A Monorail Undercurrent

In a low-turnout primary, two unknowns whup monorail board incumbents, and anti-monorailer Richard Conlin derails City Council challengers.

Seattle voters turned against the proposed monorail on primary election night, Tuesday, Sept. 20. The beneficiaries were Seattle City Council member Richard Conlin, a leading monorail skeptic, and a couple of political unknowns, Beth Goldberg and Jim Nobles, who were among those challenging incumbent members of the Seattle Popular Monorail Authority board. Neither Goldberg nor Nobles raised or spent any significant money during their campaigns, but they made it clear they want to shut the project down. On election day, they easily beat their respective incumbents, Cindi Laws and Cleve Stockmeyer, whom they will face again in the Nov. 8 general election.

The anti-monorail sentiment of voters—what few there were, with turnout around 27 percent in King County—raised Conlin to the best finish among the three incumbents seeking re-election to the Seattle City Council. Conlin finished the night near 50 percent, with his closest challenger, Seattle Port Commissioner Paige Miller, 14 points behind. Conlin has been the only member of the City Council who has been consistently skeptical about the Seattle Monorail Project, while Miller still supports the People's Boondoggle, even as it dies. Dean Nielsen, state director of Progressive Majority, a liberal electioneering group, says Conlin had the clearest message of any council candidate: "The anti-monorail message worked well for him."

Former journalist and mayoral aide Casey Corr did not have nearly as much luck with his anti-monorail message against Seattle City Council president Jan Drago. While Drago only got 42 percent of the vote, she still finished 18 points ahead of Corr. Nielsen says Drago has done a good job of positioning herself as the true Democrat in the race, painting Corr as a conservative who, as a columnist for The Seattle Times, wrote nice things about Republican former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton and tax-cutter Tim Eyman. Corr is, of course, a Democrat as well, but he will have to find a way to turn the race into a referendum on the unpopular monorail if he is going to succeed in liberal Seattle. The incumbent who fared the poorest in the primary was the council's lone African American, Richard McIver, who managed a first-place finish in his race with only 37 percent of the vote. McIver is chair of the council's most powerful committee—finance and budget—but remains a low-profile, low-key officeholder. In November, he will probably face hard-charging King County Council member Dwight Pelz, who was in a tough battle for second place with landlord Robert Rosencrantz. Pelz and McIver do not differ much on issues—both are light-rail boosters, monorail skeptics, and fans of urban density—so the general election will be more about personality and style than substance.

Although the top two finishers in nonpartisan races face off again in the general election, the race for the only two elected seats on the monorail board were upsets in that the incumbents barely survived to run in the general. The project is reeling. It's billions of dollars over budget and is now opposed by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. Things got worse as primary election results rolled in. In Position 8, King County budget analyst and monorail skeptic Beth Goldberg was leading incumbent Cindi Laws, 47 percent to 31 percent. Goldberg is a political novice who entered the race at the last minute when she realized that no one critical of the monorail was going to run. She did a minimum of campaigning and spent nothing on publicity. Goldberg's Judaism became an issue in the race when Laws made anti-Semitic remarks to the King County Labor Council. In Position 9, environmentalist Republican and monorail opponent Jim Nobles led incumbent Cleve Stockmeyer, 40 percent to 34 percent. Nobles could become the first Republican to win a Seattle office in decades if he repeats his success in November's general election. Like Goldberg, Nobles did not campaign much beyond placing an anti-monorail statement in the official voters' pamphlet. Progressive Majority's Nielsen was amazed: "Wow! It certainly does not look good for the monorail."

Another cause took a beating at the polls. It's the vaunted blue-green alliance to reform the Port of Seattle. Labor and environmentalists teamed up to change the Seattle port commission, hoping to bring forth better stewardship of Puget Sound's air and water and more attention to family-wage jobs. The alliance backed incumbent Seattle Port Commissioner Lawrence Molloy in Position 1 and union leader Peter Coates in Position 3. Molloy and Coates both waged lackluster campaigns and paid heavily. Molloy was trailing challenger John Creighton, 33 percent to 50 percent. Creighton, a corporate attorney, likely benefited from name recognition as son and namesake of his father, who served as CEO of Weyerhaeuser and United Airlines. Creighton also outspent Molloy but did not deliver a clear message.

Coates finished the night in fourth place in his race with only 17 percent, solidly behind the two frontrunners, former King County Auditor and former Seattle City Treasurer Lloyd Hara and marine lobbyist Rich Berkowitz, who had 26 percent and 25 percent, respectively. Both Berkowitz and Hara promise to shake up the port through tougher oversight, more emphasis on the marine industry, and fewer risky redevelopment ventures. Neither, however, has the backing of the blue-green alliance that put Molloy and reform Port Commissioner Alec Fisken in office. Without that connection to the grassroots labor and environmentalist coalition, it isn't clear who will hold Hara and Berkowitz accountable when one or the other joins the port commission.

In two down-ticket races, the power of incumbency and name familiarity trumped issues. In the race for King County Sheriff, Sue Rahr, who was appointed to the office in January, was far ahead of her rivals, King County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Jim Fuda and Seattle Police Lt. Greg Schmidt. Rahr, the recipient of much recent bad publicity as the result of a series of stories in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, had 65 percent of the vote at the end of evening. Fuda and Schmidt were in a dead heat for second place with about 18 percent each. "I am pleasantly surprised," says Rahr. "It restores my faith in the voting public's ability to discern the facts." In the two Seattle School Board races, voters were leaning toward familiar names. School Board member Mary Bass had 58 percent of the vote, with Jane Fellner at 36 percent in District 5 (Central District and Leschi). In District 7 (Beacon Hill and Rainier Valley), former Seattle City Council member Cheryl Chow had 49 percent of the vote, with Linda Thompson-Black at 30 percent. Other challengers were far behind in both races.

ghowland@seattleweekly.com

pdawdy@seattleweekly.com

 
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