Nobody stopped the presses when the Seattle Green Party decided its first slate of Seattle City Council endorsements just two years ago. The activist group's picks were quickly lost in a forest of labor, environmental, and Democratic Party organizations.
Until election day, that is. Dues-paying party member Peter Steinbrueck and fellow endorsee Richard Conlin were elected by large margins, in part because of time donated by volunteers from activist groups like the Greens. Even the third new council member, Nick Licata, whose opponent was endorsed by the Greens, ended up joining the organization just before election day.
This year, lots of candidates are getting in touch with their underlying Green-ness. As the party has amended its bylaws to allow only the endorsement of dues-paying party members, the election has served as a mini membership drive.
On August 3, the Greens added to already-endorsed candidates Steinbrueck (position 3) and Curt Firestone (who is challenging incumbent Margaret Pageler in position 5) with a sole endorsement of Dawn Mason (position 9) in one open-seat race and a dual endorsement of Dan Norton and Judy Nicastro (position 1) in another. No endorsement was issued in the position 7 race, although candidates Heidi Wills and Charlie Chong both addressed the group of more than 75 people, including 61 voting party members.
For a group which has a sky-high 75 percent support threshold for endorsement, endorsing in four races is pretty impressive—even allowing for that standard being (slightly) waived in the Nicastro/Norton dual pick.
The most interesting call was the nonendorsement in the Chong/Wills race. For a group which prizes purity, it's hard to imagine a speech better-tailored to the organization at hand than Wills' presentation. In it, she stated that environmentalism had brought her into politics, discussed her role in founding a student recycling program at the University of Washington, and proposed raising water rates to keep consumption down and save salmon. Part of the problem was the delivery. Imagine the youthful, business-suited Wills delivering this line in her sweet-as-pie voice: "I think what we need is a leader: someone who's not afraid to be controversial, to get in people's face." Yikes.
It didn't help that Chong, who has been harshly criticized for being controversial and getting into people's face, was next to the podium (actually a clear spot in front of the refreshment table). Chong was his usual charming, low-key self (after supporting restrictions on summer water use for lawn-watering, the candidate admitted he doesn't water his own lawn for practical reasons), although he got a few heads nodding when he cited his stand against the city's parks exclusion ordinance and said the publicly owned PacMed hospital on Beacon Hill should have been used as housing for the homeless, not leased to Amazon.com.
Wills' biggest drawbacks, from a Green point of view, are her campaign's donations from corporate types and her close ties with the city's political establishment, specifically the Democratic Party. She did far better than Chong in the voting, but almost a quarter of Greens supported neither candidate, quashing her chances for an endorsement.
Mason was a slam-dunk. Opponent Andy Scully did a nice riff on being a little-known candidate in a crowded race (when he asked an audience member for a rating on his performance at a campaign forum, she replied, "You did great . . . who are you?"), but was no match for the better-prepared ex-state legislator. Green Party members noted (after the candidates were exiled to the hall outside) that Mason's social justice credentials were a strength the party needs in its slate. Not to mention that a black woman with a chance of winning politically trumps a long-shot white guy.
The Nicastro/Norton decision typified the dilemma of local progressives, who have a pair of solid candidates, only one of whom is likely to survive the primary and face probusiness front-runner Cheryl Chow. While Norton seemed to easily win the purity test, some Greens saw Nicastro as more electable—a "rising star" in the words of one speaker. However, practicality ruled the day after someone noted that if the Greens just endorsed one of the pair in the primary and that candidate lost, they'd only have to come back and endorse the other one in the final. Hey, that's impressive thinking for a Seattle activist political group.
Vince Foster did it
Here's some shocking news for political Seattle—a candidate was tossed off the City Council ballot for recycling. Unfortunately, what position 3 candidate and public-access cable creep Richard Lee was recycling were the old nominating petitions from his 1997 council try. When spot checks resulted in all his petitions being thrown out, the candidate followed. Two years ago, more than 9,000 Seattle residents accidentally cast ballots for Lee; the vastly superior Kerman Kermoade advanced to the final for a sound thrashing by insurmountable incumbent Richard McIver.
Back to you, Tom
The political watchdog group the Civic Foundation got the attention of one candidate with their recent analysis of early donations in Seattle City Council races. Cheryl Chow told the foundation's interview committee that she returned a $400 donation from the Services Group of America after spotting it on the foundation's report. The company is owned by Vashon Island businessman Tom Stewart, a major Republican Party donor who was caught illegally funneling contributions to a group backing a 1995 city initiative.
The foundation, which has identified council positions 7 and 9 as its two key races, will make its final selections this Saturday at the Broadway Performance Hall. If they don't choose a Charlie Chong/Dawn Mason slate, go home and stock up on bottled water, because the Y2K thing must be coming early.