Doing the council shuffle

A jazz combo played in the corner as the party-goers filed in. The summer sunlight barely penetrated the dim interior of Belltown's Speakeasy Cafe; every member of the sizable crowd had a drink in hand. The candidate, beaming, made the rounds from group to group. City Council candidate Judy Nicastro had good reason to smile: Her campaign kick-off event last week was well planned and well attended, and just had that "winner" feeling.

Nicastro has been energized by Martha Choe's decision not to seek a third term.

Choe's departure set up a furious game of musical chairs that left Nicastro in a happier spot than before. Currently she is pitted against former county Democratic Party chair Dan Norton and ex-council member Cheryl Chow for the seat beingvacated by incumbent Sue Donaldson.Simultaneously, state Rep. Dawn Mason jumped from challenging Norton and Chow to Choe's position. And business-friendly newcomer Alec Fisken has just declared he'll take on Mason.

Nicastro had good reason to be pleased with her show of momentum, as her two opponents haven't demonstrated any of late. Chow got off to a roaring start, raising more than $22,000 in the month of April. But since then, she's picked up only $3,459 and has seemed more devoted to her day job with the School District than her return to politics. Norton raised only $1,824 last month.

Meanwhile, in the race to replace the retiring Tina Podlodowski, Charlie Chong banked $10,468, and Heidi Wills, an aide to county executive Ron Sims, reported $23,927 in donations, the best month for any candidate yet. Ballard activist Thomas Whittemore has raised $6,357, most of it money he has loaned to his own campaign.

Political consultant Cathy Allen isn'timpressed. She argues that the puny fundraising totals and relatively low publicinterest in the campaigns means that new candidates still have plenty of time to step in before the official filing period at the end of this month. "I'd say there's going to be a minimum of four [viable candidates] running in each of those races, and most of those who are going to run don't even know right now that they're going to run," she says.

Mason doesn't agree. She wonders aloud "who these people might be who feel that they're so stellar that they didn't need to be out early raising money, raising issues."

Still, there is surprisingly little grist in the political rumor mill. The only really big name being bandied around is that of Mary Jean Ryan, the director of the city's economic development department. Although the candidate herself is on an extended vacation, she's a serious contender even from long distance. Ryan can count on the support of the Seattle Times editorial board, which tried to strongarm her into a School Board appointment last year (in part through a fawning profile headlined "Mary Jean Ryan: Seattle's most remarkable woman"). Even though the School Board somehow passed on Ms. Remarkable, most of the big-money downtown gang won't. As the architect of the controversial Nordstrom garage deal, Ryan can get the establishment checkbooks open like no other contender.

Not that Wills is any slouch in that department. Envisioning a finals matchup with Chong, she's hitting hard on the age difference between herself and the elderly activist (remember, only young people can have "fresh ideas"). But her youth might also work against her: Career sidekick Wills hasn't had the opportunity to display any toughness or willingness to stand up on unpopular issues (although that's about all Chong did during his year on the council).

But one thing is sure: These council races aren't full yet. The line for new candidates forms on the left. . . .

Rockin' in the free world

Want to hear a great idea about what the City Council should do to regulate live music and dancing in Seattle clubs? Forget about the whole thing.

That seems to be the general consensus, after US District Court Judge John Coughenour struck down the vague state law prohibiting liquor licensees from offering live music without permission from city officials. Even the schizophrenic Seattle Times editorial board, which six weeks before was calling for a tough new law, now wants to "let the music play."

Good thinking (finally). The fact is, as much as City Attorney Mark Sidran likes to intimate that Seattle is teetering on the edge of anarchy, the city has been able to close every problem club it's taken aim at during his tenure. Until we can demonstrate a problem, there's no reason to fill the "regulatory vacuum" (Sidran's term) with unnecessary laws.

Out of sight, out of mind

As expected, the Seattle City Council refused to weaken its parks exclusion law, but the defeat of a companion resolution has observers wondering just how much our current legislators hate the homeless.

After council members Nick Licata and Peter Steinbrueck each unsuccessfully proposed a package of amendments to trim the number of offenses that would merit a temporary ban from area parks, Richard McIver tried a third time with a mild proposal—continue monitoring how many of the exclusion notices are issued to homeless persons or racial minorities. The original ordinance included a one-year monitoring provision based on fears (subsequently proven valid) that these two groups would be disproportionately affected.

Even given this evidence, the remaining six council members opposed continuing the program. Since the majority has no intention of relaxing the exclusion law, there's no political reason to keep statistics that would just aid their critics. But given the results so far, our legislators have a moral duty to maintain scrutiny of the program. The council should be ashamed of stooping to this hide-the-evidence approach.

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