Charlie rides again

"I've got to be honest, this race is still a snoozer," says political consultant Brett Bader of the battle for Seattle mayor. "It needs a scandal or a character to liven it up. Maybe both."

Perhaps sensing this dearth in the political character department, maverick former City Council member Charlie Chong is gearing up to join the mayoral field.

In inimitable fashion, this week Chong addressed the media at a press conference in the waiting room of his doctor's office. "I get asked two questions: 'Are you going to run?' and 'How's your health?' " he notes. "I figured we might as well answer both questions at one time." The 75-year-old Chong underwent major heart surgery on the eve of his unsuccessful 1999 effort to return to the City Council.

At least his reason for entering the race is legit—the moderate trio of incumbent Paul Schell, City Attorney Mark Sidran, and County Council member Greg Nickels doesn't exactly cover the political spectrum. "People have said, 'Run, so we have somebody to vote for,'" Chong reports.

It's only an exploratory effort now, but once Chong establishes that he can still draw an adequate number of donations and volunteers, he expects to enter the race.

Can Charlie win? Nobody's rushing to Reno to put money on it, but the plainspoken populist's four runs for city office between 1995 and 1999 have made him a familiar face in Seattle politics. That could be worth at least 10 to 15 percentage points. Doubters beware: In his four races, retired federal employee Chong has never failed to survive a primary.

Chong's campaign will spotlight the city's weaknesses as cited by Boeing officials on their way out of town: a poor business climate, bad schools, and traffic congestion. Although he acknowledges that city government has no direct power over the educational system, "The mayor of Seattle has got to say, 'We've got second-rate schools and we've got to do what we need to to get improvement.'"

Well, Charlie can forget those endorsements from School Board members, but at least nobody can call his rhetoric boring.

(Confidential to all candidates: We're still looking for a scandal.)

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