Dreamers, schemers, and kooks

The annual rite of running and losing.

On her campaign Website, Seattle City Council position 7 candidate Heidi Wills proudly displays the endorsement of King County Executive Ron Sims.

"Heidi has what it takes to lead Seattle into the next century," Sims proclaims.

With the next century only months away, that shouldn't take too much leading. And since the job isn't vacant until January, the new City Hall millennium will have started without her.

Nonetheless, Wills isn't kidding, and pundits have given the newcomer favorable odds in September's primary against former council member Charlie Chong, another potential winner.

That leaves the position 7 also-rans—George Freeman, David Lawton, Thomas Whittemore, and Elbert Brooks. Not exactly household names. Or likely winners. But they are upholding a fine tradition: primary candidates exercising their democratic right to run, and be trounced, in a political election.

It's not etched in stone, of course. Nobodies do pull upsets. Look at Richard Conlin. He was an unknown candidate who has become today's best unknown council member.

But of this year's 23 council primary hopefuls, for example, 13 will be eliminated in one night. Most of them already know who they are.

Yet they're drawn to primaries like bugs to flames—with similar results. For a few, it may be a stab at a political career; for most, it's the start of a losing streak: Bob Hegamin, the "one-man shadow government" running for council position 1, is working on his seventh straight drubbing.

Their names are synonymous with "token opposition," "handily defeated," and "perennial candidate." Some file, then disappear. The recurring Elbert Brooks ran and lost in 1997 under the slogan "Vote one more time for Elbert Brooks." Five percent of voters did, even though shortly after filing Brooks went on vacation.

Typically, primary losers have no money, no staff, and no campaign, although they often have a gripe—stadiums, taxes, the poor, the rich—or, in the case of Kerman Kermoade when he ran (and lost by 80 percent) against Richard McIver in 1997, they're simply in need of a subject for a college research paper.

Incumbent council member Peter Steinbrueck will say he's taking this year's opponents seriously. But he may be accepting bets on the side. His challengers consist of Seattle artist Don Hennick, who is suing the city for wrongful arrest; onetime Reform Party congressional candidate—and loser—Stan Lippman; and the mysterious Lenora Jones, who is never available for comment. A judge officially tossed Kurt Cobain murder theorist Richard Lee, another of Steinbrueck's would-be opponents, out of the race this week for reusing old petitions in order to qualify for the ballot. Too bad. Lee's trademark was appearing at candidate forums, videotaping himself, and then interviewing himself afterwards: "How do I think it went? Courtney Love bought them off!"

Not that Seattle has cornered the kooky primary-loser market. In Tacoma, for one, civic gadfly Will Baker has thrown his beanie into the mayoral primary ring. He is best known for being arrested for refusing to shut up at a Tacoma City Council meeting. But when recently asked why he was running for mayor, he refused comment.

Of course, should the unexpected happen, he has no promises to live up to. Not an unwise strategy for any candidate, win or lose.

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