A Shift to the Left

Nick Licata becomes the new Seattle City Council president, and six female finalists for a vacant seat are picked.

The presidency of the Seattle City Council has swung from right to left—from Jan Drago to Nick Licata. It is too early to say if that will make a difference in how the legislative body does its job. That will depend as much on how the council's newest member— finalists were announced Monday, Jan. 23—does her job.

At Monday's meeting, the body's most conservative member, Drago, handed the gavel to its most liberal, Licata. Keep in mind that these are relative terms. All the members of the Seattle City Council are liberal Democrats, but there are differences that matter in the insular world of City Hall politics. Drago has been a strong believer in public investment to prime the pump of private development, supporting Mayor Greg Nickels' emphasis on helping billionaire Paul Allen transform the South Lake Union neighborhood. Licata is a pro-neighborhood development skeptic who has consistently opposed public subsidies for the wealthy. Both council members, meanwhile, pushed hard for the now-scuttled Seattle Monorail Project plan.

Licata's election as president had more to do with his easygoing, likable personality than ideology. In addition, the council was anxious to resolve a deadlock over the presidency before appointing someone to replace Jim Compton, who resigned last month.

The council narrowed the choices for Compton's seat to six: Stella Su-Li Chao, executive director of the International District Housing Alliance; Sally Clark, director of community resources at the Lifelong AIDS Alliance and a former council aid; Venerria Lucas Knox, former head of the Human Services Department and former director of community relations for the Seattle Monorail Project; Sharon Maeda, a communications consultant and former associate general secretary for communications at the United Methodist Church; Dolores Sibonga, a former council member who has pledged not to run for re-election to the appointed seat; and Venus Velazquez, a public-affairs consultant and former employee at the Office of Neighborhood Planning.

The list demonstrated that the council is determined to pick a woman (currently there are six males and two females) and would prefer a person of color (Clark is the only remaining white candidate; the current council has two people of color). Most of the candidates will probably be ideologically closer to Drago than Licata, but it's foolhardy to predict how they will behave. And until Licata serves as president, it's hard to say how his leadership will have an impact on the city's lawmaking body.


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