At first glance, local democracy doesn't appear to be in very good shape.
The high-profile races on this year's primary ballot will leave King County residents scratching their heads and rolling their eyes. Is it the Jeanne Dixon running for Seattle mayor? (Our horoscope forecasts no.) Surely with all of the controversy of the past year, King County Executive Ron Sims must have worthy opponents in the Democratic primary. (He doesn't.) The one-party rule of the Democrats in most of the county has ossified politics to the point where the top of the ballot—the races for Seattle mayor and King County executive—are ready to dry up and blow away.
You've got to keep going down the ballot—way, way down the ballot—to find some choices that remind us why democracy matters. There is an exciting opportunity in Jane Fellner to improve the weak, floundering Seattle School Board. And at last there are two candidates, Jim Nobles and Beth Goldberg, who could bring some glimmer of sanity to the Seattle Monorail Project board by pushing to shut down the embarrassing project.
The other bad news about this year's ballot is that once again we will have to declare party allegiance to vote in partisan races. On Tuesday, Sept. 20, to vote for King County executive or King County Council, we will have to decide whether we are Republicans or Democrats, for that day at least, by filling in an oval on the ballot indicating party preference. It's the same way we voted last September. (Voters threw out the system in November 2004, but a federal judge reinstated it in July.) At least the party choice is private—no record is kept of your preference. If you find the party label too off-putting, you can skip to the nonpartisan section of the ballot and vote in all the city races.
Here, we make recommendations only for contested races.
KING COUNTY EXECUTIVE
Ron Sims has the brains, the vision, the passion, and the ability to be a great political leader. His management skills are a real problem, however. His elections office has been mortally wounded so many times, its uncanny survival suggests it must be staffed by zombies. He wants $70 million to modernize the county payroll system after blowing tens of millions on a failed attempt to do the same back in 1997. Still, Sims has no qualified opposition in the Democratic primary. His opponents are former Libertarian Michael Nelson, who has oddball ideas, and a former jail guard, Karen Rispoli, who says she will be interviewed only if Seattle Weekly will expose "THE 'REAL' TRUTH."
Despite his management problems, Sims is far superior to the other Democratic candidates and deserves your vote.
KING COUNTY COUNCIL, DISTRICT 1 (NORTHEAST SEATTLE, SHORELINE, LAKE FOREST PARK)
We're hoping Bob Ferguson matures into a genuine populist maverick. His past support of shrinking the bloated King County Council from 13 to nine members, his questioning of Sound Transit's troubled light-rail project, and his rejection of the sale of prime county land—Wallingford's so called "tank farm"—to a private developer are all reasons to give him your vote. There are troubling signs—his advocacy for an ill-conceived veterans' aid levy opposed by the human services community and a coziness with some development interests—but he has had less than two years in elected office to establish himself. His commitment to doorbelling should keep him grounded and help him become something different from your average politician.
King County Council member Carolyn Edmonds is also in this race due to redistricting. Go with Ferguson.
KING COUNTY COUNCIL, DISTRICT 9 (CARNATION, BLACK DIAMOND, MAPLE VALLEY)
The rural areas need a champion on the King County Council. Rural denizens are angry about the county's approach to land use, but at the same time, county government is their only local government. Steve Hammond is the real deal. He is a conservative Christian preacher, a property-rights advocate, and a fierce critic of the county's Democratic (and urban/suburban) majority. Hammond drives an hour and a half to get to the King County Courthouse every morning. Along the way, he passes through three distinct counties: rural, suburban, and urban. Not only does he share the values of the majority of his district, he shares their life experiences. That's what democracy should be about: representation. We probably couldn't find many issues that we agree on with Hammond, but we respect his honest, passionate advocacy for constituents. Cast your ballots for the Preacher Man.
King County Council member Reagan Dunn is also in this race due to redistricting. He is a very talented newcomer but not the right fit for this district.
KING COUNTY SHERIFF
This is not the endorsement Sue Rahr, an appointed sheriff in office since January, wants. The King County Sheriff's Office (KCSO) is a mess, morale is low, and Rahr is in the middle of it all. Most prominent is her role in cutting a sweet retirement deal for a detective who deserved prosecution instead of a soft landing. Why are we endorsing Rahr? Much of the mess and bad public image she's stuck with are a hangover from the era of former Sheriff and now U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert. And Rahr, paradoxically, has the necessary spine to right the department and deal with low morale among patrol cops. But our endorsement here is conditional, since it's unclear what further revelations may result from a federal investigation of the department. By the time the general election comes in November, matters should be clearer. In that election, she will face either veteran KCSO Sgt. Jim Fuda or Seattle Police Lt. Greg Schmidt.
PORT OF SEATTLE COMMISSION, POSITION 1
His track record of environmental, political, and fiscal leadership in his first term should assure commission Vice President Lawrence Molloy of another. He opposed the contract renewal of Port Executive Director and chief junketeer Mic Dinsmore and will do so again in two years; new blood is needed at the top, Molloy says. He's opposed to risky residential development along the Port's piers and shoreline, rightly believing the government should focus on traditional marine industrial uses. He is among the few top Port officials who have been outspoken on the environmental effects of the cruise-ship industry's takeover of the waterfront. His challengers are attorney John Creighton and flight attendant Wen Wu Lee.
PORT OF SEATTLE COMMISSION, POSITION 3
Former King County Auditor and onetime Seattle City Treasurer Lloyd Hara is our choice among what are probably the most capable Port candidates in years. The booming voice of Hara—an ex-Army commander of a 230-man company—carries with it a financial expertise and penchant for performance audits, much needed to oversee the Port's sometimes confusing budget. Hara remembers some of his former city employees going to work at the Port and telling him they get a third more pay for a third less work. He vows to change that by emphasizing profit and accountability and steering the Port away from land- speculation-and-development deals, typified by the North Bay project on the uplands at Piers 90/91 in Interbay, which seems destined to benefit mostly private developers. Other challengers—labor leader Peter Coates, marine lobbyist Richard Berkowitz, and small-business man John Kane—are certainly worthy opponents, all of them reformers promising fiscal and ideological changes. Contractor Chris Cain is also running.
PORT OF SEATTLE COMMISSION, POSITION 4
Incumbent Pat Davis might never live down that bright idea she had six years back: Hey, let's invite the World Trade Organization to a bash in Seattle! While she was once a reform-minded Port activist, she seems to have fallen too much in step with the commission's recent past—carefree spending to spur economic development while the marine division continues to run in the red, making Seattle the only West Coast port to lose money. Jack Jolley, on the other hand, has convinced us he'll work to change that. Reform is the heart and soul of the election, says Jolley, a high-tech exec with a business management background. He notes the Port raised its property-tax share 35 percent in 2003 but has piled up debt of $2.9 billion. That mismanagement has to end, he says. He also vows to turn around a sagging container-cargo business that has lost a 37 percent market share in the past decade. Attorney Richard Pope and Renton resident Robert Walker are also running.
Protest against Greg Nickels' administration. Protest Nickels' effort to direct hundreds of millions of dollars in public money to support billionaire developer Paul Allen's plans in the South Lake Union neighborhood. Protest the lack of attention to other neighborhoods. Protest the sharp-elbowed, partisan style Nickels has brought to City Hall. Protest Nickels' lack of leadership on transportation. (He allowed the monorail to develop into a complete disaster, failed to insist that light rail serve First Hill, and continues to push for an unaffordable tunnel replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct.)
Protest by voting for Nickels' most qualified opponent, Al Runte, a researcher, writer, and former University of Washington professor. Runte's heart is in the right place. He states correctly that Nickels has become a developer rather than a mayor. Unfortunately, Runte's knowledge of city affairs is slim, and he has no ties to political, cultural, or community groups in the city. Runte's ability to manage the city's workforce of 10,000 seems dubious, but he is worth a protest vote.
Seattle resident Jeanne Dixon, socialist Chris Hoeppner, cable-access broadcaster Richard Lee, city worker Luke Williams, and the Washington State Progressive Party's Christal Wood are also seeking this nonpartisan position.
SEATTLE CITY COUNCIL, POSITION 2
Two-term incumbent Richard Conlin is the only elected official at City Hall who has been consistently opposed to the People's Boondoggle (aka the monorail). For that reason alone, he deserves your support. But there are many more good things about Conlin. As chair of the City Council's Transportation Committee, he has been a thoughtful critic of the mayor's agenda for South Lake Union, forcing more analysis and better legislation on the proposed streetcar and a two-way Mercer Street. After he spent many years shepherding 37 neighborhood plans through City Hall, he has been working to fund those plans and fight efforts against development that runs counter to community wishes.
Public-relations executive Darlene Madenwald and Seattle Port Commissioner Paige Miller are the other candidates in this race.
SEATTLE CITY COUNCIL, POSITION 4
Take a chance on Casey Corr. We've known two distinct Caseys. The first Casey spent decades as a terrific reporter and columnist for The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He punctured sacred cows, taking on the Seattle establishment with a blue-collar rage at sweetheart deals and the undue influence of power elites. In 2002, Corr became the communications director for Mayor Greg Nickels, and suddenly he was excusing the goodies flowing to the big boys. We're hoping that the true Casey will emerge as he becomes his own man again, as a citywide elected official. That process has already begun. He broke with the mayor over the funding for the wasteful South Lake Union streetcar and has been sharply critical of the monorail's terrible financial plan. Send Casey up to bat.
The three-term incumbent, Jan Drago, has shown leadership in bucking the mayor's unnecessarily confrontational style at City Hall, but we disagree with her on issues, especially the monorail and public subsidies for South Lake Union.
Activist Ángel Bolaños and the Freedom Socialist Party's Linda Averill round out the field.
SEATTLE CITY COUNCIL, POSITION 8
Richard McIver deserves another term in office. McIver combines decades of institutional memory and a continuing passion for social justice with a gentlemanly manner too absent in contemporary politics. His ascension to chair of the Finance and Budget Committee last year signals his colleagues' ongoing respect. In that post, he earned praise from fellow council members and the mayor for work on the budget, arguably the most important thing City Hall does. In addition, McIver is City Hall's sole African-American elected official, providing sorely needed representation for black Seattle. McIver rightly prides himself on advocacy for poor and disadvantaged communities, including work for $50 million in mitigation for the impacts of light rail on small businesses in the Rainier Valley. Vote for McIver's record of achievement.
King County Council member Dwight Pelz and landlord Robert Rosencrantz are also competing for this position.
SEATTLE SCHOOL BOARD, DISTRICT 5 (CENTRAL DISTRICT, LESCHI)
For years, if you wanted to hear a thoughtful take on the Seattle School Board, you'd call Jane Fellner. A doctor with three children in public schools, Fellner used to serve as the chair of a task force advising the district on a program for gifted children. She's seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of the district, and she's called it all as she's seen it, albeit in a considered, diplomatic way. In the years when Joseph Olchefske was at the helm, Fellner often had critical words, especially about the district's love-hate relationship with offerings for advanced students. She feels the current crisis calls for a more constructive attitude. How are we going to solve the district's financial woes? While Fellner offers no easy answers, she seems more likely to come up with solutions than incumbent Mary Bass. A hero to some, Bass played a crucial role in recent board history. When fellow board members were rubber-stamping the former superintendent, Bass put her foot down. But she's never been clear about what comes next, and we now need someone who is. Seattle resident LaCrese Green is also seeking this position.
SEATTLE SCHOOL BOARD, DISTRICT 7 (BEACON HILL, RAINIER VALLEY)
Why, why, why isn't there the same caliber of candidates in this South Seattle district? As momentous changes loom, South Seattle, where school quality is uneven, needs protection more than any other area. Among four flawed candidates, we think Alan Lloyd will be the strongest advocate for the South End. Most important, he opposes curtailing school choice to save money on transportation, at least in this part of town and until concrete school improvements can be seen. He knows that without choice, many families will be stuck with schools they consider unacceptable, possibly prompting them to either move or leave the district. We wish his experience with the district was greater, but at least he's a parent vested in the system. Former City Council member Cheryl Chow is the best known in this race but doesn't have an inspiring track record. Parent-activist Theresa Cardamone and nonprofit executive Linda Thompson-Black are also running.
SEATTLE POPULAR MONORAIL AUTHORITY BOARD
Two Seattle Popular Monorail Authority board members are running for re-election: Cindi Laws and Cleve Stockmeyer. Unfortunately, these mono-boosters are part of the problem. They and their appointed colleagues have presided over a monumental public fiasco, one that will cost Seattle taxpayers $100 million or more. During their tenure, there has been a complete breakdown of board responsibility. They believed management's lies, enabled their incompetence and deceit, and still refuse to accept reality: This project is fatally flawed. Laws seems to have become particularly unhinged, retreating into conspiracy theories about the monorail being derailed by a cabal of rich downtown Jews. Our support goes to two challengers.
Beth Goldberg, a budget supervisor for King County and a monorail skeptic, has the combination of fiscal skills and guts necessary to take on the majority of a board still in denial about the project's failure. While we wish that Goldberg had been more involved in the project—she has attended not a single meeting of the board—we are glad that she's willing to devote all her free time to the task. She's a breath of fresh air—a citizen who is motivated by conscience to lend valuable experience to help our city avoid financial disaster. Incumbent Laws and attorney Stan Lippmann are also in this race.
Jim Nobles is a former monorail supporter who is honest enough to realize what needs to happen: The agency needs to be shut down. Nobles' status as the ultimate political outsider—an environmental Seattle Republican—has prepared him to be a skeptic on a board of true believers. While we wish Nobles had more political experience, at least his rookie passion will help him in carrying out what will be a difficult task. Plus, he's a man with a useful employment history: He counsels street drunks. Jim, empty the Kool-Aid pitcher and get going! Incumbent Stockmeyer and tour-bus driver Dick Falkenbury are this position's other candidates.
Members of the Seattle Weekly editorial board are: Political Editor George Howland Jr., Editor in Chief Knute Berger, Managing Editor Chuck Taylor, Senior Editor Nina Shapiro, staff writers Rick Anderson and Philip Dawdy, and columnist Geov Parrish. Intern Darby Reed provided research assistance.