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Homelessness, police, Amazon top Seattle mayoral debate

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Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Bruce Harrell, left, and Lorena Gonzalez, right, take part Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021, in the first of two debates in Seattle scheduled before the November election for the office of mayor. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, Pool)

SEATTLE – The two candidates for Seattle mayor agreed Thursday that tackling an ongoing homelessness crisis was the top issue facing the the Northwest's largest city, but they differed sharply about how to pay for that.

Lorena González and Bruce Harrell also clashed over police funding and the role and responsibility that tech giant Amazon has for problems in the city where its headquarters is located.

González, the City Council president and a former civil rights attorney, said Amazon and other wealthy interests need to pay more taxes.

“I have made it my life’s work to stand up and fight for working families,” she said during a debate, adding she would also hold police accountable for the “extraordinary abuse of our life and liberty.”

During the protests last year over the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, she embraced calls to “defund” the police.

That's a position Harrell, a former City Council president, seized on.

“I don’t subscribe to the defund narrative … I want an effective police department,” he said.

November's mayoral election will be closely watched nationally as Seattle is one of the nation's large cities where the debate over police funding is a key issue. Democratic primary voters in New York’s mayoral race earlier this year chose a former police officer who objected to calls to “defund the police.”

González has called for reform of the city police department that is under federal supervision after the U.S. Justice Department found a pattern of excessive force and evidence of biased policing.

Harrell said González's calls to cut police funding by 50% would exacerbate crime issues faced by minority and low-income neighborhoods.

Harrell also said the current City Council hasn't taken concrete steps to find housing for those sleeping on city streets and in camps in public parks in Seattle, which has among the worst homelessness problems in the nation.

“We’re getting finger-pointing, excuse-making,” he said.

Reforming Washington state's regressive tax code that relies heavily on an income tax is key, Harrell said. He also said he wants to work with Amazon and other wealthy companies to help solve homelessness and other issues.

González slammed Harrell, an attorney who has the support of most of the city's business community, for being the favored candidate of monied interests.

“I’m not going to punt to the state Legislature to fix our revenue problems," she said. And she said Harrell was supported by people fighting attempts to get corporations to pay more taxes in Seattle and the state.

González has won the endorsements of many of the region's labor unions. Her parents were migrant farmworkers in central Washington

As council president, she has helped pass a payroll tax on big corporations, such as Amazon, to pay for city services, as well as worker protections such as a secure-scheduling law.

Harrell has called for hiring more police officers to stem a rise in shootings.

He grew up in Seattle’s Central Area, a redlined neighborhood; his father was a Black transplant from the Jim Crow South, and his mother’s family was Japanese and interned during World War II.

Incumbent Mayor Jenny Durkan is not running for re-election. The last three mayors elected by Seattle voters have not served more than one term.