Politics and baseball

The Yankee Sidran vs. the Mariner Nickels.

GOOD NEWS and bad, metaphorically.

If politics, baseball, and geography are at least temporarily conjoined; if Seattle-born Mark Sidran can be considered a New Yorker by dint of his Brooklyn parents; if, as mayoral candidate, he is emblematically the New York Yankees—does that make him Rudy Giuliani, whom he wants to be anyway?

If Chicago-born Greg Nickels is a Seattleite for having lived here since age 6, if he is symbolically the Seattle Mariners—does that make him, unfortunately, Paul Schell, whom he hopes to god he isn't?

You remember Schell. He was our mayor until the primary, then quit. He hasn't been heard from much, anyway, since his de-election. Before that, he was calling press conferences daily, announcing yet another $100 block grant. Now they're talking about putting his picture on milk cartons.

When voters go to the polls next week to elect a new mayor, Nickels would prefer they imagine him as someone other than the wuss who lost out to urban terrorists—WTO and Mardi Gras riots in particular—while Sidran is being distantly likened to the Big Apple's generalissimo, leading the moral counterattack on terrorism from the rubble of Ground Zero.

Nickels doesn't want to be Schell almost as much as Sidran wants to be Giuliani. Sidran has been making the comparison since 1997, when he waltzed toward his second term as Seattle's city attorney (though he liked to say then that Giuliani was the Right Coast version of him). Now, as a poor man's Rudy, it has become a mantra for Sidran's campaign—with Rudy's semiapproval.

"We're proud that others would use Mayor Giuliani as a role model," Giuliani's receptionist said on the phone from the Big Apple last week when asked about Sidran, adding, "How do you spell the man's name?"

Though some called it trademark infringement, Sidran built a Rudy-like rep as a crime fighter cleaning up Dodge (or Plymouth, in laid-back Seattle's case). He made life difficult for homeless folks who have to pee, for club owners whose patrons drink, and for impounded-car owners who most often turned out to have been driving while black.

He delivered his lines with Giulianic pithiness. "It's cheaper to lock up cars than lock up people," he'd say. Or, "If you can't run a club that's safe, then you shouldn't be in the nightclub business."

The dictatorial Giuliani's star recently dipped slightly after he insisted on a three-month extension of his term, and Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin, among other detractors who risk being called traitorous in postattack New York, still refers to the mayor's tenure as the city's "Mussolini period."

Possibly in awareness of this, Sidran has tweaked the image this time around. As campaign treasurer Bill Marler puts it, his boss is "Giuliani, but with a heart."

That's the last thing his opponent, the nice guy from West Seattle, wants to hear.

Nickels was hoping to at least partially ride the coattails of one of his idols, ex-Mayor Norm Rice. But didn't Rice already do nice? Another mentor he'd like to mirror, Sen. Warren Magnuson, went to appropriations heaven long ago, leaving only his personal legends to resurrect.

That leaves Nickels to be Nickels and prototypically Seattle, soft butter on white bread. He may personify pleasantness to a political fault, at times seeming light in the loafers. Billy King, a Pioneer Square artist, asked the County Council member on the street recently what he might do about the relentless crime and drug dealing in the Square.

"He said, 'Isn't that what the cops are for?'" King says. "He hadn't a clue."

For what it's worth, he does have baseball. Nickels likes to mention he's a fan of sports literature, helped build Safeco Field, and has season tickets to M's games.

His campaign has received $3,725 from Mariners team owners and executives. (Sidran received $1,200, including— tsk, tsk—$100 from the team's masseuse.)

Having the apparent support of the best team in the majors—regular season anyway—helps. Unlike now-free agent Schell, Nickels didn't need to pose in an M's uniform (without asking), implying an endorsement.

Still, as baseball manager Leo Durocher said, nice guys finish last.

Where does this leave Seattle voters? Choosing between a tut-tutting mother and a junior-high counselor? Trying to decide between Geraldo and Regis? Paper and plastic? Darkness and artificial light?

It's almost game time. Pray for rain.


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