Civic Foundation administrator Brian Livingston is best known by local media types as a tireless promoter of his organization—maybe this year he can add the title of kingmaker to his résumé. The foundation's $25,000 independent expenditure campaign propped up the underfunded campaigns of City Council candidates Charlie Chong and Dawn Mason and saw both score good primary numbers.
The Civic Foundation's recent campaign mailer is the most extensive independent expenditure campaign in Seattle politics yet. The group was designed to take advantage of the state's 1992 independent expenditure rules, collecting dues over two years and then spending the money during the every-other-year city elections. Livingston stresses that the foundation isn't just a money source for its favored candidates—it sponsors forums and investigates issues between elections and has pestered business-backed candidates by constantly analyzing the sources of campaign donations. "We don't consider ourselves to be a PAC, we consider ourselves a public interest organization or a watchdog organization," he says. Calculated over a two-year cycle, the foundation's $9 per month dues means that each member puts $216 into the election pot, well under the city's $400 donation limit (although members can still give that full amount to individual candidates). Members can also make unlimited donations to the foundation pot—Livingston and his wife, Margaret, put an additional $3,300 of their own money into the primary effort.
The Civic Foundation's Livingston especially wants to avoid being lumped in with a pair of corporate quickies formed this election to oppose the election of Judy Nicastro, a candidate who lobbied the Legislature to dump a law prohibiting cities from enacting rent control or other tenant protections. Former Seattle Mayor Wes Uhlman, a board member of the Apartment Association of Seattle-King County, formed an independent expenditure group to mail a fundraising letter for Cheryl Chow, Nicastro's opponent. The Nicastro campaign estimates that Uhlman's fundraising letter has netted Chow more than $7,000 in donations from landlords and property management companies.
James Nell, AASK's executive director, has also filed papers for a second independent expenditure organization, the loftily named Citizens Working for a Better Tomorrow. Nell notes that the "citizens" are himself and associates Paul Birkeland and Cathy Jeney, and that no decisions have been made yet as to which campaigns they might get involved in. Birkeland has already given the maximum allowed donation of $400 to the Chow campaign, yet under state law, his participation in the independent expenditure organization is perfectly legal.
Shaking the money tree
Chow, whose campaign ground to a virtual halt in midsummer, has had enviable fundraising success since the intervention of the rental housing lobby. With $23,423 raised since September 6, Chow finished a close second to the Heidi Wills campaign ($27,255). Of course, Cheryl just has to protect landlords from the scourge of Nicastro; Heidi has to defend City Hall, downtown, and the status quo from the evil machinations of Charlie Chong, evidently a more expensive task. Wills also has about $31,500 left from her primary money haul, making her the candidate with the most impressive checkbook.
Jim Compton's campaign has netted an impressive $19,072, not quite enough to pay for their pre-primary spending spree (the campaign is still about six grand in the red), but a good comeback nonetheless. In the low teens and wondering where their next buck is coming from are Chong ($13,069), Mason ($14,678), and Nicastro ($12,555).
Wacky campaign humor
"Can I say something funny?" asked Charlie Chong, after giving a straight answer to a question on the city's homeless policy at the Haller Lake Community Club candidates forum. You could almost feel the cringe from his campaign handlers across the room as Charlie told his joke: "I have proposed for street people that we promise a bottle of wine . . . in Bellevue." The line got a big laugh; Chong's opponent, Heidi Wills, liked it so much that, after her speech, she asked this columnist to make sure it got in the paper.
Sand Point's dog days
Score one for those dog owners.
Last week's council vote to retain the dog off-leash area at Magnuson Park isn't terribly popular elsewhere in City Hall. The Mayor's office and various parks planners are steaming over the council's rejection of a proposal to exile dogs from their current run alongside Lake Washington to an interior meadow with a man-made pond. The ever-active imaginations of the Seattle Times editorial board even produced a charge that the council majority was treating the park as "a Seattle version of the Balkans" (presumably minus the ethnic cleansing).
They should quit griping. This off-leash run with Lake Washington access is the best of several now available to dog owners, so planners need to come up with a better replacement than a pseudo-pond. As created by a "blue ribbon" committee led by former Mayor Charles Royer, the Magnuson Park plan is a fine concept document with no funding (kind of like a fine automobile with no wheels), so there's no reason it should be held inviolate. Release the hounds!