Is Mayor Paul Schell destined to become a new man?

That's what The Seattle Times wants us to think. In a recent Sunday editorial, the Northwest's largest daily newspaper boldly stated that Hizzoner needs either a political makeover or a different job. The Times' vote of little confidence in Schell is certainly a significant development: The early and exclusive support of Seattle's two daily newspapers definitely helped the ex-port commissioner coast through the 1997 mayoral primary against more experienced competition.

Consider this a shot across the bow of the Good Ship Schell as it readies for a second-term cruise. Three years ago, Times editorial page editor Mindy Cameron was the future mayor's biggest cheerleader and Seattle Post-Intelligencer publisher J.D. Alexander intervened to turn a proposed dual primary endorsement of Schell and King County Council member Greg Nickels into a solo Paul testimonial. The red carpet has been pulled out from under the incumbent: J.D.'s reign at the P-I is over and even Mindy seems to have put down her pompoms.

As the two daily editorial pages mirror the thinking of Seattle's downtown establishment, it's interesting to see that the chosen few might put their hand-picked mayor out to pasture. It's also a little discouraging to see that the swells in this town have so little loyalty.

After all, Schell has lived up to his campaign theme of taking care of infrastructure needs during good economic times. An expanded library system, new community centers, and a long-awaited Seattle Center fix-up have already been funded, and the mayor is pushing a $196 million parks maintenance and development ballot issue. Schell has also aided the city's housing development boom by nudging city building regulators into a more construction-friendly mode.

Most of the Times' criticisms aimed at Schell address personality traits that were obvious when he was a candidate. Ask anyone: Paul has never taken criticism well, has always had a tendency to overrule his advisers, and—after an initial burst of intense interest in the topic du jour—has generally delegated the detail work to his subordinates. And the guy's inability to fire anyone is legendary. What's more, if Seattle's newspaper editorialists continue to favor business types over actual politicians, they shouldn't act so surprised when their beloved "outsiders" prove to be lacking in political smarts.

Schell seems to be getting the message. In his recent e-mail newsletter, he announced that he plans to form an exploratory committee for a second-term run, set loose the pollsters, and decide on his future political plans around Christmas time. That's a good, public-spirited plan: It grants Schell (or possible candidates for an open seat mayor's race) plenty of time to campaign, while providing the City Hall-obsessed with a four-month mental vacation.

A tale of two events

It was probably a random juxtaposition, but you could read some political significance into a pair of events that happened at the same time last week.

While architects, city employees, and other interested citizens viewed a slide- illustrated presentation on plans for a new $72 million City Hall in the Arctic Building's Dome Room, backers of an initiative to force a $6 million study of the monorail were presenting petitions totaling 22,200 signatures to City Clerk Judith Pippen. That's enough autographs to gain a ballot spot for Initiative 53, although supporters will gather a few thousand more to provide a cushion should a large number of signatures be ruled invalid.

I-53 organizer Peter Sherwin noted that although citizens opposed the Mariners' stadium at the polls, they got it anyway, but when they voted to have the city build the monorail it was never constructed. "Right now, they're putting together a quarter- billion-dollar civic center and they didn't even ask [the voters]," he added.

As the clerk processed paper, the civic center architectural team was showing off the results of its design modifications to an audience of about 200 people. The building, never a favorite of local architects, has been improved somewhat. The towering, fortresslike wall at the Fourth Avenue sidewalk has been replaced by steps, retail spaces, and meeting rooms. Plans for a park/plaza for the city-owned block to the west were also unveiled.

The City Council offices on the second floor have also been extended to connect with the separate council chambers, a programmatic improvement, even if it does shade the grand glass atrium entrance a bit. Although the new chambers will only seat about 175 people (the current chambers seat roughly 140), there is room to fold back a wall for overflow seating. Plus, a video camera/monitor system will allow hundreds more spectators to view council proceedings from other rooms in the building. No monorail stop, though.

Sherwin has other plans. The new monorail initiative not only mandates that the city do a serious feasibility study and then present a system-funding ballot issue to voters within two years, it also forces the City Council to put the credit card in the drawer and refrain from racking up any new non-voter-approved debt until the study is completed (the council could currently authorize the issuance of about $125 million in bonds). Provided that enough valid signatures have been gathered, I-53 could hit the ballot this November, or the council could delay the public vote until next year.

Do you suppose the mayor and council's fancy new digs just might make fighting city hall a more luxurious experience?

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