When lame-duck city councilwoman Jan Drago made a surprise entry into the mayoral race against her chief ally, Greg Nickels, she was instantly perceived as the top threat to the incumbent mayor. But her campaign's emphasis on stylistic difference failed to register with voters, resulting in one of the most perplexing campaigns in city history, as well as one of its most feeble political flameouts. The fact that Drago could have been elected Seattle's first female mayor since 1926 (and second ever -- absolutely astonishing for a city as progressive as ours) was hardly played up, while her campaign instead relied on her opposition to the grocery bag tax and, as mentioned, the style thing.
Drago, a distinguished city pol for the better part of two decades, left McCoy's Firehouse without a speech, perhaps because there wasn't a crowd to deliver it to. (Update: per the comments section, I must have just missed her remarks). To his credit, Joe Quintana, who ditched James Donaldson's campaign to join Drago's, stuck around to deliver something of an off-the-cuff post-mortem, but fellow defector Blair Butterworth had gone home by then. Despite the fact that his former client, Donaldson, led Drago by a point, Butterworth said he had no regrets about pulling the political equivalent of jumping off the Titanic and onto a leaky wooden raft of Cuban refugees with a go-fast boat hot on its tail, full of immigration agents."We sort of got squeezed," says Butterworth. "We weren't as much change as McGinn and Mallahan (who narrowly led Nickels in a virtual three-way dead heat with about half the vote in), and not as much status quo as Nickels."
"The more interesting thing about this is McGinn and (Position 8 City Council leader Mike) O'Brien were as close as you can be to single-issue candidates (block the viaduct tunnel replacement). Both of them touched on a constituency that's very worried about taxes an the economy."
As for the notion that Drago's camp cockily reserved funds for a general election assault on Nickels, Butterworth says, "We didn't save anything for the general. We had more growth potential than either Mallahan or McGinn. We were confident we would raise money for the general. We just got stuck in the middle."
While James Donaldson's campaign manager, Cindi Laws, was hardly stoked at her candidate's fourth-place positioning, the fact that said positioning ranked ahead of Drago's was not lost on her, as she filled the void left by Butterworth, who thought he had a more promising prospect on his hands with Drago, when in fact neither candidate had anywhere near the juice to close.
"I think that there was a lot of satisfaction [coming in ahead of Drago]," says Laws. "Not against Jan personally, [but] there was a lot of glee [about Blair getting rocked]."
As for her candidate's shortcomings, Laws puts a fair amount of blame on retired NBA players and others who failed to make good on $100,000 in promised contributions to the former NBA seven-footer's campaign, which operated on a veritable shoestring. "I can't even begin to tell you how disappointed we were with a lot of people," says Laws, who says she's not sure what, if any, political path Donaldson will pursue from here.
As for Drago, she's now gone 0-for-2 in her attempt to mount a post-council career (she also failed to land a gig as head of the Seattle Chamber). As luck would have it, the city is in the market for new Landmark Preservation Board members. Jan, if you're interested, Sarah Sodt is the woman to call (615-1786). You're more than qualified, trust us.