As Friday of filing week approached, all Seattle waited breathlessly to see if the three television commentators would swoop in to save the city. The stargazers went away disappointed. Only Jim Compton (who had already announced his intention to run) signed up to run for Seattle City Council.
Former KIRO and KING anchor Mike James and KCTS' Enrique Cerna were no-shows, denying voters a direct-to-video slate. Owing mainly to several last-minute minor candidates, all five Council races will be contested.
Position 1: Comeback Kid #1 vs. the Two Progressives
"I am very happy with the way things shook down," says housing activist Judy Nicastro, who will face former council member Cheryl Chow and former county Democratic Party chief Dan Norton. Did she have many concerns that more candidates might appear during filing week? "I wouldn't say many concerns, but it was certainly on my mind. It would be a very different race had the media boys jumped in," she says. Also in the race is perennial candidate Bob Hegamin.
Chow, whose two terms on council and an unsuccessful run for mayor in 1997 should give her superior name identification, is still hitting the buttons that marked her early political career—kids, family, and community. "I believe we are going to grow as a city, but that doesn't mean we cannot keep that community feeling," she says. However, longtime teacher and administrator Chow has been lax on the campaign front, neglecting fundraising while finishing up a temporary school job.
Norton brings a reputation for not shying away from controversial fights, as in his leadership in the unsuccessful 1995 battle to stop the whittling away of Westlake Park.
Nicastro, a relative newcomer to Seattle politics, is best known for lobbying the state legislature to drop an existing prohibition of strong local rental housing laws—including rent control. Nicastro backs other pro-renter measures, such as giving tenants the right to renew a lease, which the state law prohibits.
While Norton has been active in political circles longer, Nicastro seems energized by her switch to this race. The young (age 34) newcomer is also well positioned to snatch the editorial endorsement of one or both of the Seattle daily newspapers, given that members of both editorial boards have included Chow on their lists of weak "retread" candidates and Norton may not be forgiven his past outspokenness.
And as former mayor Wes Uhlman, president of the city's largest landlords' organization, is a prominent Chow supporter, observers are relishing a possible finals match-up between pro-landlord Chow and pro-tenant Nicastro.
Position 3: Peter's summer vacation
It took until sign-up week to produce challengers for Peter Steinbrueck, but not much of a challenge. Competing for the other spot on the final ballot are the powerhouse quartet of Don Hennick, Lenora Jones, Richard Lee, and Stan Lippmann.
Position 5: Trees cause trouble
Margaret Pageler, a two-term veteran, drew criticism this year for considering a logging proposal for a portion of the city-owned Cedar River Watershed (although she eventually joined her council colleagues in unanimously approving a no-logging alternative). Her main challenger, Curt Firestone, cofounded the Progressive Coalition to sure no incumbent went without a serious challenger, then stepped into the Pageler race himself.
Although she's in hot water with some environmental groups, this old issue may not be enough to topple an otherwise well-liked incumbent. Pageler also brings all the traditional weapons: she has the largest campaign war chest ($48,000 and counting) and should gain most major endorsements, although Firestone has already won the backing of the King County Labor Council.
Former police sergeant E. Mike Rodosovich and ex-broadcaster Lee Carter are latecomers who answer Firestone's prayers as candidates he's likely to beat.
Position 7: Generation gap
It looks like we can expect a May-December battle in the final between 73-year-old former council member Charlie Chong and 32-year-old political aide Heidi Wills.
Chong, a populist outsider who shook up Seattle politics by winning a council race in 1996, tried to move up to the mayor's office the following year but lost to Paul Schell. He comes out swinging as a principled civil libertarian and opponent of government pork. Charlie's got a few tricks up his sleeve: The reputed naysayer has startled audiences by starting his presentation with a plea that voters pony up to fix the Opera House and build community centers by voting yes on November's ballot measure.
Wills, on leave from her job as an aide to County Executive Ron Sims, should take every major endorsement in this race (she's already gotten the nod from retiring council member Podlodowski, whose squabbles with Chong during his year on council were legendary). On the stump, Wills is quick to play on Chong's image as a candidate of Seattle Past. "If we could build a wall around Seattle to keep things the way they are, I'd lay the first brick," she told one audience before launching into her program for the future.
There are four more candidates in the race: The dark horse is Ballard activist Thomas Whittemore, who brings a nice resume of community work but is a large inheritance away from being a factor in this race. The three last-minute candidates are perennial council hopeful Elbert Brooks, George Freeman (former owner of the notorious all-ages disco the Monastery), and David W. Lawton.
Position 9: Compton reports
Compton brings some star power into this race but will have to get past a pair of tough challengers to make the finals. Former State Rep. Dawn Mason has taken advantage of her head start to lock up personal endorsements and charm the all-important labor/Democrat organizations. Businessman Alec Fisken brings a diverse resume that includes working as publisher of the now-defunct weekly the Seattle Sun and as outside financial advisor for the city.
Compton's entry also appears to doom Queen Anne's candidate/activist Andy Scully.
Compton, a veteran broadcast journalist and former host of the KING TV public affairs show The Compton Report, says he chose this open-seat race in part to avoid facing former council incumbents like Chong and Chow. "I want to win," he admits, earning points for honesty.
Compton joins the chorus of candidates questioning Sound Transit, saying all options for light rail's future should be considered.
But it will be a tough fight to survive the primary. Mason, a two-term state representative, touts her proven record of "guts, compassion, and vision" and brings a reputation as an excellent speaker and tireless campaigner. While her two challengers have media experience, says Mason, she has experience as a legislator, city employee, and community leader: "I've been answering the questions, not asking them."
Lisa Collins, Fisken's campaign consultant, also takes a whack at the media candidate. "It's great that [Compton] did a story on X, Y, or Z six years ago, but what does he know about governing—what does he know about hard choices?"
Fisken has matched Mason dollar for dollar as a fundraiser so far, but it remains to be seen how well Compton will do in the money chase. Mason isn't worried. "It's not a race that can be bought this year," she says. Endorsements may be a tougher battleground. Mason has the backing of the King County Labor Council and city public safety workers unions, but Compton hopes to contest with her for the backing of environmental and Democratic groups. The ultimate irony in this made-for-TV race: All three candidates could really use the endorsement of one or both daily newspapers to survive the primary.