Put Me In, Coach!


The city council, once a haven for former journalists and neighborhood activists-- next a favored resting place for retired athletes? Bruce Harrell, former UW football star, won his spot last year. And now former Sonic center James Donaldson is already gearing up for 2009.

Donaldson says the skills he gained in his 15-year NBA career would make him a good city councilman. "I was a team leader, a locker room stabilizer," he says. "I negotiated and worked to resolve conflicts between people. We worked on our goals as a team."

Not sure the city council needs any more "team" players. But Donaldson does appear to have the charisma and service bona fides to be a contender. He's spent the past decade participating in community associations and boards and says he sits on about a dozen today including the Washington State Mentors, Snohomish-King County Youth Club, Central Area Senior Center, Boyscouts of America, and Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce.

A Magnolia resident, Donaldson bought his house in 1981, a year after his first season with the Sonics, and despite playing in L.A., Dallas, New York and Salt Lake, says he always called Seattle home. "It's been gently used," Donaldson says of the "vintage" early 80s furniture that still inhabits the place. "It's just me basically."

Unlike his trading card above, Donaldson now sports a shiny shaved head, and on this occasion, a pinstriped dress shirt and black slacks. He describes himself as "a happy-go-lucky guy." That is, until you ask him about the Celtics winning the championship this year. (Donaldson, who played against the Celtic powerhouse teams of the 80s, isn't much for Boston.) "We never won a game, any team I was on, in [Boston] Garden," he says.

Already getting a knack for the political, Donaldson's not promising much when it comes to specifics. And in truth, it's early. He still has months before he'll have to say which seat he's campaigning for, though it will likely be one of the open ones. Three of the council members up for reelection next year (Jan Drago, Nick Licata and Richard McIver) are rumored to be considering calling it quits. The only other challengers currently signed up are Jordan Royer (son of former mayor Charles Royer) and Robert Sondheim, who lost in a 2007 primary against Jean Godden and Joe Szwaja.

But Donaldson does have a couple of pet issues. As the owner of fitness centers in Seattle, Mill Creek and Mukilteo, he says Seattle could be less expensive and more responsive to the needs of small businesses. And he says the city shouldn't forget about basketball. "It's going to be some time before we can get a team back. We're not in the good graces of the NBA, but if the NBA realizes that there are elected officials at the table who are interested. That should help," he says. "In the back of my mind I'll always long for the NBA to return to Seattle."

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