There has been a fair amount of speculative whispering around City Hall in recent weeks that Jean Godden, at age 83 and having served 11 years on the City Council, will call it a career. Faced with fending off two young and very formidable opponents, some predict she’ll finish her third term this year, then retire to the comforts of her View Ridge home and write a book, stitching together a colorful compendium of the hundreds of news and gossip columns she penned beneath the P-I globe and later at The Seattle Times.
Pure nonsense, Godden says to all this conjecture. During an interview last week at a downtown bagel shop, she uncorks a full-throated laugh and declares, “I’m running. There’s no doubt about that. I’m going to stick with it. I’m not a quitter.”
If anyone harbors doubts of her intentions, note that Godden has raised nearly $32,000 (only councilmembers Sally Clark and Tom Rasmussen have more dough in their campaign breadbox), retained an effective fundraiser in McKenna Hartman, and reunited with campaign consultant and longtime chum Cathy Allen.
The political landscape will surely shift in the months ahead, for the filing deadline is not until mid-May. But at this early juncture, Godden is clearly the most vulnerable council incumbent. Though well known among city voters, her 21 percent unfavorable rating is the highest on the council—tied with Kshama Sawant, according to an EMC poll taken in October. “She’s in trouble all right, but if anyone can pull it out, Jean will,” says a City Hall insider who has seen his share of council politicking over the past two-plus decades.
Godden is no stranger to winning by the skin of her teeth. Four years ago, she barely survived her race against Seattle Department of Transportation planner Bobby Forch, winning by a 50.41 to 49.17 percent margin. Forch, by the way, was endorsed by councilmembers Nick Licata and Mike O’Brien.
A well-respected, savvy lawmaker, Godden has forged a reputation as a strong advocate for funding city parks and working on behalf of women on income-inequality issues. Seldom does a day pass when Godden isn’t sporting a “No Wage Gap” button. She was also an early and enthusiastic supporter of the city’s paid-sick-leave law, and remains, despite a myriad of setbacks, an outspoken backer of the deep-bore tunnel project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Still, Godden is running into some strong headwinds, and fully expects that her age will be used against her. “It will be done in subtle ways,” she says. “You know, they never talk about age when it’s a man. I mean, [California Gov.] Jerry Brown is 76.” With a chuckle, she adds, “I guess I’ll just say that I don’t remember Paul Revere’s ride.”
With the emergence this year of district elections, Godden, for the first time, like most of her colleagues, will be compelled to compete on a far smaller political terrain. Godden and her rivals’ fate will be determined by the 54,000 registered voters in the newly created District 4, a swath of established neighborhoods like Laurelhurst, Ravenna, Wedgwood, Wallingford and Windermere—well-off suburban-esque enclaves where there is much unease about Seattle’s rapid growth and increasing density.
Transit planner Rob Johnson will likely prove Godden’s toughest foe. For more than a decade he’s served as the executive director of the Transportation Choices Coalition, an increasingly influential nonprofit that helped lead the charge for last year’s bus-funding measure and the 2008 campaign to expand Sound Transit to the Eastside. Tall and lanky, the fifth-generation Seattleite is 36, married, with three girls: twin 4-year-olds and a 16-month old. The family lives in Ravenna.
“We need to make Seattle more affordable, and that means better transit,” says Johnson, noting that three of the five new light-rail stations soon to be completed are in the 4th District: Husky Stadium, University Avenue, and Roosevelt Avenue. “These are issues that Jean is not engaged in.”
He entered the race in November, hired prominent Democratic strategist Christian Sinderman to oversee his campaign, and has raised about $15,000. He has also picked up some powerful support, including endorsements from King County Executive Dow Constantine, and King County councilmen Larry Phillips and Joe McDermott.
Democratic Party activist Michael Maddux, who played a large role in passing last year’s permanent parks-district measure, has also joined the 4th District fray. A bright, thoughtful 33-year-old with a rich sense of political history, Maddux also has generational ties to Seattle: His great-grandfather on his mother’s side once owned a chain of Market Basket grocery stores.
At a downtown coffee house, where Maddux arrived by bicycle, the Eastlake renter and single father of a 12-year-old daughter says that “Jean has been a great asset to our city, but the question now is what are the next steps we need to take. It’s about how we build an environmentally friendly city that is affordable. We need a stronger advocate [than Godden] on that.”
Maddux—who has retained former Mayor Mike McGinn campaign manager John Wyble and raised nearly $3,000—continues, “This city is too expensive for too many. People and businesses are being pushed out, and right now, I don’t think Jean represents the best interests of where we are heading as a city.” Specifically, Maddux, a paralegal at a Seattle personal-injury law firm, points to Godden’s vote last year that helped shoot down a proposal to legalize and regulate homeless encampments.
Asked about Johnson and Maddux, Godden replies tongue-in-cheek: “I seem to attract young males running against me. I’m sad that I didn’t have that magnetic quality when I was 30.”
The old man in the race, if you will, is Taso Lagos, a 55-year-old foreign studies director in the UW’s Henry M. Jackson School of Public Affairs, and still another contender with roots in the city deeper than redwood trees. His family has owned the popular U District neighborhood spot, the Continental Greek Restaurant, for 40 years.
“I don’t see myself running against anyone,” says Lagos. “I’m just trying to bring new ideas. We need more democracy, and we need to disperse power away from the downtown core.
“I met Jean at The Seattle Times. We wrote an op-ed together on homelessness. It was never published. I respect and like Jean, but the time has come for someone with new ideas.”
We’ll see. After the career she’s had, if anyone can learn new tricks, it’s Jean Godden.