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Developer Greg Smith may run for Seattle mayor

The candidacy, if it happens, would be a surprise from an erstwhile ally of the mayor. But it is certainly not a long shot.
Seattle developer Greg Smith.

Seattle developer Greg Smith.

Greg Smith, a real estate developer in Seattle, tells Crosscut he is "seriously considering" running for mayor in 2009. If he ends up challenging Mayor Greg Nickels, who is gearing up and has been raising money for a re-election campaign next year, it would be a surprise, given how close Smith has been to Nickels' office in recent years.

A political consultant close to Smith explained that the developer has grown increasingly frustrated about the lack of progress on the Alaskan Way Viaduct, an issue over which Nickels has been locked in disputes with Gov. Chris Gregoire and state House Speaker Frank Chopp. Another possible cause of friction is the mayor's stand on preserving industrial zoning in areas south of downtown, where developers like Smith, CEO of Urban Visions, would like to build more housing and commercial space for new economy startups.

This consultant released an Oct. 7 poll, conducted by Constituent Dynamics, a Seattle polling company, that was apparently commissioned by Smith. It shows Nickels' vulnerability, despite his powerful allies and entrenched political coalition. On the question of approve/disapprove of the way Nickels is handling his job, the split was 31-56. (That rating is up slightly from August, and down slightly from last year.) A somewhat loaded question, designed to bring out resistance to a third term, asked the 1,002 voters if they would "vote to re-elect Greg Nickels to a third term?" The poll was 26 percent in favor of Nickels and 53 percent in favor of an unspecified "another candidate."

The poll also did some head-to-head contests, with these results: former City Council member Peter Steinbrueck bested Nickels, 39-26, and Councilmember Nick Licata outpolled the mayor, 35-28. Nickels was favored over council President Richard Conlin, 32-25; over Councilmember Sally Clark, 29-25; and over 2001 mayoral finalist Mark Sidran, 32-30. None of these candidates seems likely to run. Conlin says he'll make up his mind in early December and that right now he's feeling "really productive on the council."

Could Smith beat the powerful Nickels operation? He'd have trouble raising money, with many environmentalists, labor leaders, business leaders, and others who do business with the city already corralled by the mayor. On the other hand, Smith is a wealthy man, son of real estate developer Martin Smith, and he could self-fund a major part of the campaign. Smith is a dynamic, gregarious, well-known figure around town and has turned into a green developer who's got religion on sustainable buildings. His firm has developed projects all over town, particularly downtown and near Pioneer Square. One recent project is hoping to bring a Hard Rock Cafe to near the Pike Place Market.

Smith recently helped form a group, including former Mayor Charles Royer, called the Waterfront Legacy Committee that is pushing for a solution to the Viaduct that opposes any new elevated structure and wants as much open space as possible, though probably with some through-traffic bypass underground. Smith is also a leader in the new Quality Growth Alliance, a developer-oriented organization favoring attractive urban density across the region. He straddles well the groups favoring urban density, housing, environmental sustainability, and urban design. He lives in a splendid penthouse atop a remodeled historic building in the heart of downtown.

Given the past closeness to Nickels and Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis, the Smith candidacy still seems puzzling. Could there be some other factor? Perhaps he senses that Nickels is going to get a federal appointment from President-elect Barack Obama. Is he pushing Nickels this way to get him to be more decisive on some issues such as the Viaduct? Is he doing the mayor a favor by bluffing out stronger challengers? Smith is out of town on vacation this week and so could not comment.

David Brewster is founder of Crosscut and editor-at-large. You can e-mail him at david.brewster@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Nov 13, 8:52 a.m. Inappropriate

This has to be the low point in Seattle politics. Greg Smith is not qualified to be Mayor of Seattle. He should stick with being a slum landlord.

VoxPopuli

Posted Thu, Nov 13, 10 a.m. Inappropriate

This article is alarming on several levels. Not only are we counting the minutes before Nickels is out of here--the sooner and farther away, the better--but the thought of even the most remote possibility that our president elect would appoint him to any position above street sweeper is apalling. Equally so is the prospect of having Developer Greg Smith as mayor. We have nearly been developed into non-existance, the working class who built this beautiful city pushed out, communities destroyed and neighborhoods razed. It's time for an era of preservation and conservation of the little we have left. A time to support and enrich our communities, to honor, respect and elevate those who have spent their lives here, contributing to all that makes and has made the spirit of Seattle what it is. (The likes of our beloved late Walt Crowley, the very much alive Paul Dorpat, and Peter Steinbrueck.)

MaryW

Posted Thu, Nov 13, 11:07 a.m. Inappropriate

You're kidding me, right? Other than moxie and money, what does Mr. Smith bring? "His firm has developed projects all over town" or his firm has talked about developing projects all over town if he can just get more height more density more anything from the public? Good questions at the end of the article, can you get some answers?

mark_b

Posted Thu, Nov 13, 1:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Regardless of Smith's qualifications, if he ends up being Nickels' challenger, he's likely to do pretty well, no? As Geov Parrish reminds us in Eat the State! (http://eatthestate.org/13-05/Slate2009.htm) (I believe I originally saw this story, or a version thereof, in his North Seattle Herald-Outlook column), Al Runte got nearly 40% against Nickels in 2004...

Posted Thu, Nov 13, 3:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Wrong you are, Ben. Ex-professor Al Runte got a little less than 35 percent (to Nickels' 64 percent) in 2005, but was nothing more than a protest candidate. The proof? Runte ran for a Council seat in 2007, which provided a perfect chance for Seattle voters to set him up as a future Nickels rival. He finished third behind Venus Velasquez and future Councilmember Bruce Harrell with just 13 percent of the vote. Any Nickels rival will get that 35 percent of the vote just for showing up, but getting to 50 percent+1 against the Nickels machine will be very tough indeed.

J.R.

Posted Thu, Nov 13, 4:30 p.m. Inappropriate

The figures for the Nickels race were Nickels 115,000, Runte 63,000, and writeins or other, 16,000. Runte's percentage of all votes in the race was 32%; in the Runte-Nickels match alone, he got 34.9%. I agree that protest votes like this tell you little. There are always people, myself included, who like to register dissatisfaction, resting assured that the protest candidate won't actually get elected.

Posted Thu, Nov 13, 5:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes, of course Runte was a protest candidate. But wasn't it supposed to be news that he did rather well for being a protest candidate — who normally would have gotten 20% or less — and that if there had been a serious candidate in the race, Nickels would have been in trouble? I am assuming that Smith would be more of a serious candidate than Runte was.

Posted Fri, Nov 14, 5:34 a.m. Inappropriate

Smith may just be a Nickels plant with no intent to actually run. By talking up a run at this time he could scare off other serious candidates or handicap their efforts to find money and backers. The deviousness of Nickels should never be underestimated.

Posted Fri, Nov 14, 8:11 a.m. Inappropriate

and the quid pro quo for Smith is????

mark_b

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