The daily newspapers probably wouldn't agree, but from this utterly unbiased observer's perspective, it looks like we're having a City Council campaign.
Despite the grumblings and groanings of the Seattle Times and Post-Intelligencer editorialists about how nobody good wants to run for office anymore, the race for position 7 (the seat due to be vacated by Tina Podlodowski) has already drawn a field of diverse, experienced, and potentially entertaining candidates. Let's review:
* Charlie Chong, excouncil member and mayoral candidate, the icon of the neighborhoods and voice for disenfranchised voters.
* Alec Fisken, businessman and financial whiz, the sensible downtown business-oriented newcomer that daily newspaper editorialists have been pining for.
* Heidi Wills, aide to King County Executive Ron Sims, a dynamo and current darling of local Democrats (she was the state party's "Rising Star of the Year" in 1997).
* Judy Nicastro, housing activist, a temporary media star earlier this year when the state legislature considered (and shelved) a bill to remove the state's prohibition on rent control programs in Washington cities.
In this race, Chong is the immovable object. Two years ago, excouncil member Sherry Harris stunned observers by surviving a tough primary race on the strength of sheer name recognition. Charlie's name and face are quite familiar to voters, and unlike Harris, he wasn't bounced from his council seat; he stepped down to run for higher office. Although he's been outspent in every race he's run, he has a passionate political constituency and can be counted on to raise a few bucks (just under $16,000, so far). For these reasons, most observers have given him a free pass into the final. Good call.
So who advances with Chong? Fisken seemed a good bet early on. He's raising money at a reasonable clip (almost $19,000 already) and seems able to tap into all the right downtown power bases. He's got a fine resume—onetime Seattle Sun publisher, former outside financial adviser to the city, business entrepreneur—and he's just the sort of "credentials candidate" this city routinely elected 10 years ago. But the button-down Fisken is a terminally low-key guy in a field with a high live-wire quotient.
Wills, although an unknown to many voters, is perfectly positioned as the third candidate in this race. She has Democratic party appeal, and therefore a better shot than Fisken at organized labor endorsements and donations. She's the top fund-raiser in this race so far (with almost $24,000 in the bank) and is savvy and personable enough to contest Fisken for the all-important daily newspaper endorsements. The youthful Wills (age 31) would also provide a sharp side-by-side contrast with either grandfatherly populist Chong or tweedy businessman Fisken.
Nicastro, despite the early boost of the rent control issue, simply lacks the access to money and endorsements that Wills and Fisken have, not to mention a faithful supporter base like Chong's. She's only raised about $5,000 and won't get serious consideration from the daily newspaper editorialists this time around. But she's well-spoken and can hold her own in debates, so she may be able to bank some serious credibility for the future with a strong primary run.
How the winner will take it is anyone's guess. Chong won his seat in 1996 by convincing voters he was a regular guy looking to diversify a yuppie-dominated, isolated council. Given the council's current membership, he may need a new tack. Fisken needs to stress his business experience and the lack of same among our current office-holders. Wills is already working the need for a young voice in City Hall ("A new voice for a new century," trumpets her first press release). Maybe she could broaden her base by redefining "youth" as "people under 40," thereby capturing a council seat and making this columnist young again.
Money still talking
Speaking of campaign cash, the long-anticipated re-election campaign of city council member Peter Steinbrueck suddenly kicked into gear earlier this month. Having raised a grand total of $3,745 through May 31, the Keep Peter movement grossed $12,206 in the first two weeks of June, thereby allowing the campaign treasury to be moved from a piggy bank to a sturdy, metal file-card box. A couple more good weeks and they're going to open a bank account.
Incumbent Margaret Pageler is now acting like a candidate, with $11,414 raised in May (for a total of $36,148). Her motivation? Challenger Curt Firestone, who banked $11,156 in that same month, his first as a candidate.
Competitors for the other open council seat, Position 1, Dawn Mason and Daniel Norton, picked things up a bit, raising $6,695 and $2,979, respectively, during the month of May. The "What Happened?" award goes to Cheryl Chow, who's still the top fund-raiser in this race, but who banked an anemic $1,422 last month.
City Attorney Mark Sidran's ability to shrug off a political pounding is well-known, which might explain why people are constantly testing it.
Council members Tina Podlodowski and Peter Steinbrueck had some unkind words for Sidran during a discussion over the need for outside legal opinions on pending legislation. Although the City Attorney generally provides the needed legal advice, some legislators have been miffed by Sidran's stumping for his preferred version of a pending ordinance to license Seattle clubs which provide live music or dancing.
"Our city attorney is actively engaged in a political issue," says Steinbrueck. Seeking a second opinion from an uninterested party isn't a personal shot at Sidran, he argues, "it's a matter of the appearance of conflict."
Podlodowski notes that the King County Council has its own staff attorney, and that the city council should consider following suit, although that is a matter for some future budget discussion. Sidran, in drafting and arguing for his own version of pending legislation, is overstepping his office's role, argues Podlodowski. "That's no longer a client/attorney relationship."