Mayor Greg Nickels talked tough this week about implementing the reforms suggested by his panel on police accountability, stating that he intends "to assert management rights very strongly" with the Seattle Police Officers Guild. The mayor's panel was created in July in response to criticism of his and Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske's handling of a case in which two officers were accused of planting drugs on a suspect. The panel now seems a prescient political move by Nickels, who once again has turned liability to strength by co-opting a key issue of potential election opponents. To wit, it will be hard for City Council member Nick Licata—who later created his own panel—to claim the accountability mantle while Nickels battles the Guild, just as it will be hard for former council member Peter Steinbrueck to trumpet his leadership on viaduct replacement now that Nickels, once a tunnel proponent, seems to be leading the anti-highway crowd. "Nick got somewhat jumped by the mayor" on the accountability issue, says Steinbrueck, who adds that Nickels "saw the writing on the wall and quickly and wisely took the reins." Nevertheless, Steinbrueck blames the mayor for letting the Guild's contract lapse, leading to low morale over inadequate pay and making reform more difficult. Nickels spokesperson Marty McOmber declined comment, saying only, "We don't negotiate in the press." (He also said "I'm not going to respond to Peter Steinbrueck"—before hearing what Steinbrueck had to say.) Meanwhile, Licata aide Lisa Herbold says only that the council member is "heartened" by the panel's recommendations. If his negotiations with an embittered Guild falter, Nickels will be open to attacks from all comers. But if the mayor can succeed while continuing to stonewall advocates of a new viaduct, he should be on surprisingly safe ground on a couple of contentious issues come Election Day 2009.