In the September primary, voters showed a willingness to shake things up across the political map. The job isn't finished. On Nov. 4 comes the aftershock. As we head to the polls, let's remember the Seattle School District's $34 million deficit, the Port of Seattle's failure to preserve our working waterfront, and the Seattle City Council's knuckling under to deep-pocketed developers.
Let's sweep out all the incumbents on the Seattle School Board. The train wreck that passed for a superintendent search revealed the weak nature of the current board in graphic detail. Choices for Seattle City Council require more care, however. Some incumbent council members do a pretty good job of looking out for the public interest and remain worthy of our support. Likewise, one incumbent in the fishbowl at Pier 69, the world headquarters of the Port of Seattle, is worth keeping, while you can toss the other commission member back into the sea.
In detail, here's what we think. We only make endorsements in contested races.
SEATTLE CITY COUNCIL
This race has developed into a clear but complicated choice. Ours is Judy Nicastro, based on her continued advocacy for tenants and her willingness to protect the public's purse from raids by Mayor Greg Nickels and Paul Allen for risky biotech development in the South Lake Union neighborhood. While Nicastro's behavior was appalling when the strip-club lobby was trolling with fat checks for votes, we think she learned a lesson about the strings attached to special interests.
After a slow start, former Seattle Times columnist Jean Godden has demonstrated a good grasp of the issues, but we fundamentally disagree with her politics. Godden has suited up for the landlord-developer team, and we're rooting for the other side. Nicastro won't always play for the right side, but she'll be with us more often than Godden.
Peter Steinbrueck earns our vote by embodying several important Seattle political traditions: He puts people first by fighting hard for human services and housing. He wants to preserve the broader public's quality of lifea terrific recent example being his effort to stop the monorail from railroading through Seattle Center. And he works hard to safeguard Seattle's unique political cultureits nonpartisan system of checks and balancesfrom the bare-knuckled politicking of the mayor and the misguided citizens' initiative on district elections.
We disagree with opponent Zander Batchelder's blind boosterism of the monorail and ward politics.
Tom Rasmussen hasn't made this an easy decision, but we are recommending him over incumbent Margaret Pageler. Rasmussen has not done a good job of defining himself, making vague, agreeable-sounding noises. He has, however, insisted that his door will be open. He guarantees that he will do a better job of listening to important constituencies like environmentalists, neighborhood groups, and housing activists than Pageler has done. Vote for him and hold him to that promise.
Pageler has worked hard on the council for the past 12 years in what she sees as the public interest. We find her definition of that to be too weighted toward hard-line civility laws and the business community. If re-elected, Pageler hopes to rewrite the city's land-use code to make it more developer friendly, and that's not a use of her considerable talents that excites us.
Since the primary election, the case for challenger David Della has become stronger as incumbent Heidi Wills' missteps on Strippergate have been fleshed out. Wills has revealed that she took part in an illegal meeting at a strip club in Lake City with two people lobbying on behalf of the businessan inexcusable lapse in judgment. The council member seems similarly unable to separate the city's interests from special interests in South Lake Union, where she is an unabashed cheerleader for everything Vulcan.
We're confident that Della's dogged effort to hold Wills accountable for her poor stewardship of City Light means he will be a strong ratepayer advocate if elected. We are also hoping that his roots working for social justice and human services will come to the fore if he is a policymaker. That combination would be a most welcome addition at City Hall.
Every so often, a race comes along that is truly a stinker. This is one. Neither candidate is acceptable, so we recommend neither. Former City Council member John Manning resigned in 1996 after pleading guilty to domestic violence charges. We don't think he's done enough since to merit the public's trust again. Jim Compton, who came into office in 1999 as a tough-talking journalist, has been a real disappointment. He spent the summer embroiled in Strippergate and revealed that he took a ride on Paul Allen's jet to see Allen's Trail Blazers play basketball in Portland. In each case, he initially ducked the media. The Allen plane ride rankles us the most. With his involvement in deciding plans for South Lake Union development, which would enhance Allen's many acres of land through the use of much public money, Compton should be smart enough to steer clear of a potential conflict. He seemed clueless. Meanwhile, as chair of the council's Police, Fire, Courts, and Technology Committee, he has not been as assertive as we'd like in the ongoing debate over police accountability. That's why we're unable to recommend Compton for a second term. We make no endorsement. You're on your own with this decision.
SEATTLE SCHOOL BOARD
Four seats out of seven are on the ballot, but think of this as a package deal. Three incumbents, from a board that has run Seattle's schools into the ground, and a "what, me worry?" PTSA mom are opposed by four smart, principled reformers riding a wave of public outrage over the consistent lack of accountability shown by the present board. We are endorsing the reform slate. Three of our four choices won pluralities or better in the primary. All the board has done since is turn the search for a new superintendent into an embarrassing farce.
We're reversing our primary endorsement. Quiet incumbent Barbara Peterson faces Sally Soriano, an activist educator best known as the organizer most responsible for building the coalition that challenged the World Trade Organization in 1999. Peterson has not been as culpable as some of her board colleagues, but neither has she challenged them. Soriano's promise to emulate current School Board member Mary Bass by holding monthly constituent meetings in her district is an important, practical response to the public outrage over the board's performance. It is clear that parents, teachers, and other district stakeholders want a change, and Soriano can best provide that in this contest.
Incumbent Steve Brown was chair of the board Audit and Finance Committee that didn't notice $34 million missing in the budgetand, after not making the problem public for months, "fixed" the shortfall by taking much of the money from classrooms, despite having promised not to. His challenger, Darlene Flynn, brings a welcome emphasis on closing the racial performance chasm that plagues the district. She also has a background as a budget and policy analyst and as a facilitator used by the city to handle particularly difficult meetings. That sure would have come in handy lately.
Brita Butler-Wall trounced her opponent, board President Nancy Waldman, in the primary. And that was before Waldman cheerfully averred that all of the superintendent finalists then being interviewed had passed the smell test. Oops. Meanwhile, Butler-Wall, a former trainer of teachers at Seattle University and a national force in the educational anticommercialism movement, has run one of the most effective grassroots School Board campaigns in memory. Butler-Wall is no ideologueshe's done it by building coalitions and listening to all points of view, a trait that will serve the district well.
In this open seat, our choice is Irene Stewart. Her background as a frustrated parent and her connections with local Democratic Party circles will help ground a board that has often seemed both politically inept and shockingly out of touch with its constituents. Her opponent, Betty Hoagland, is the sort of bland along-for-the-ride person that has plagued the board for years.
By supporting all four board candidates campaigning for changeSoriano, Flynn, Butler-Wall, and StewartSeattle voters can push forward a new, more accountable approach to managing our schools.
SEATTLE POPULAR MONORAIL AUTHORITY BOARD
Cindi Laws has struck the right balance in her current tenure on the board. The long-involved transportation wonk has lent some skepticism as an interim board member, but she clearly wants the project to succeed. She also knows the federal transportation landscape, having worked as a Senate aide, which could come in handy down the line. Her opponent, James Egan, is a lawyer who simply doesn't have the credentials to match.
Retired state official Tim Kerr will serve voters well on the board. He is the former deputy state treasurer who oversaw bond sales, and he pledges to ensure that the revenue-short monorail project gets its public financing straightened out. His opponent, lawyer Cleve Stockmeyer, who did legal work for the monorail board last year, is to be commended for fighting to establish these two publicly elected positions (the other seven are appointed). But as a former monorail contractor and a well-connected political insider, we think he lacks needed objectivity. Kerr's unique qualifications would diversify the board.
SEATTLE BALLOT MEASURES
SEATTLE PROPOSITION 1
This is a tax for Fire Department improvements. You can quibble with a few details, but it's a no-brainer. The measure would raise $167.2 million from 2004 to 2012 with new property taxes. This money would prepare the city for the mother of all earthquakes from hell, which could occur as soon as you finish reading this, but hopefully not before these improvements are made: renovation of every fire station in town but one, purchase of two badly needed fire boats and renovation of the existing old one, and construction of a new Fire Department headquarters and an emergency-management center outside the earthquake liquefaction zoneamong other things related to disaster preparedness. Over the nine years of the levy increase, the owner of a city-median home worth $313,000 would pay an average of $73 per year. Lest you worry about money pouring into elaborate facilities downtown, needed though they are, $92.8 million goes to the neighborhood fire stations. Vote YES.
SEATTLE CHARTER AMENDMENT NO. 5
This amendment to the City Charter would give Seattle a City Council elected by neighborhood districts rather than by the current at-large, or citywide, system, starting with the 2005 election. Backers say this measure would make council members more accountable to the electorate. While we admire the impulse, we think this is a lazy person's fix to a problem that requires a stronger solution than this gerrymander-friendly initiative, which could effectively give most practical civic power to the mayor's office. This initiative could also set the stage for ward politics in Seattle (see Mossback, p. 9). Bad idea. A better way to fix local government is to get our act together and run solid, legitimate candidates for council, or push for campaign-finance reform. Vote NO.
METROPOLITAN KING COUNTY GOVERNMENT
Property taxes are important but perennially unpopular. A major issue is fairness, which is always difficult to achieve. Our local tax system has some 654 taxing districts and 263 property tax rates. Democratic incumbent Scott Noble has presided over this labyrinth since 1992. He has vastly improved the organization of the assessor's office and operated in an open and honest fashion. In addition, he's a strong advocate for truth-in-taxation legislation that would require that the true financial impact of ballot measures be disclosed to voters. He also supports a statewide review of property tax exemptions to ensure fairness. His Republican opponent is attorney Richard Pope of Woodinville. Our vote goes to Noble.
KING COUNTY CHARTER AMENDMENT NO. 1
Both conservatives and liberals in King County government agree that being able to plan their budgets in two-year cycles instead of one year will be helpful. Given the dire condition of that budget, any reasonable assistance we can lend is worth our support. Vote YES.
METROPOLITAN KING COUNTY COUNCIL
DISTRICT 8 (West Seattle, Vashon)
We're backing the smart, funny incumbent, Dow Constantine, who has worked throughout his career in public service to protect open spaces and is an important counterweight to development-minded colleagues on the council. His opponent, Libertarian candidate Michael Nelson, is a political nonentity whose platform includes nonsense like repealing the state's minimum-wage law.
DISTRICT 9 (Enumclaw, Auburn, Kent)
In this southeast King County seat, the GOP's Steve Hammond, appointed earlier this year to succeed the late Kent Pullen, survived a primary challenge from two other conservative Republicans. This time his challenger is Democratic lawyer Barbara Heavey, and she is everything Hammond doesn't seem to be: articulate, well organized, and with a clear and sensible vision of how to represent the citizens of her fast-growing slice of the county.
DISTRICT 12 (Issaquah, Sammamish)
Former council member Brian Derdowski is a grassroots guerrilla who has long been King County's best hope for keeping developers at bayor at least in line. While growth has eased somewhat from the heated 1990s, it continues apace in communities like Issaquah and Sammamish. Many parts of the county are still undergoing rapid and radical transformation. While on the council, Derdowski wasn't able to stop Los Angeles-style sprawl, but as a strong supporter of the state Growth Management Act, he tried to contain it. Unfortunately, he was ousted from office in the GOP primary in 1999 by a developer-backed opponent, David W. Irons Jr. Now, Derdowski's in a rematch, but this time running more comfortably as a Democrat. Despite the lull in growthor perhaps because of ithe expects a new assault by developers against limits and restraints, such as the urban/rural boundary line that divides and protects suburban and rural King County. Derdowski is the kind of independent, green watchdog the council needs. We urge voters to bring the Derd back.
PORT OF SEATTLE COMMISSION
Current officeholder Bob Edwards, seeking his second term, breezed to an easy victory in the primary, and we hope he does the same in the general election. The stockbroker and former Renton City Council member wins our vote just for being the lone commission voice opposing a 37 percent tax increase in 2002. His opponent, lawyer and former journalist Jim Baker, is making his first bid for public office.
Alec Fisken has both a financial and marine background and promises to provide the kind of spending oversight the Port lacks. An analyst in the city's Office of Policy and Management, Fisken gets our vote because he'll focus on the Port's mission of growing jobs in tandem with reducing taxpayer burden.
Well-bankrolled incumbent Clare Nordquist thinks jobs are No. 1, too, but his record is one of an inaccessible, high-flying venture capitalist who has backed the Port's role as a real-estate developer at the expense of its marine and airport operations.
STATE OF WASHINGTON BALLOT MEASURES
This is about ergonomics. On one side, we have the Building Industry Association of Washington, a deep-pocketed political hit squad representing an industry that has a high injury rate. They paid thousands of dollars to put this initiative on the ballot because they claim that the state government is overregulating when it comes to workplace safety. They want to toss out the state's ergonomic rules.
On the other side are all of us workers who worry about being injured on the job. The builders want to overturn regulations designed to protect the rest of us from getting hurt while we work. Stop them. Vote NO.
HOUSE JOINT RESOLUTION 4206
This is a simple housekeeping measure that would change the way vacancies are filled in the state Legislatureallowing newly electeds of the same party to take office if the current officeholder dies or resigns. As straightforward as doing the dishes. Vote YES.
Seattle Weekly Editorial Board members are Editor in Chief Knute Berger, Managing Editor Chuck Taylor, Political Editor George Howland Jr., Senior Editor Nina Shapiro, staff writers Rick Anderson and Philip Dawdy, and columnist Geov Parrish.