Decision time for 2009 races in Seattle

The mayor's race is narrowing, as Richard Conlin bows out. City Council open seats are attracting good talent
The mayor's race is narrowing, as Richard Conlin bows out. City Council open seats are attracting good talent

By all indications, Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin has decided not to run for Mayor in 2009, an idea he has toyed with all year. An official announcement is expected in a few weeks. Conlin says that he is feeling "very happy and productive" at the Council. Further, says Conlin, he is mindful of the commitment he has made to fellow councilmembers to create a more productive Council — something running against Mayor Greg Nickels would not help. Meanwhile, Conlin himself needs to get ready to run for re-election to his Council seat in 2009.

Conlin's decision to pass on the mayor's race, while expected, leaves the field of challengers pretty small. Developer and green-building advocate Greg Smith says he'll take the next two months deciding whether to run for Mayor against his erstwhile good-buddy Greg Nickels. (I'm betting Smith will demur, and while he plays Hamlet, he pretty much discourages any other serious candidate from getting in.) Peter Steinbrueck, while polling well against the moderately unpopular Mayor, is still unlikely to jump in. One late entry could be Nick Licata, who would mostly want to use the platform to make his points and see if lightning struck. Other names one hears (both unlikely): Phil Talmadge (former judge and legislator) and Ron Judd (former labor leader and key staffer for Gov. Gregoire). And by the way: no chance Nickels is moving to an Obama administration job.

So if it looks like Pope Gregory III, the City Council may be the new locus of effective counterpoint to the Nickels regime. Three seats may be open: Jan Drago and Richard McIver almost for sure, and Licata's is somewhat likely to be an open seat. Conlin is the fourth seat up in 2009, and he'll probably only have token opponents. Three likely candidates for the open seats are Sally Bagshaw (a widely admired former head of the civil division of the King County Prosecutor's office and an effective pusher for a solution to the Viaduct), Jordan Royer (the former mayor's son and until recently on Nickels' staff, specializing in public safety issues), and James Donaldson, a former basketball star. Jesse Israel, a relative unknown with environmentalist credentials, may run. David Miller, a software entrepreneur and president of the Maple Leaf Community Council, has already filed. Mike O'Brien, chairman of the Sierra Club, is said to be looking at running. Kathy Nyland, a Georgetown activist, and Kate Joncas, head of the Downtown Seattle Association, both decided to pass.

Most of the jockeying will be about the Drago seat, informally reserved for a relatively pro-business person, and McIver's, customarily an African-American seat but now probably a post-racial slot. Licata is being coy, which probably means that he will decide not to seek reelection right around filing deadline time, giving someone of his philosophical persuasion a chance to jump in late, and with few opponents.

So, while Nickels may coast to reelection, he may not have such smooth sailing in his third term. A City Council with a coherent team of Conlin, Tim Burgess, Tom Rasmussen, Sally Clark, and Sally Bagshaw, and maybe others could almost amount to a "two-party" town.


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