Paul's hard lesson

Why did Mayor Paul Schell run for re-election?

There were clear signs that a humbling defeat was brewing. Political insiders, including Schell's inner circle, knew the mayor's approval rating had fallen to the mid-20s after the 1999 World Trade Organization riots and couldn't get up. The plethora of polls produced earlier this year for various would-be mayoral challengers provided even starker documentation. Not only did Schell have low positive ratings and high negatives among city voters (one poll showed his disapproval rate at 56 percent), but damn near everyone had an opinion on his performance. In short, the guy was unelectable.

Which, in an ordinary profession, might have led to a quiet retirement. But politics is personal.

If anyone really wonders why, pick the candidate you think is going to win the mayor's race, do a bit of volunteer work for him, and show up at the election-night victory party. When you win a citywide race, you own the city. People love you. You're like Sally Field on Oscar night (fortunately, unlike Sally, politicians have professional speechwriters).

And the honeymoon is great. I remember meeting former Mayor Norm Rice for an interview at a Pike Place Market restaurant a week after his 1989 election—when he walked in the door, all the other diners burst into applause.

For Schell, his 1997 victory was also a personal vindication. Twenty years earlier, he had run for the same office and lost. In politics, that made him a loser; the thrill of getting to be a winner two decades after the fact must have been incredible. It also changes your view of yourself forever. You can almost hear Schell's voice at the meetings: "Hey, I can still raise money. My opponents are flawed. Incumbents always get through the primary in Seattle."

There's never any shortage of people to agree with you. Your subordinates owe their jobs to you. Your closest friends shared in the 1997 love fix and have emotionally tied their fortunes to yours. Your political consultants can always use another check.

But, in politics, only victory is shared with others; defeat is a very lonely feeling.

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