A clean start?

Michael Preston says his troubled past is not an issue as he contemplates a run for higher office.

AS OF THIS WRITING, Michael Preston hasn't made up his mind what to do next, other than not run for what would be his sixth term as the ranking Seattle School Board director.

"I'm deciding first whether or not to run for public office," says Preston, 50, a 20-year School Board veteran. "If so, then I'd decide whether to run for the [King] County Council or the [Seattle] City Council."

Facing a Friday filing deadline, the candidate-in-waiting appears to be leaning toward a race against Dwight Pelz in the Rainier Valley's 5th King County Council District or against Seattle City Council member Richard Conlin—a citywide race.

"I really haven't decided—I was confiding in a few friends, and it wasn't my intention to make an announcement," he says, referring to the recent spate of news stories about a Preston-Pelz race in the city's most diverse community.

Among his considerations in weighing a race is whether his troubled personal and political past will catch up with him.

As Seattle Weekly reported in 1997, critics complained that Preston, who runs Goldie's tavern in Shoreline with his mother, was hard to reach, had poor School Board attendance, and didn't really live in the Seattle School Board Director's District he represented, as required.

Preston kept a room at his mother's home in Madison Park but stayed there only occasionally (in a state financial disclosure report filed in May, he listed an apartment in Leschi, located within his district, as his address). He recently leased a Beacon Hill residence, which isn't in his district, though Preston says school officials have allowed him special dispensation to finish out his term.

But he's still difficult to reach—the only board member whose e-mail and phone calls go to a board aide, then are eventually relayed. As of last week, the School District had no home phone number for him, referring callers to Preston's tavern.

If Preston does file against Pelz or Conlin, it would be his first campaign where he's not focusing on education issues.

Still, tops on his agenda for whatever job he pursues, he says, would be the "education vs. incarceration" of city youths. "It costs a lot more to send our children to jail rather than school," he notes. "We don't seem to appreciate that."

Preston also backs a tunnel for rapid transit in the Rainier Valley and video cameras in police cars. "Cameras could have made the difference in understanding what happened," he says of the still-muddled police shooting of Aaron Roberts, who allegedly dragged an officer with his car.

Preston likes the idea of a novel "human rights impact statement" that public agencies would be required to complete before making budget cuts or building new stadiums, roads, or schools. "The question would be, 'How would this affect the elderly, gays, minorities, whites—the public in general,'" he says. "We consider the impact on land but not on people."

His political advantage, he thinks, is "I'm a known quantity. I'm a person who speaks out when I see an injustice." His political disadvantages are many: In the recent past, Preston went through a messy public divorce, was mired in personal tax and business bankruptcy problems, and was fired as director of the Central Area Youth Association (CAYA). The Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), the state's election watchdog, called him "a repeat offender" for filing required campaign disclosures late. The state Attorney General's Office assessed him fines and damages for violating campaign laws.

Vicki Rippie, PDC executive director, says Preston is now caught up. She says he has filed all his disclosure forms to date and paid his state fine of $1,339 with a check from supporters, Concerned Black Citizens For Michael Preston.

His new state disclosure report shows he has cash and investments valued at more than $150,000 and owes more than $75,000. He earns more than $75,000 as CEO of Goldie's. (He forgot to list his School Board pay, a maximum of $4,800 annually.)

His troubles cleaned up, he says, Preston's got some ready answers if an opponent or a reporter brings up the past: "Most of those problems were personal. And not uncommon for anyone.

"Gary Locke had a run-in with the PDC some years ago, and when he ran for re-election last time, no one said a word about it.

"Look at CAYA today, without me. They're virtually bankrupt.

"When I was in town and not involved in national leadership work [for the National School Board Association], I attended every board meeting.

"I don't think any of these things will become an issue unless the press makes them an issue."

And, words that could become a campaign mantra: "It's something my mother used to say to me when I was young: It's not what you did, it's what you're doing."


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