Former City Council President Peter Steinbrueck has become Godot in political Seattle's Waiting for Godot watch for a credible electoral opponent for Mayor Greg Nickels. Apparently we will not have to wait much longer. Steinbrueck has told friends he will make a go-no go decision about a mayoral candidacy by the end of April. If the decision is "go," he says, he will wage an aggressive, play-to-win campaign. (The decision apparently hinges on professional and family obligations which Steinbrueck is weighing against a return to electoral politics).
Lawyer Michael McGinn, former chair of a local chapter of the Sierra Club, and ex-pro basketball player James Donaldson already are mayoral candidates. Both lack the established political base and public-sector experience of Steinbrueck or City Councilmember Nick Licata, who has disavowed a mayoral candidacy to seek another council term. Mayor Nickels is running for a third term and has $300,000 raised already for the campaign.
Polling data in recent months showed either Steinbrueck or Licata defeating Nickels handily. Nickels has amassed a big political war chest and many endorsements, but any credible opponent would not have to match the contributions. Campaigns involving multi-term incumbents without exception are referenda on the incumbency — in this case Nickels' two terms, plus his handling of the snow storm and current economic hard times. Given Nickels' current low approval rating among voters, any credible challenger would need only to raise enough campaign money to provide decent media exposure. But the emphasis is on "credible."
What if Steinbrueck, at month's end, opts out as Licata already has? (Two earlier credible candidates, green developer Greg Smith and City Councilmember Tim Burgess, had looked at the race, found the fundraising difficult against an entrenched incumbent, and backed away from challenging Nickels.) It is hard to believe that McGinn and Donaldson will be the only major alternatives. Some better known political figure, recognizing Nickels' vulnerability, surely will be tempted to take the plunge. Until Steinbrueck's decision, however, the field is likely to remain frozen.