Note to City Hall visitors: Don't worry about those circus animals, but watch out for the Seattle City Council's legislative pit bulls.
When new members Judy Nicastro and Heidi Wills took up the anti-circus Exotic Animal ordinance, they thought they had the five votes they needed to get it approved. Well, their majority melted away and, boy, are they steamed. First to draw fire was fellow new member Jim Compton, whom Wills claims waffled on an earlier pledge to back the ban. "If a man cannot be counted on to keep his word, that would strain their relations with their colleagues," Wills told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Next to the firing line was Nicastro, who scorched colleague Peter Steinbrueck with a sharply worded press release for daring to suggest that the circus issue be placed before the voters. "We have not been elected by the people to dump back into the public arena those issues that we are not comfortable handling or cause dissention within the council," said Nicastro. Hardly the tactics needed to recruit that all-important fifth vote (as proved last Monday, when the ban was voted down 5-4), but perhaps a reasonable swat at weak-kneed colleagues.
But things just got worse at the public hearing on the issue—imagine 200 people in a room that seats 110, with circus fans sporting blue T-shirts, red jackets, and yellow "Circus Fan" buttons (to signify their love of primary colors) and animal rights activists wearing yellow ribbons (to indicate their high regard for the music of Tony Orlando & Dawn). Before any of the 181 citizens waiting to testify are allowed to speak, a Ringling Brothers circus representative and the president of the Progressive Animal Welfare Society are each invited to give five-minute talks and answer council questions. Wills and Nicastro do a tag-team act, lobbing softball queries at the PAWS guy and firing accusations at the circus lady. Is it true, demands Nicastro, that Ringling Brothers owners Feld Entertainment have threatened to pull their other shows from the Key Arena if the ban is passed—including (gasp!) Disney on Ice? For the record, the charge was denied.
The next day, the act is reprised at a Council Parks Committee hearing, where Wills and Nicastro relentlessly badger the city's animal control supervisor, Seattle Center director Virginia Anderson, and circus lady Joan Galvin (we're using shorthand: her actual title at Feld Entertainment is vice president for government relations). "So, at what age do you take young elephants away from their mothers?" Wills asks Galvin at one point. Nicastro chimes in with charges that Feld orchestrated pro-circus testimony at the public hearing and (gasp again!) hired a local public relations firm.
The annoying thing with all this sound and fury is that the pro-ban testimony at the hearing was so substantial. Many animal experts did a fine job of outlining the philosophical issue at the heart of the legislation. Wild animals don't normally hang out with humans or walk on their hind legs, so trainers are always going to have to whack them with sticks to get them to do so. Likewise, jungle animals don't naturally ride trains or live in cages, so ban supporters argue that forcing them into this unnatural environment is cruel treatment in and of itself. Wills and Nicastro have gone through the motions of pretending they have safety concerns about the circus—probably in hopes of keeping the city from being sued (taming lions may fit under the mantle of "free expression"). Hey, if the city can't make this philosophical distinction without landing in court, this is bad legislation.
The key question: Are Nicastro and Wills ushering in a new era of bad feeling on the 11th floor or have they merely squandered a ton of political capital on a nothing issue? Either way, our suspicions that Wills was just a get-along, go-along pol haven't exactly panned out. But we always knew Judy would stir things up.
Continuing our all-Judy, all-the-time coverage, council member Nicastro's newly formed Landlord/Tenant and Land Use Committee has picked a hot issue to start its work. Nicastro and colleague Nick Licata are resurrecting an ordinance he floated last year to allow renters to reuse landlord-mandated credit reports. Currently, a potential tenant can be forced to pay for a credit check by each landlord they express interest in renting from. The ordinance would also prohibit landlords from turning down a potential tenant if the check reveals they (1) have obtained a protection order against a third party, or (2) have been sued for eviction (so long as they won the case).
Although this sounds fairly straightforward, Licata's original proposal got bogged down due to legal issues. The main one: how to enforce this law. Under the current proposal, an aggrieved potential tenant would have to sue the landlord in small claims court. A possible long-range solution may be to appoint an arbitration board or even create a Housing Court to handle enforcement of the city's growing list of landlord/tenant regulations.
The awesome power of the Internet has been recognized by our own Seattle Police Department, which has posted photos of various World Trade Organization-week anarchists with a request for more information.
The pictures won't help much, as most of the subjects have their faces obscured by scarves or other masks. But, one recognizable mug pictured there belongs to homeless activist John Fox, who isn't happy about his newfound notoriety. (The cops aren't looking for him—Fox was standing behind a self-proclaimed anarchist at a press conference.) But, looking at the collection of half-hidden faces, one seems to bear a startling resemblance to . . . Judy Nicastro! Do you suppose her rock-throwing career actually began before she took office?