THE GREG NICKELS paradox continues.
On Mon., Jan. 28, Seattle's new mayor delivered his State of the City address looking and speaking uncannily like a younger, slightly heavier version of bumbling Mayor Randall Winston of ABC's Spin City. Before and after his speech, however, Nickels produced political wizardry that would make Machiavelli blush.
On City Hall's most closely monitored day, the rookie mayor had the Seattle City Council squabbling and squawking at one another over an issue most city residents will find incomprehensible: whether or not $800,000 in funding for a new downtown hygiene center for the homeless should go to committee or just be approved outright (see "Cleansing Action," below). By setting the council members at each other's throats, Nickels rises above the fray. His political plan to divide and conquer the council internally is in full swing. Waiting in the wings is his masterstroke, a citizen initiative to stop council members from representing the city at large and push them into neighborhood wards instead. Executive authority will then really reign supreme.
But if this executive comes off like a feckless fellow, who by his own admission is neither a "great speechmaker" nor "a fancy guy," what good will his power do him as he tries to win over the general public? Since the recession has shut the city's storeroom, Nickels doesn't have goodies to pass out like former Mayor Paul Schell. Instead he will have to wring greater results out of the city's 10,000 workers to deliver actual changes in people's lives. Unfortunately for him, the city workforce is beset by worries about coming layoffs and the new boss' demands for unstinting obedience.
The 100-day agenda Nickels launched this week included as its top priorities ambitious goals—improving the region's economy and reducing traffic congestion—that even in the best of times are far beyond the reach of city government. Will the more realizable goals—stationing tow trucks near key bridges and roads, keeping three neighborhood service centers open longer hours, and restoring money for traffic circles—be enough to make him seem like an effective leader?
George Howland Jr.