On Tuesday, January 25, 1994, in the wake of the sudden death of Mayor Jack Hyde (1934-1994), Harold Moss (1929-2020) becomes the first African American mayor of Tacoma. Hyde had asked his close friend Moss to serve as his deputy mayor. In this this role, Moss has performed the duties of acting mayor since Hyde's death just 17 days after taking office. A week after Hyde's passing, the Tacoma City Council votes unanimously to appoint Moss mayor for the remainder of the late mayor's term.
Twenty-four years earlier, in 1970, Moss had become the city's first African American council member, also by appointment, after the recall of five sitting council members. He then won election to the council and served until 1975. In 1987 Moss was again appointed to a council seat, and he won council elections later that year and in 1991.
In November 1993, Moss's friend Jack Hyde was elected mayor of Tacoma, defeating incumbent mayor Karen Vialle. At the time, in addition to his council service, Moss was employed by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) as Minority and Women's Civil Rights Manager for construction projects. In a 2016 interview, Moss remembered how Hyde first approached him:
"When Jack got elected his first thing was, 'I want you to be deputy mayor.' And I said 'Jack, you know, I work in Olympia and I'm all over the state all the time, I can't be deputy.' And he said, 'The hell you can't.' He said, 'You're the one I want, and that's it.' So eventually the week after ... he got sworn in, I got sworn in as deputy mayor" (Moss interview)
When he died of a heart attack at his home on January 17, Hyde had been in office for 17 days. As deputy mayor, Moss immediately became the city's acting mayor. A week later, on January 25, 1994, the city council unanimously appointed Moss as mayor.
As Hyde's chosen successor, Moss pledged to continue in the same policy vein as his predecessor by focusing on crime prevention and economic development. In 2016, Moss described how he saw his period in office as an extension of the civil-rights work he had begun in the early 1950s. He cited expanding the city code to ensure equal treatment for minority groups as an achievement of which he was particularly proud. He also described tackling the consequences of de-industrialization, the relocation of city businesses from downtown to malls on the outskirts of the city, and high crime rates within the city as major challenges facing Tacoma when he was mayor.
During his tenure, Moss and the council introduced a curfew for all youth in Tacoma under the age of 18. "We were finding ourselves locking up more kids for nothing ... you get out of here and you got a dime bag of weed and your life is ruined forever" (Moss interview). The ordinance took effect on January 1, 1995, establishing a nightly curfew that extended from midnight until 6 a.m. Unaccompanied youths found loitering on the streets or in public parks between those hours were liable for a maximum fine of $250, although there were some exemptions, including for those accompanied by a parent, on the way to or from work, or traveling on an interstate highway.
The curfew was implemented in tandem with midnight basketball and other programs intended to help keep young people occupied during evening hours. Several other cities in the state adopted similar policies, including Everett, Kent, and SeaTac. By 1997, some 30 municipalities in Washington had a curfew of some kind in place, although the measures came under scrutiny for their cost and questionable constitutionality. For Tacoma, Moss said later, the teen curfew "served its purpose for the time" (Moss interview).
While serving as mayor, Moss decided to shut off television coverage of public comments during council meetings, claiming that the televised nature of the proceedings encouraged members of the public to waste the council's time. "They felt like they could get on TV and castigate not only public officials, but the staff of the administrations" (Moss interview)
In later years Moss defended the decision: "We never stopped citizens being heard, and we tape recorded everything they had to say and acted upon those interests that were legitimate" (Moss interview). It was within the power of the council to overrule his decision, but a motion to do so was never proposed.
Moss served as mayor of Tacoma until 1995. Due to term limits, he was not eligible to stand for re-election to the city council. He was later elected to the Pierce County Council, serving two four-year terms as a council member, and for two years as council chair, before retiring in 2004.