s term or return to his position as the Councilmember for District 2, but he said he’ll announce his decision by 5 p.m. Friday at the latest. If he accepts, he will forfeit his position on City Council. (We have more on the succession process here.) If he declines, he said, he wants the Council to be prepared to select another among them by Monday, September 18. The Monday after that, the mayor presents a budget to council, arguably the most important work city legislators do all year. “Either I will present [the budget], or I will receive it,” Harrell quipped.

“The issues of support for survivors of childhood sexual assault and abuse have gotten more attention because of the accusations against [Murray], so we will examine our prioritization of investments in this regard,” Harrell said in reference to budget priorities. “Our city is at a major crossroads in its history. … We need to reiterate to the world that we believe in a strong business environment, and strong employee rights. One does not necessarily exclude the other.”

Asked whether the Council should have pushed Murray out sooner, Harrell replied, “Our role is not to be an investigative body. … Our role is to be a legislative body.” He added, “There are numerous other agencies and investigators and attorneys in fact doing that investigation, so I think it would be inapproporiate for us to thwart that investigation.”

Before the fifth accusation came out, Harrell defended Murray’s right to finish his term as mayor, citing the Golden Rule and saying, “I don’t want to be judged for anything 33 years ago.” If the Council impeached Murray, he said, “We would be in a situation to make factual and legal determinations of something that occurred 33 years ago and in another state—which is a tall drink of water, by the way.”

Asked if he regretted those statements, Harrell “clarified” them with a wandering word salad in which he conflated the statute of limitations on sexual abuse with the lack of statute of limitations on murder; inaccurately accused a reporter of taking his words out of context; said that he himself is “closer than I’d like to describe publicly to the issue of abuse, child abuse”; and said that if he knew that one of his own grandchilden had been sexually abused, he’d “evaluate that and act accordingly.”

Whoever finishes Murray’s term will be replaced by the winner of the November election and take office as soon as the results are certified later that month. Council will appoint a temporary replacement councilmember who will remain in office until a special election occurs next year, although theoretically there is a possible exception: M. Lorena González is running for reelection in November. If she were appointed to the interim mayor job and then win reelection, she could work as mayor until the results are certified, at which point she’d return to council (assuming she wins reelection) and the winner of the mayoral election would become the mayor. Alternatively, Tim Burgess is retiring at the end of the year; if he became interim mayor, the winner of the November election to replace him would take his seat as soon as the election results are certified in late November.

You can watch Harrell’s full comments here:

cjaywork@seattleweekly.com

This post has been updated. A prior version misstated the date by which González would hypothetically return to council.

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