There's never a shortage of ex-politicians itching to make a comeback, but come November, Seattle voters could have to choose between a pair of second-time-around council members. Cheryl Chow, a two-term council incumbent whose 1997 campaign for mayor didn't survive the primary, has declared her intention to run one more time. Charlie Chong, another former council member whose run for mayor fell short, isn't ready to declare, but is talking like a candidate. If they both run for the seat being vacated by council president Sue Donaldson, look for a Chow/Chong face-off in the 1999 final.
The difference between Chong and Chow and other Seattle comeback kids is that neither was bounced from their job by the voters. In comparison, Jack Richards, a council one-termer in the mid-1980s, finished an anemic fifth in his 1996 comeback attempt. Sherry Harris, an incumbent who lost her first re-election race in 1995, finished a close second in a 1997 open seat primary, but got trounced in the final.
Given that most politicians have a lot of faith in themselves, it's safe to say Chow and Chong were inspired by Harris' advance to the final, but not scared off by the eventual result of her race. To keep those rerun blues at bay, Chow can point to her coterie of staunch supporters, her ability to raise money (more than $140,000 in her unsuccessful run for mayor), and a volunteer-fired political machine in part inherited from her mother, former King County Council member and local political legend Ruby Chow.
Meanwhile, Chong has a political base of his own, built during his leadership of the West Seattle rebellion against the city's top-down planning process. He earned his single year on council by whipping a far-better- financed opponent in a 1996 special election and stood up to the staunch opposition of Seattle's establishment to advance to the '97 mayoral final.
Chow, who's been dealing with adolescents as interim principal of Franklin High School (among her other assignments as a temporary Seattle Schools administrator), may just be homesick for the immature atmosphere of the council chambers. (Note to Cheryl: The fights on the Franklin playground are easier to break up.)
Chong, not yet a declared candidate, expects to make his final decision in late April. While he's also been encouraged to run for King County Council, he's clearly leaning toward a city race—and he won't rule out challenging an incumbent.
Tough talk, especially as the single open-seat race shows signs of filling up. The other declared candidates are Democratic Party activist Daniel Norton, former state Rep. Dawn Mason, housing advocate Judy Nicastro, and token cable-access TV host Douglas Mays (Goddess Kring was busy). None of these folks—and especially not the outspoken Chong—would be acceptable to the city's powers-that-be. There's still some talk of a late entry from the legislative delegation (state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and state Rep. Dow Constantine are the oft-mentioned maybes), but unless incumbent council member Martha Choe opts for retirement and creates a second open seat, this race is already getting crowded.
Despite making noises about candidate recruitment, the downtown business community has come up empty. While the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce would love an influence-wielding "point man" on the council, they'd be willing to settle for a dependable pro-business vote. For this reason, some business leaders are quietly lining up behind Chow.
The alternative—a council majority of progressives Nick Licata, Richard Conlin, and Peter Steinbrueck, maverick Chong, and a possible fifth vote from sometime-rebels Tina Podlodowski and Margaret Pageler—makes for one scary audience when you're selling stadiums or public/private pillaging. God save our subsidies!
The Seattle Progressive Coalition, formed in hopes of expanding the council's right-thinking, eco-conscious minority, is finding it slow going in its attempts to get candidates in all five council races. Despite an embarrassment of riches in the open-seat race (Norton, Nicastro, and Mason have shown interest in seeking the coalition's endorsement; the lefty upstarts refuse to even interview Chong), the progressive gang seems surprised that nobody wants to invest six months of their lives in a quixotic race against a well-financed incumbent. In fact, the only possible candidate brave enough to plan a run against a current officeholder, Monorail Initiative stalwart Grant Cogswell, has dropped his plans to challenge Martha Choe. Unless Nicastro decides to leave the crowded open seat race and square off with an incumbent to increase her name familiarity for her next run, the progressives may just have to endorse sure-thing incumbent Peter Steinbrueck and hold that big victory party.
What is it about parking tickets that tries men's souls? From time to time, every newspaper receives copies of letters sent to various city officials dripping with bile and outrage (the letters, not the officials)—all owing to the misdeeds of the satanic parking police.
The latest victim of those vampires in blue was Farmington, Minnesota, resident John Niehaus, who claimed in a nasty note to mayor and council that the parking gendarmes killed his big weekend in the Jet City. In fact, John was so upset over his unwarranted $25 fine (that's a week's wages in Minnesota, you know), he cut short his visit and "caught the red-eye back to Minneapolis so we could share our experiences with our friends." No doubt they were riveted.
By way of retribution, Mr. Niehaus hurled a series of insults at our fair city. According to the Minnesota traveler: 1) The Alaskan Way Viaduct is noisy; 2) our streets are full of beggars; and 3) the public restrooms at the Seattle Center smell funny. All good points; we just hope he enclosed the 25 bucks.