We know the truth because we've spent days in hot, small, windowless rooms crammed full of sweaty incumbents and reeking challengers. It's not just their fault. The problems the candidates face are enough to make anyone keel over; Boeing's departure, Mardi Gras violence, dot-com meltdowns, transportation gridlock, light rail off track, tension between police and citizens, and worsening race relations lead the list, and it's a long one. Solutions are not forthcoming from our current officeholders or the people who want to replace them. And after meeting with over 40 candidates, sadly, there was less than a small handful we'd want to put up a sign for. So what's a voter to do?
Face it, some things do smell worse than others: Dead fish under your bed (Mark Sidran) are much worse than cow manure on your neighbor's garden (Greg Nickels). Elections are all about the choices that we do have, given the corrupt stupid political system we are saddled with. We're disappointed that more, better candidates didn't and don't run, and that so many nondescript, know-nothing at best incumbents will easily coast to re-election. But until a better day comes, we're stuck with this. And we on the Seattle Weekly editorial board want to help you carry out your civic duty, to make it possible for you to hold your nose and vote. If you're one of those people who still thinks voting doesn't matter, check out the occupant of the White House.
Good luck, and don't forget your smelling salts.
Why the hell should you vote for Greg Nickels?
We'll give you two good reasons: Paul Schell and Mark Sidran. Don't fool yourself by pretending you can vote for one of the other 10 candidates in this race—they are either crazy, marginal, or just don't have a clue. Sidran, Schell, or Nickels will be the next mayor of Seattle. And we need to play some serious defense here, because Schell and Sidran are so very bad.
Schell can't be allowed to run the city any longer. He blunders along from crisis to crisis, seemingly never learning anything along the way. He possesses no political savvy, and while he might dream up a good idea or two, he lacks any ability to implement them. His campaign is embarrassing as he wanders the city apparently unaware of his administration's failures and how disgusted ordinary voters are with his pathetic performance.
Sidran is Schell without the heart. His record of management at the city attorney's office is terrible, and he thrives on making political enemies. The idea presented in his advertising that he can single-handedly turn around our transportation crisis is an audacious fabrication. His one talent, the ability to find scapegoats for complicated social problems, is useful for demagoguery but hardly suited to being mayor of Seattle.
Unfortunately, Nickels has not run a campaign that has inspired us either. As the front-runner, he is playing it safe. We are sick to death of his "Aw-shucks-I'm-just-a-nice-guy-from-West-Seattle" shtick. But we're hoping that if he reaches office, he'll dump the Mr. Nice Guy act and get to work. Nickels is an ambitious politician who can potentially use the mayor's office to realize his ambitions and bring us better city government.
Nickels can improve the performance of the mayor's office from Day One. Since he has spent his entire adult life in local politics, he will arrive in office fully prepared. He hints that his first order of business will include some serious housecleaning. The current mayor has allowed an entrenched group of department heads to run City Hall. Nickels must make good on those hints and shake up everything from law enforcement to transportation to water policy by bringing in new people.
Next, the amiable, well-connected Nickels must use his political smarts to establish a productive relationship with the City Council and mend regional fences that the current incumbent has broken.
We are well aware that Nickels' record suggests he could be Schell Lite. His bungling of the oversight of Sound Transit's light-rail finances was the worst moment of his career. But we're willing to take the risk that he learned from his mistakes. After all, we don't have much choice.
Seattle City Attorney
The only open seat race for city elective office also has the best candidates. Tom Carr, Edsonya Charles, and Jim Cline are a trio of solid contenders to replace outgoing three-termer Sidran. The one who smells the sweetest is Carr.
Charles, a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's fraud unit, has an interesting r鳵m鬠which includes stints as executive director of the Seattle Human Services Coalition. Despite these highlights, she received her law degree just six years ago and appears better qualified for legislative office than for the city attorney job.
Cline suffers from a fatal conflict of interest: He is too close to police unions to be city attorney. The Seattle Police Guild is perhaps the single largest obstacle to meaningful reform at the department. At a time when we are experiencing a tremendous schism between the police and communities of color, we need a city attorney who will be seen as fair and independent. Cline cannot play that role.
Carr can. He's no stranger to city politics. He's impressed many at City Hall as past chair of the Elevated Transportation Company, the group that successfully fought political insiders to keep the monorail effort alive. In his private practice, he is a civil litigator who specializes in commercial and environmental cases. Carr began his legal career as an assistant U.S. attorney in New York. The rap on him is that he lacks the prosecutorial experience necessary to be the city attorney. It's a red herring: In his federal job, Carr specialized in pursuing civil-racketeering cases against organized crime figures, hardly a wimpy bunch. Plus, Carr will be the soothing balm the city attorney's office needs after 12 years of incumbent Mark Sidran's divisive headline-hunting antics. He promises to restore compassion to the city's law department, something that has been sorely missing. When you see Carr on the stump and review his record, it's clear he will be a strong leader, capable of managing the 180 workers in the department and upholding the law.
Get off the track, Carr is rumbling through!
Seattle City Council, Position Two
Jay Sauceda is the qualified, dedicated incumbent-challenger who everyone's been looking for. Why the hell doesn't he know it? The former Charlie Chong aide is running a goofball campaign, saying he doesn't want to win, but simply promote the concept of district elections. We're not taking no for an answer—we're drafting him for the job.
The opposition demands it. It includes a couple of folks, Dakotta Alex and James Egan, who got lost and ended up registering for City Council; Michael Preston, a bright, charismatic man who has failed dismally as a school board member and the head of the Central Area Youth Association; and the incumbent Richard Conlin, who has not delivered on his potential of being an innovative leader for urban environmentalists.
Sauceda could be an effective outsider on the inside. He's worked in council chambers and distinguished himself as an activist from his days as a Gulf War protester to his incarnation as community civics teacher. Lately, he's been dedicating himself to creating a successful business as a general contractor—valuable experience to have as an elected official. Most importantly, in dull Democratic Seattle, he is that rarest of orchids: an unabashed political independent.
Seattle City Council, Position Four
He's back! Two years ago, Curt Firestone challenged Margaret Pageler's bid for a third council term; this time, he's after Pageler's fellow third-term seeker Jan Drago. The veteran activist has taken on a nearly impossible task by challenging the incumbent second on the council seniority list, so we are willing to forgive his rhetorical excesses and didactic campaign style.
He has, after all, chosen an opponent with a voting record starkly opposed to his positions. Drago, although far more competent than her public image would suggest, smells too much like corporate money. She is the council's top promoter of welfare for big business and other "economic development" programs. She voted to kill the original monorail board, opposed economic sanctions against Burma, supported a controversial noise ordinance that would have made life impossible for clubs, and voted to maintain the city's towing program despite evidence of disproportionate impact on black motorists. Firestone would have voted the other way each time.
In addition, he's also pushing proactive solutions. He's a monorail backer, supports new protections for renters, and is dedicated to helping repair the split between the Seattle Police Department and minority communities. He's also a committed progressive willing to contest an entrenched incumbent. Curt is a long-shot candidate, but he's worth the bet.
Seattle City Council, Position Nine
Everybody loves that monorail. It seems like only yesterday the city was starting an electrical fire by cutting the cord on funding for the Elevated Transportation Company. But, with voters reiterating their support at the ballot box last year, candidates are elbowing each other aside to express their love for the one-rail alternative. Grant Cogswell was perhaps the 1997 monorail initiative campaign's first recruit—and the author of its now widely imitated strategy of using unstaffed tables for petition signature gathering. We agree with Cogswell, who is challenging Council Transportation Committee Chair Richard McIver, that the council needs a legitimate monorail supporter to implement the public's will, instead of counting on election-year converts to keep the faith.
McIver has delivered, in his moderate fashion, on issues of civil rights and police accountability, but on transportation he has been terrible. He has failed to bring forth any interesting ideas, much less implemented solutions, for one of the city's most intractable problems. The other candidates in the race include oddball Stan Lippmann; Jerome Wilson, a combatant in the senseless battle over the African-American Heritage Museum; and Heath Merriwether, a man with a big name but little knowledge of City Hall.
Make no mistake; voting for Cogswell is a protest vote, as he has little chance of being elected. But it's a good way to send McIver a message that we are unhappy with his performance.
Seattle School Board, Director District Four
The field to replace outgoing School Board President Don Nielsen is not impressive.
Pat Griffith is a well-informed school activist and PTA mom, but she wouldn't give us a straight answer on any question. Sally Soriano is an ardent fair-trader who helped shut down the WTO, but her passionate opposition to the excesses of global capitalism doesn't translate well to the school board. Her cousin, Larry Soriano, has no apparent reason for being in the race except to bug his relative.
That leaves us Dick Lilly, who has great political instincts—after all, he resigned as Mayor Schell's press secretary just before the primary!
Lilly likes small schools. He argues that kids get more personalized attention and aren't allowed to fall through the cracks with smaller student populations. As a former Seattle Times reporter who covered school issues for more than four years, he has experience giving claims by district officials the sniff test.
All of this gives him real potential. But he's going to have to kick it up a notch. Currently he's too low-key and turns every concern back to small schools. Still, Dick's our choice.
Seattle School Board, Director District Five
If only the field for every school board seat (or any elected office for that matter) was like this one; when five candidates for this seat met the Seattle Weekly editorial board, everybody knew everybody else and had words of praise for each others' work with kids. While Mary Bass is our top choice in this race to represent this Central Seattle district, it was a tough call.
David Barfield is a community asset with his coaching, tutoring, and mentoring, but we think he'd die of boredom in school board meetings. Juan Cotto has great political experience but needs a better knowledge base of the schools. The only white candidate, Dana Twight, is a sharp, activist parent, but the board desperately needs African-American members. Pat Wright lights up any room but seems too narrowly focused on her grandson's problems with the school district to provide effective representation. Tyson Vo did not grace us with his presence.
Bass' graceful presence, on the other hand, was a delight. Bass is an analyst with the King County Department of Transportation and a Garfield High graduate who went back to her alma mater to tutor at-risk students. Bass combines intellectual and financial acumen with a warm heart to make her a natural leader for the schools. Her experience in the community gives credence to her promises to make the schools reach out to parents, exploring new ways to engage often underrepresented low-income and non-English-speaking families. The UW-educated Bass has all the skills, especially in working with budgets, to become a savvy district watchdog and a true mentor to our school children. We're voting for Mary.
Seattle School Board, Director District Seven
When parents seek election to the school board, they're usually boosterish PTA types seeking the opportunity to pat district leaders on the back on a regular basis. Then you've got Charlie Mas. The father of two Southeast Seattle students, Mas has taken aim at incumbent Jan Kumasaka, whom he says has done nothing in her single term on the board—an assessment Kumasaka does nothing to challenge. Mas' other opponent, Garry (Mr. B.) Breitstein, is a colorful retired schoolteacher whose style seems much better suited to the classroom than the school board.
Mas could be a real leader. He's got a parent-pleasing set of proposals, such as funneling kids and resources to successful school programs, giving less popular schools a chance to trim their populations and correct their deficiencies. He pledges to pursue greater parent involvement, create legitimate programs for gifted students in Southeast schools, and create an ombudsman position empowered to settle conflicts between parents and the district.
In the primary, Mas is not running the kind of campaign necessary to beat the well-connected if dull incumbent Kumasaka. Help him get through the primary, and then maybe he'll start really hitting the hustings.
King County Executive
Ron Sims is a man in search of a challenge. But King County Republicans haven't been able to give him one. County Council member Rob McKenna, supposedly the R's star of the future, has parked his political ambitions until an easier race appears. Kirkland City Council member Santos Contreras, a nice fellow with a thin political resume, is the county exec's overmatched opponent.
You can't blame McKenna for backing out. Sims is a forceful, passionate speaker who is traditionally asked to close programs because no other elected official wants to follow him at the podium. He has an admirable streak of plain-spokenness; his scathing comments about incumbent mayor Schell when he endorsed Greg Nickels constituted a year's worth of bluntness for any other politician in this polite town. While we are incensed at his poor handling of the county's $30 million computer disaster and his terrible stewardship of light rail, we appreciate his work in other areas.
Sims has shown an ability to step in when a steady hand is needed—such as his veto of a controversial bill regulating new churches and schools in rural areas; it popped the 18-month festering pustule that the issue had become. He opposed a suburban-led effort to freeze funding for urban bus routes. And we almost needed a whiff of ammonia to prevent us from fainting when he blocked a Mariners proposal to raid the taxpayers' pockets to pay stadium cost overruns.
There are tough economic times looming, and the county needs an experienced, compassionate leader at the helm. We say give Sims four more years.
King County Council, District One
What does the King County Council, that wild bunch of feuding fiefdoms run by vehemently partisan pols, need? A steady man like Ed Sterner. As Sterner rightly points out, most of King County's business is sewers, buses, and land use—hardly partisan issues. We like him on all the county's core concerns.
Although Sterner serves a largely suburban district, he's a staunch defender of maintaining and even improving urban transit service. He speaks convincingly about alternative sentencing for juvenile offenders. He backs County Exec Ron Sims' budget proposal that would ask criminal justice to take more of the coming $35 million cuts than social services. He boasts a good nuts-and-bolts grasp of local government based on his work as a nonpartisan member of the Lake Forest Park City Council. Democratic State Rep. Carolyn Edmonds is a strong opponent, but Sterner just seems better prepared for the job. We disagree with his Republican opponent, Kelly Snyder, on growth management issues.
As a pro-choice, pro-social service stalwart of the state mainstream Republican organization, Sterner is an R that even D's can appreciate. Give Ed your vote.
King County Council, District Five
You've got to love that Dwight Pelz. He has a reputation as an ace legislator from his years as a state representative and County Council member, but in person he still has the air of a tough-talking, street-fighting community organizer. Despite his record, Pelz has always been a white guy representing a very racially diverse district, so he's constantly in the sights of some minority political hopeful. This time around, Pelz's challenger is Mark Wheeler, an African-American attorney who served as vice principal at Zion Preparatory Academy for 11 years. Wheeler is running on two issues: He opposes the Sound Transit surface-rail plan, and he's critical of Pelz's stand on limiting the size of schools and churches in rural areas. Unfortunately, Wheeler doesn't know much about either issue and exhibits little general knowledge about county government.
Pelz is refreshingly candid about light rail. He shrugs off the $1 billion projected cost overrun as another case of politicians refusing to level with the voters about the true cost of public works. He points out that there is always a big stink about rail before it's built, and once it's up and running, people ride it.
He is correctly fighting to protect the rural areas of King County from undue development. The development of churches and schools outside of the urban growth boundary is the camel's nose under the tent, and it's mighty fetid sleeping with hoofed creatures.
Pelz, a hard worker who does his homework, deserves the nod.
Port of Seattle, Commissioner Position Three
Paige Miller might as well be on the ballot alone. The candidates opposing her re-election consist of habitual officeseeker Richard Pope, who gives us the creeps, and a couple of guys, Andy Kleitsch and Anthony Devino, who are not actually campaigning.
Miller likes to tell the story of how some downtown insiders thought she was a radical bent on wrecking the Port Commission when she took office some 14 years ago. Well, they needn't have worried. Miller has not exactly torn the place up. While we disagree with her on the wisdom of developing the Third Runway, she has made important contributions to changing the waterfront's workforce. As chair of Port Jobs, she has brought the high-paying union jobs at the port to more women and minorities, an issue that remains vital in this period of rollback in affirmative action programs.
Given that she's the race's only qualified candidate, we're voting for Paige.
Port of Seattle, Commissioner Position Four
Commissioner Pat Davis brought us the WTO, then left us with the bills to pay (her corporate pals couldn't cover the costs). And yet she has drawn as weak a field of challengers as any incumbent in the election.
Christopher Cain is too raw to be a public official; Al Yuen's convictions, which were not evident in his previous run for Port Commission, seem as though he's borrowed them for this race; which brings us to our choice, Jake Jacobovitch.
The Danish-born former merchant marine is active on Vashon Island, serving on the community council and the parks board. He works for the King County Transportation Department, experience that could serve him well if he were responsible for the Port's many transportation problems. He will be a stickler for environmental and neighborhood mitigation on the new Third Runway at Sea-Tac, which would be a welcome change from the Port's history.
The chances of his election are on a par with the WTO coming back to Seattle, but hey, what else are you going to do?