Stir it up, Seattle!

Our pearls of wisdom on this year's primary election.

HEY SEATTLE — YOUR political pot needs stirring! We are sick of the same old menu: school board baloney, Port pork, and City Council downtown gravy. Despite recent assertions by Seattle's chattering classes, fundamental change has not occurred in any of our political institutions. What has the Seattle City Council done since being joined by serious reformers Nick Licata and Peter Steinbrueck? Mostly outvoted them 7-2. Sure, there have been a couple of things at the margins, but the City Council has made its fiscal priorities clear in recent months by saddling us with a $224 million new City Hall and justice center and asking us to dump $38 million into an opera house upgrade. The school board, still reeling from the tragic leadership loss of John Stanford, appointed his successor without even bothering to do a nationwide search. Recently the same board asked us to swallow the fiction that abandoning busing will not segregate Seattle schools because good schools will integrate our neighborhoods! And over at the Port, they remain confident no one is paying attention as the third-runway cost overruns skyrocket to $186 million and reasonable mitigation for their neighbors is ignored.

Sorry, gang, we are paying attention. Fortunately voters can take matters into their own hands: This year, credible candidates who will really deliver on promises of reform are running. And where they're not, we're taking our chances with rookies who will at least spice up our civic stew.

A word to the wise: we only endorse in contested races. In races where two will advance, we only pick one because you can only vote for one (no weeny double endorsements like some Brand X media outlets who want to have it both ways). If you need our help when there's only one candidate to vote for, you're better off doing something else.

Seattle City Council

(The top two vote-getters in each race advance to November's general election where they face off for a four-year term.)

Seattle City Council, Position 1

We need another (Pine) street-fightin' man on this council. Nordstrom and the Mariners can take ol' Daniel Norton in the back room and work him over with rubber truncheons, bags of campaign donations, and stacks of economic development studies, and he'll emerge battered and bruised but still defending the public's wallet against the corporate raiders. Norton will brook no nonsense about sanitizing the city from Darth Sidran. He has solid ideas about transportation, including a $10 bus pass for all Seattleites.

In addition to being right on the issues, Norton has a couple of skills that will serve him well as a legislator: First of all, he's no bullshitter, and secondly his ego is closer in size to a Wallingford bungalow than the Doomed Dome—anyone who has watched Licata's council success realizes the establishment wing of the city will give Norton points for his honesty and humility. Our one complaint is that he needs to stop patronizing his opponent Judy Nicastro and sniping at her renters' rights platform. In fact, we recommend he steal her platform. Call it co-opt housing.

Norton is the only candidate endorsed by both Licata and Steinbrueck, and we are pleased to add our support to theirs: Knock 'em out, Norton!

Seattle City Council, Position 3

Don't hate Peter Steinbrueck because he has no competition. After vaporizing a better-funded opponent in 1997 and completing a good if sometimes inconsistent first half-term, Steinbrueck deserves your vote. With colleague Nick Licata, Steinbrueck has been half of a one-two punch battling for the rights of all citizens. The pair have worked to protect renters, preserve the forests of the city-owned Cedar River watershed, and rein in Sidran. Although he's caught some flak for actually insisting on debating issues in public, he's proven a good antidote for the overdose of "Seattle Nice" that's paralyzed City Hall for years. He is more deserving of criticism for being overly cautious when it comes to pushing innovative housing solutions. With that caveat, expect more good things from a second Steinbrueck term.

Seattle City Council, Position 5

Curt Firestone, a 57-year-old rookie, can throw some serious heat in front of his hometown crowd of lefty activists. He shows off the fire(stone) in his belly by tossing out populist rhetoric about bringing the "sports/entertainment industry" to heel, delivering social justice, and turning back Sidran's campaign of "discrimination" against poor people. Charging around the room, slapping hands, and pounding his fists, he delivers a loud message more reminiscent of Eugene V. Debs than recent Seattle politicians. It's refreshing, especially in opposition to incumbent Margaret Pageler, one of the City Council's law-and-order toughies who truly believes in the wisdom of the city's highly questionable multimillion-dollar investment in downtown development.

Firestone, active in Seattle politics for 13 years, has worked quietly in the political trenches, first trying to change the national Democrats' romance with centrism and big money, then helping build the local Green Party and the Seattle Progressive Coalition, whose goal is to elect more reformers to the City Council. His reflection on that process has always been nuanced and thoughtful as well as passionate.

Get Firestone in a quiet room with Pageler, however, and he sounds like what he is—a rookie candidate struggling to debate a very bright eight-year incumbent. We trust Firestone will grow in the job. His history and values earn him our vote.

Seattle City Council, Position 7

Thanks to Charlie Chong, standing up for what you believe is becoming a bit more popular among local public officials. The plain-spoken West Seattle populist paved the way for the likes of Steinbrueck and Licata with his principled dissents and willingness to question city policies. This newspaper hasn't forgotten his eloquent remarks in opposing the Parks Exclusion Ordinance, which allows cops to ban people from parks, nor the fact that his warning that minorities and homeless people might be targeted has been proven correct by the city's own statistics. Unlike most of his former council colleagues, Chong has shown interest in the inner workings of Seattle government, including bringing public development authorities (including the Pike Place Market and Pac Med) under reasonable scrutiny. A fearless fighter against ridiculous corporate welfare deals, he's just the guy we need to shine light on coming boondoggles such as the Metropolitan Parks District proposal and the overpriced Civic Center project. While "young environmentalists" are all the rage these days, Chong had already completed a career running federal antipoverty programs and was working as a volunteer to preserve open space in city neighborhoods when his junior critics were still running for student body offices. In a world of waffling, compromising, deal-cutting politicians, Charlie is a refreshing voice for common sense and the common citizen.

Seattle City Council, Position 9

Former state legislator Dawn Mason only moves in one direction—straight ahead and at full speed. The sleepy City Hall gang will have their hands full dealing with this dynamo. Most Seattle enviros are happy to stroke their chins and speculate about a future light rail line—Mason says get some paint and curbing and create bus-only lanes on key arterials, giving public transit real priority over private vehicles. "Economic development" has generally been a code word for costly subsidies for well-off private businesses; Mason proposes to modify the focus to promoting small business and livable wage jobs in all city neighborhoods. Longtime city employee Mason will bring an insider's perspective to efforts to improve productivity and improve fairness in the city's dealings with its workforce. Dawn breaks, City Hall shakes!

Seattle School Board

(The city is divided up into districts for the primary; two candidates advance from each race to a citywide contest in November for four-year terms.)

Seattle School Board, District 1

(North Ballard, Haller Lake, Northgate, Lake City)

Surrender hope, all ye who contemplate this sorry field. The outspoken district critic, Martin Ringhofer, has an itchy trigger finger; the wannabe politician, Thom Langley, is too contrived; the PTA mom, Barbara Schlag Peterson, is too likely to become just another "yes" vote; and the mystery candidate, Ken Harer, who didn't attend our endorsement interview or return phone calls, may not even exist for all we know. We'll go with Mom—Barbara Schlag Peterson is a former high school mathematics teacher, longtime parent volunteer, PTSA officer, and veteran of state and local committees on education issues. Although she's unlikely to morph into the tough, skeptical school board member of our dreams, Peterson's the best of a weak field.

Seattle School Board, District 3

(U District, Ravenna, Wedgwood, Montlake, Madison Park )

Dwight Van Winkle is a sleeper. He tears it up when critiquing the fundamental problem with the current wave of educational reform: children are not "workers," schools are not "training grounds" for business. Instead Van Winkle speaks of school children as citizens who need to learn to think critically. As a leader in the movement to make Seattle schools free of commercials and self-serving corporate partnerships, Van Winkle demonstrates the strength of his core values. He promises to protect children from being treated as a "captive audience" for marketers eager to inundate every aspect of our society with advertising.

Van Winkle is a bright guy. He is bilingual, with law degrees from Japan and the UW. He practices as a public defender—demonstrating those good values again. He needs to do his homework, however, on the broad range of issues facing the school district. His own children attend one of the city's best schools, and he doesn't seem to grasp the reality of our poorer schools and the impoverished children who attend them. He's too sanguine about the difficult challenges created by the end of bussing. We trust if elected, he will buckle down, wrestle with the stark reality, and challenge the status quo. Rip it up, Dwight!

King County Council

(Candidates compete in geographic districts for four-year terms.)

King County Council, District 12

(Issaquah, Maple Valley, Sammamish)

King County would look a lot more like Orange County without the Derd. Brian Derdowski, a Republican, is the King County Council's most dedicated environmentalist. During the 1990s, he's been a champion of putting the brakes on sprawl and preserving some semblance of rural life in east King County. The growth wars of this decade have largely been guerrilla wars, fought by developers, planners, greens, and NIMBYs on battlefields with names like Grand Ridge and Bear Creek. The weapons have been the tools of wonkery: concurrency formulas, zoning and density rules, a million words of fine print that can either allow or stop entire communities from sprouting up overnight. They form a thin gray line between Los Angelesization and that ephemeral thing we call "quality of life." Derdowski is a master of this kind of war: a politician who knows how to pin down and slow up the shock troops of growth. His GOP opponent in this race, Dave Irons Jr., accuses the Derd of not being effective: Despite his efforts, he says, the growth has come. But we shudder to imagine King County without the grassroots, street-fighting Derdowski to keep Big Development and its lackeys on the council honest.

King County Assessor

(Elected countywide to a four-year term.)

Because incumbent Democrat Scott Noble, who is doing a good job, has no primary opposition, he automatically advances to the general election. Republicans have to choose between a couple of lesser candidates. Of the two, Chic Hendricks at least claims to understand that the assessor's job is one of valuation, not taxation. His experience in commercial real estate and land-use consulting should come in handy. If his claims that many new developments, both commercial and residential, are not finding their way onto the assessors' rolls fast enough are true, he should document the problem and work on fixing it inside or outside the office. And Chic: Dump the citizen oversight committee on taxation—that's beyond the scope of the authority of the assessor.

Port of Seattle Commissioner

(Commissioners are elected countywide to four-year terms.)

Port Commissioner, Position 2

If ever a bureaucratic backwater needed a hard-headed, hard-charging, Dan Evans-Republican environmentalist, the Port of Seattle does. Lucky for us, Mark Ufkes came along.

The Port is an economic and transportation powerhouse running Sea-Tac airport and controlling the shipping industry, and soon adding cruise ships. Ufkes moved a few miles from the airport a couple years back and was profoundly shocked by how poorly the Port was communicating with its neighbors: "It's a port disconnected from its community." He did his homework and discovered disturbing facts about our port's performance: While other ports on the West Coast turn a profit, Seattle's sucks up $35 million in annual taxes; our port has the most employees, the fewest containers shipped, and the lowest net revenue per worker on the West Coast.

Ufkes has the smarts; his work in trade and economics give him the necessary credibility with Port staff, and his experience in the US State Department and other governments has helped him develop a keen eye for bureaucratic inefficiency. Ufkes is the only candidate who will tackle the greased Port porkers and pen them up.

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