The race for president of the Seattle City Council is heating up as two candidates—Transportation Committee chair and New Age guy Richard Conlin and energy chair and former Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer gossip columnist Jean Godden—seek support from their colleagues. Council members elect one of their own as president, a two-year, largely ceremonial post without strong intrinsic authority. The council president does, however, set a tone for the nine-member body and for council-mayoral relations. During council member Peter Steinbrueck's 2001–03 tenure as president, the clashes between the city's executive and legislative branches were loud and frequent. Council member Jan Drago, who is finishing her term as president, preferred to work out differences with the mayor behind the scenes.
Most council members say the race is deadlocked 4-4. Steinbrueck, neighborhood progressive Nick Licata, and former TV journalist Jim Compton support Conlin. Drago, genial Budget Committee Chair Richard McIver, and quiet parks committee Chair David Della support Godden. The chair of the housing committee, Tom Rasmussen, is uncommitted and hasn't spoken to either presidential candidate yet. Drago says this head count is incorrect, but five other members—McIver, Licata, Steinbrueck, Della, and Godden—confirm all or part of it. Everyone agrees the situation is fluid.
Members also agree that the important differences between Godden and Conlin are of experience. As an eight-year-veteran, Conlin has a tenure on the council that is seen as a strength by his backers. Godden was elected to the council in 2003 after decades as a newspaper reporter and editor. Her previous career experience is praised by her supporters.
Conlin has frequently clashed with the mayor over transportation policy. He asked tough questions about Nickels' plans for a streetcar and for changes to Mercer Street in the growing South Lake Union neighborhood. He has also been a consistent supporter of neighborhood activists and their plans to mitigate the effects of growth, while Nickels has been an ally for developers throughout the city. Conlin is a big fan of public process and civic engagement—again, a marked difference from the autocratic mayor. While Conlin likes to ruminate aloud about public policy, he is not one for noisy disagreements, and he will often change his mind.
Godden is known in political circles for her charming and effervescent personality. As soon as she took office and became chair of the council's Energy & Environmental Policy Committee, considered a tough, technically taxing assignment, Godden faced the challenge of confirming a new superintendent for Seattle City Light. She ran the process smoothly. In recent months, she was an outspoken critic of the mayor's sensible rule that dancers must remain four feet from patrons in strip clubs. She cast the issue of the right to give lap dances as a feminist cause. Godden says she has had other policy disagreements with the mayor but has worked them out in private. "We haven't been divisive about it," says Godden. "That's the way I'd like to proceed."
Conlin predicts the race will be wrapped up by Friday, Dec. 2, but other council members say it will take longer.