Richard Conlin has emerged as the likely next president of the Seattle City Council.
Conlin is far from claiming victory in quiet negotiations to get support from colleagues for the two-year term. Two years ago, he announced he had the votes to best rival Jean Godden, but the council deadlocked and the post ultimately went to Nick Licata.
"I'm going to be very cautious, given what happened to me last time," said Conlin.
Godden is not an active candidate this year. But she cautioned that nothing was set. "Things are very fluid," she said, although she and others say no one else has mounted a serious challenge to Conlin.
Council presidents are typically selected in early January by the nine-member council to serve for two years. The council president oversees central staff, serves as acting mayor during a mayoral absence, and traditionally acts as a spokesperson for the council. The post is a good platform for a member who is considering a run for mayor.
Conlin's ascendency benefited from trouble around his closest rival, Richard McIver, whom some saw earlier as a shoo-in for the presidency. McIver recently pleaded innocent to a charge of assaulting his wife.
"I have not withdrawn my name," says McIver, whose trial is set to begin Monday, Dec. 10. He concedes, though, that even if he gets the charges dropped or gets a verdict of not guilty, his chances of becoming president are slim.
Conlin is known as one of City Hall's most distinct personalities. He's smart and focused. A little wonky and heavy on process, say some. He's been an early advocate for environmental issues as big as global warming and as small as the licensing of goats as legal pets.
With the arrival of two new members, next year's council is likely to be more purposeful and perhaps even stronger than the council of past years. The public should look for the council to announce more initiatives and do more to craft an identity distinct from Mayor Greg Nickels, who tends to dominate City Hall. "There's been a certain amount of whining in the past. That's not the right way to go," said Conlin.
Stressing that he was making no assumptions about the outcome of the council's presidential deliberations, Conlin said the council needed to be more methodical about laying out a schedule of major decisions so it's clear "what, when, and how things will get done."
The new council members are already familiar with the ways of City Hall. A former City Council legislative aide, Bruce Harrell is arriving to take the position held by Peter Steinbrueck, who decided to not run for re-election. A former police officer and city Ethics and Elections Commissioner, Tim Burgess defeated incumbent David Della.
The selection of a new president also triggers jockeying for committee assignments.
Of those, the chair of the budget committee can be a powerful role. Godden wants that post. Some say Burgess would be a natural for chair of the public safety committee, which oversees police and fire. Jan Drago is likely to keep the transportation committee. Conlin says he will likely keep the environment, emergency management, and utilities committee; he says Sally Clark will keep the economic development and neighborhoods committee.
There is lots of talk about who's getting what, but the wild card is what happens to Licata. He says he's ready to move on from public safety, which he's run for four years. He wants budget, which makes him a Godden rival.
As part of the shuffling, the duties of various committees could be restructured.
Licata joked that this is the fun time of year for council members. "All of us are eyeing each other somewhat suspiciously," he said.
As longtime Sonics fans can tell you, it's not over till the fat lady sings.
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