By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
When President Joe Biden visited Seattle last Friday, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s photos were all over in the media, more than other politicians.
Never mind that Harrell is only a mayor, not the governor of Washington state.
Never mind that he didn’t wear blue, the Democrats’ color. Never mind that he carries a lesser rank compared to the U.S. Senators and Congressional members, who were also present at Seward Park when Biden signed his executive order to celebrate Earth Day.
Harrell was on the front page of the Seattle Times, showing him grabbing the president’s pen after he had just signed the order for the counting of old-growth trees at Seward Park. And Harrell was the only one wearing a beige coat among a sea of blue coats worn by other Democrat politicians, including the president.
Was that a calculated move or a fluke? It was Biden’s people who picked Seward Park, Harrell’s territory, to sign the order as the park is full of old-growth trees.
Harrell knew how to seize the moment, asking for the president’s pen as did the Times photographer Daniel Kim, who caught that shot with his camera. Let’s put it plainly, he’s media savvy and put his charisma to work. He learned it after being on the city council for 12 years. Being mayor now, he knows exactly what he is doing and is at ease at big, as well as small, public events.
When Biden arrived at the airport with Air Force One, Harrell and his wife Joanne were also featured in the Seattle Times photo with the president. That’s two consecutive days. If you saw the photo, you might have thought only the Harrells were there to receive Biden. Actually, there were three couples, Gov. Jay Inslee and wife Trudi, and SeaTac Mayor Jake Simpson and wife Jessica.
“It was a great honor to have President Biden visit Seattle and Seward Park—a recognition of our efforts to ensure a healthy environment, take on climate change, and create good jobs,” said Harrell. “President Biden and I share a commitment to a strong economy and safe, thriving communities. Meetings and visits like this put us on a path toward shared progress—and needed federal support. I look forward to continuing to work with President Biden to move this agenda forward and support Seattle residents.”
This wasn’t the first time Harrell met with the president. He was one of ten mayors invited to the White House last December after the victorious election, as well as other two Asian mayors, Boston’s Michelle Wu and Cincinnati’s Aftab Pureval. At the White House, Harrell asked Biden if he could see his office, according to Harrell’s wife, Joanne. Biden said “yes” without missing a beat.
So far, Harrell is the only mayor who has made a conscious effort to be in Chinatown-International District (CID) as much as possible. The mayor has visited the CID 12 times since taking office, according to his press office. And he has been mayor for just over four months.
At a recent news conference in Little Saigon, the Asian Weekly asked what the community should do when a couple of homeless camps returned to 8th Avenue South and South Jackson after the City had cleared the area. Harrell responded that the problem of homeless encampments in the CID is “decades in the making” and the City will continue to “lead with compassion in housing strategy.”
The Asian Weekly staff accidentally walked by the site a few days later, and those two homeless camps disappeared. Harrell listened. The City did follow up after the news conference.
In February, when the United Chinese Americans of Washington organized a rally to remember the Chinese being pushed out in Seattle’s waterfront more than a century ago, the committee was asking for the deputy mayor instead of the mayor.
“Don’t count me out,” Harrell replied when he learned of the event. And he showed up that day, not only for the rally, but he was one of the newly elected officials to walk with the whole group all the way to the waterfront.
This past Sunday, he was at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the Gee How Oak Tin family association. You call and he comes. It is as straightforward as that. You tell him a problem, he’ll fix it. Maybe not immediately, but he doesn’t forget.
Harrell is the kind of mayor that we’ve been hoping for a long time—he doesn’t just show up, he gets things done.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.