The list of the top 20 contributors to last year's city council candidates is mostly made up of the usual suspects: real estate moguls, unions and public affairs consultants-- political animals not afraid to make their wishes known and expect the ear of City Hall. But there's one guy on this list who doesn't fit, at least not at first blush: Brown Bear Car Wash owner Vic Odermat.
Odermat's No. 7 for 2007, contributing $4,450 total and giving close to the $700 limit to seven of the nine contestants in last year's general election contest. The top contributors, Al Clise of Clise Properties Inc., Jeffrey Schoenfeld of real estate company Urban Visions, and healthcare workers union SEIU Local 775, all gave $4,900, $700 to the same seven candidates. Clise was also in the top three in 2005, but Odermat wasn't even on the list.
So why so involved last year? "I'm just interested in good people representing the citizens of the city," Odermat says. "There's no ulterior motive. I just like to see good people in office. I realize it's very time consuming and I want to support them."
If he had to pick an issue, Odermat says it would be protecting the environment. "We do whatever we can to make certain that whatever products we use are environmentally friendly," he says. "I'm concerned that people when they wash their vehicles (at home), the soap goes into the sewer. It flows into the streams where fish migrate into Puget Sound."
He no doubt benefits from a City Council that feels the same way, and often encourages people to head to a commercial car wash rather than sudsing their cars in their driveways. But Odermat says that's hardly the result of his efforts, or his contributions. "We try to make people aware of what happens when discharges are made into water that's untreated. You can call it lobbying if you want," he says. "But I consider it an educational thing."
On the regulatory end, Council President Richard Conlin says the city has strict rules in place governing commercial car washes and doesn't anticipate any changes anytime soon. Conlin, who accepted a $500 donation from Odermat in 2005, says the car wash owner's growing interest in city politics is a natural outcropping of his environmental bent. "I think what may be happening is that this is a company that can make a lot of money being green and they want to encourage the city to practice green policies because it fits with their business model," he says. "It makes sense."
If the car wash business goes south, Odermat, with his six Seattle locations each sitting on prime pieces of land, could (as his son told SW last year) make a killing on real estate. That'd be one sure way not to stand out on the next election's top 20 list.
(This post was corrected to reflect the fact that the donors gave in the general election.)