Money makes the world go 'round

It's that time of year again. That time when newspaper reporters start listing the contributions that various City Council candidates are collecting, and you skeptics in the audience grumble that politics isn't just about money (yeah, and major-league baseball is all about tradition). So the squeamish should shut their eyes tightly as we present the Money Players of April 1999:

*Cheryl Chow, who was the top cash generator for the month, with $22,510 collected. So what if she dropped a cool seven grand on her gala kick-off breakfast in the Westin Hotel's Grand Ballroom. She's still got enough left to be the top-producing campaign of the season.

*Alec Fisken, who got outed as the anointed choice of the downtown business cabal. (But, if you must get exposed, by all means do it with cash.) Fisken netted an impressive $8,270 in April and has already deposited $3,580 this month. The impressive part is the list of the $400 maximum contribution givers: slippery development consultant John Finke, Ancil and Valerie Payne of the KING TV Paynes, former Seattle Commons leader Gerry Johnson, city economic development grand pooh-bah Mary Jean Ryan, and so-rich-she-needs-no-introduction Priscilla Collins. What's more, Fisken also netted $1,600 from the political action committee and individual lawyers at high-pockets downtown law firm Preston Gates and Ellis.

*Margaret Pageler, an incumbent who actually raised more than Fisken last month ($8,760), gets docked a notch because she's already loaned $5,000 to her own campaign.

Among the other candidates, Dawn Mason picked up a respectable $3,605 in April to easily outdistance Peter Steinbrueck ($1,200), Judy Nicastro ($1,004), and Daniel Norton ($897).

Rock star architects

Architectural firms across the city were staffed only by secretaries and interns last Monday morning, as the bosses were off watching three world-class architects jousting for the right to design the new Seattle Public Library.

Yes, it was standing room only in the Benaroya Symphony Hall's 540-seat Illsey Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall, so the Bill and Melinda Gates Lobby was filled with another hundred people watching the show on a television monitor (except for those folks who had adjourned down the Priscilla Collins Hallway to use the James R. Ellis Restrooms). In classic Seattle style, the video screen showed the architects at the podium, not the drawing projected on the wall that they were describing. They must have realized that the architects in the audience knew how to use their imaginations.

Bremerton native Steve Holl was up first, stressing his practical side in discussing how his work on the new Bellevue Art Museum and the Seattle University Chapel. Although, late in his proposal, Mr. Practical did ask: "What is the concept of the possibilities of this moment in libraries?" (Surprisingly, nobody in the audience leapt to their feet to field this easy question.)

As practicality had already been claimed, Rem Koolhaas of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam, took the approach of being a professional European. "The French like importance . . . " he announced at one point, pausing for effect, " . . . and invest very heavily in it."

Portland firm Zimmer Gunsel Frasca spoke last, unfortunately for it, during the lunch hour, so much of its audience was sitting at the Brooklyn discussing Koolhaas' books. (Maybe that's why an advisory panel suggested dumping Zimmer Gunsel Frasca four days later.) The next portion of the architect competition took place two nights later, when each firm had an hour to sketch their dream libraries on the backs of envelopes or stray napkins. Final results of this battle to the death were unavailable at press time.

Split vote on ballot split

Council member Nick Licata has gone to the Web for another of his instant e-mail polls. Licata had proposed that the two halves of the proposed $72 million levy to fund Seattle Center repairs and neighborhood community centers be presented to voters as two ballot issues, instead of as a single package.

The readers of Licata's e-mail newsletter Urban Politics backed the split 57 percent to 39 percent, with the rest undecided. This stands in sharp contrast to the 80 percent of his readers who opposed the city's bid for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

A starker number is the number of readers who actually cared to vote. The Olympics question got 952 responses, the levy split issue drew just 362. Look for this latest Licata initiative to be called on account of voter disinterest.

How 'bout a Theater Highway?

File the Seattle Center leadership's plans for a $10 million-plus package of pedestrian improvements for Mercer Street under "good idea/bad name" in the big drawer of civic proposals. Sure, wider sidewalks and better crosswalks make sense. But enthusiasm alone isn't going to make that stretch of Mercer the "Theater District" that center planners are promoting. For starters, the phrase "pedestrian improvements" seems to imply "pedestrians," yet the center wants to replace the skybridge across Mercer from the center's main parking garage with a...skybridge. This blunder alone was enough to draw groans from the members of Allied Arts' Urban Environment Committee when Center leadership came calling.

Committee member John Pastier notes that all three theaters—the Opera House, Intiman Playhouse, and the Seattle Rep—are located on the south side of the four-lane, one-way Mercer Street. If the Center wants a theater district, he says, "they're going to have to figure out how to get real buildings on the other side of Mercer. And not just two-block-long parking structures." The Center's current proposal calls for developing the current site of Teatro ZinZanni on the north side of Mercer (across from the Intiman) with a pocket park and a small office building, perhaps housing an arts organization. The parking garage is slated to stay right where it is.

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