STEP RIGHT UP, folks—it's a three-bout extravaganza in the battle for Seattle.
Can noted newcomer "Renter" Judy Nicastro notch a KO against the more experienced Cheryl "I Love Kids" Chow? Will wily veteran Charlie "Populist Pugilist" Chong outlast fresh-faced youngster Heidi "I Have Solutions" Wills? And, in the feature match, will Dawn "Street Level" Mason even get Jim "Above the Fray" Compton into the ring?
In the primary election, no more than four points separated the top finishers in the three open-seat races for the Seattle City Council. It would be a stretch to say interest is high, however—the voter turnout was a lousy 22 percent.
Former State Rep. Mason lost her two-point election night lead to last-minute entrant Compton in the absentee count (she now trails 36.5 percent to 35 percent). But the popular pol already knew she had a tough challenge in the equally name identification-blessed Compton.
"We did in six weeks what the other campaigns did in six months, which was to get up to full speed," says Compton, a longtime KING TV newsman. On the campaign trail, he stresses his career as a professional journalist, touting himself as a candidate who has been a leader in examining the region's major issues and can ask the tough questions.
Mason vows to stress her stands on the issues in her finals run, forcing her opponent to take clear positions. "You establish the issues, so you run as the leader," says Mason, who wants to dramatically increase city bus service using bus-only lanes and signals that give buses right-of-way over other traffic. She calls for the city to draft an economic development strategy, with the benefits shared by all neighborhoods. "What I've heard [voters] want is someone who is connected to neighborhoods," she adds. "They care about what's close to them—where they live and where they work."
Compton says it sounds like Mason is trying to tap into "downtown vs. neighborhoods" tensions. "Framing the question that way sounds like trying to resurrect the fight between the downtown and the neighborhoods," he notes. "My message is to be a team player and be more constructive."
A familiar name isn't everything, as Chong found out in the position 7 race. Although he's been on the ballot four times in the last five city wide elections, the maverick former council member's early lead shrunk to a single percentage point. Chong was clearly feeling ambushed by the surprisingly poor turnout—his appeal to the "little guy" plays best with occasional voters, as in the record turnout that he rode to a 1996 special election council victory. "We expected a low turnout, but not a disaster," says Chong. "We are grateful to the people who voted and very disappointed with those who didn't."
Newcomer Wills was very popular with those who bothered to cast a ballot, finishing right behind Chong (40 percent to 38.5 percent). The personable aide to county executive Ron Sims is a solution-spewing dynamo on the campaign trail, breaking into prepared remarks about the need for more east-west bus routes and the evils of traffic congestion at will. "I'm the only candidate who's helped solve a traffic problem, having helped push through the U Pass program at the University of Washington 10 years ago," says the former UW student body president. She hopes to see the U Pass (which added the cost of a transit pass to student tuition charges) replicated at other public institutions and private businesses.
"If we're going to have some real solutions to these problems, we must work collaboratively with our colleagues and with our partners in other jurisdictions," says Wills, who contrasts the solid relationships built during her several years in King County government with Chong's "bomb-thrower" reputation.
Chong calls for bringing land use review down to the neighborhood level, with residents having a voice in decisions and the council acting as an appeals board. He supports a bond issue or levy to build new senior housing; if seniors can be persuaded to relocate, more single-family homes could be freed up for families, he says. His campaign will also focus on what he sees as his opponent's two major weaknesses—her lack of experience and the sources of her abundant campaign treasury. "Her money tells the future. She will be the council candidate fulfilling the needs of the people who contributed her money," he says. Wills has collected significant donations from traditional downtown business sources and the tourism industry. She outspent Chong about 2-to-1 in the primary and expects to grab another $50,000 before the final. Given Chong's narrow lead and Wills' money-spinning abilities, the early advantage appears to belong to Wills.
Equally well positioned is position 1 finalist Judy Nicastro, who trailed council veteran Chow by four percentage points (39 percent to 35 percent). But the third candidate in the race, Daniel Norton (who got 17 percent of the vote), appeared at Nicastro's election night party to give her his personal endorsement. With Nicastro and Norton, who scrapped for the endorsement of progressive groups during the primary campaign, presenting a united front, Chow's got a real fight on her hands.
Bring it on, says Chow. Unlike her opponent, she offers proven results, says Chow. "I make commitments and I deliver. I'm not a great debater. I can talk, but I'd rather roll up my sleeves and get things done."
Nicastro, who first came to public attention by lobbying the state legislature to repeal a law banning local rent restrictions, says she hopes "to continue raising the same issues" in the six weeks before the final election. She will focus on her various proposals to increase renters' rights (including giving tenants the right to a lease), on finding funding for the proposed monorail, and on making sure Sound Transit's light rail reaches Northgate.
Chow responds that affordable housing is a major issue of hers as well (although noting that "rent control is not an option"). She wants to see the city provide new housing opportunities by encouraging the option of home sharing, making mother-in-law apartments easier to build, and pushing increased housing density in neighborhoods that want it.
These are your match-ups, Seattle. Who are you going to back?