Seattle's teleprompter politics

And now, a very special Compton Report . . . Jim's running. That's right, former KING 5 commentator Jim Compton is leading the charge of the boob-tubers into the Seattle City Council races. Although Compton's campaign is officially playing coy about which seat he's seeking, he's told potential supporters he wants to challenge former state Rep. Dawn Mason and publisher Alec Fisken for the seat being vacated by current officeholder Martha Choe.

Which leaves political hopefuls fearfully awaiting the arrival of Mike James, whose painfully earnest act has been playing on area TV screens for about four decades. It's hard to see why politicos seem so scared, as James is hardly the most formidable local tube contender. Possible contenders who could take James in a fair political fight: John Curley, John Keister, and that blonde anchor lady on channel 13 with the pixie haircut.

The invasion of the video latecomers isn't any reason to celebrate, although it's preferable to the constant media drumbeat that somehow our latest crop of city political hopefuls isn't all that impressive. Impressive as compared to what? The Sam Smith/Sherry Harris battle of '91? Martha Choe's challenge in '95 from a bike messenger who wore cycling tights to campaign speeches? Last election's Richard McIver/Kerman Kermoade dustup? If people insist on looking back fondly to the glory days of City Hall politics, they should at least specify when they occurred.

At least our made-for-TV campaign season has provided one amusing sidelight: the local chapter of AFTRA (the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) tried to get the King County Labor Council to delay its endorsements until its candidates got out of makeup and onto the ballot. Unfortunately, organized labor showed little sympathy for folks who can't make it to work on time and voted anyway. See if they get any TV coverage.

No free ride here

A funny thing happened on the way to council incumbent Margaret Pageler's easy re-election—it stopped looking quite so easy.

Actually, there's little reason to believe that challenger Curt Firestone can dump the council's most skilled manager of bureaucratic minutiae. Pageler is raising money at a reasonable clip and, if her past campaigns are any indication, the candidate will show up for events and the mailings will be out on time. But Firestone's progressive populist pitch seems to be finding some converts. When he announced at a Democratic Party candidates' forum that he was challenging Pageler, much of the audience burst into applause. Pageler also lost the King County Labor Council's .endorsement to Firestone last week.

But campaigning for re-election has always been an odd experience for Pageler, who first ran for council in 1987 as part of the Vision Seattle organization's effort to provide credible (if quixotic) challengers for entrenched incumbents (she won election in 1991). By the time Pageler came up for re-election, she herself was considered an entrenched incumbent and got a token challenge from a novice named Charlie Chong. Four years later, Pageler is now getting the same treatment from Firestone, a founder of the Progressive Coalition—a group which, like Vision Seattle, was formed to make sure incumbents didn't get a free ride.

P.S. If Pageler gets 60-plus percent of the vote come November, pretend you never read this.

Lobbying for dollars

Brian Livingston and the Civic Foundation are at it again. The political watch-dog group's latest attempt to bring more number crunching into local campaigns is a report on the early fund-raising efforts of Seattle City Council candidates.

The report, compiled by University of Washington political science student Rachel Harer, cross-references people and companies registered with the state as lobbyists with local political donations. In each contested race, at least one candidate got more than two-thirds of the lobbyist money.

A few caveats: There are some pretty large companies on the lobby register, so, for example, a $75 donation from a Boeing engineer shows up as a Boeing contribution (which it clearly isn't). And most major downtown Seattle law firms do some lobbying work, so donations from lawyers also show up. Rightly so, though, as big donations from downtown lawyers are probably the best indicator of establishment support. The foundation's report lists all the available donor information, so readers can judge for themselves.

The big three in the Lobbyist Cash Olympics thus far are Alec Fisken ($4,690), Margaret Pageler ($4,469), and Cheryl Chow ($3,360).

Mother-in-law politics

Yet another surprise: A council member listened to complaints from the public and actually changed his mind on a piece of pending legislation. After having helped shepherd new regulations for mother-in-law apartments through the legislative process, Peter Steinbrueck voted to delete one controversial change.

Steinbrueck says that pronounced public opposition led him to drop a change which would have relaxed the requirement that the owner of a home equipped with a mother-in-law apartment (or ADU, for accessory dwelling unit) continue to live there. The rule change would have dropped the owner-occupancy requirement after five years but reinstated it if the home were sold to a new owner. Steinbrueck reasoned that the change would have little effect, yet it's crystallized opposition. "If it means so much to the die-hard single family preservationists who fear sweeping changes, then I'm happy to take it away." Not as happy as they are.

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