Peter Steinbrueck hurls some thunderbolts at Mayor Nickels

In a supportive crowd of neighborhood activists, the former city council member lets loose a barrage of charges against NIckels' punishment/reward style of governance.
Crosscut archive image.

Former Seattle City Council member Peter Steinbrueck. (Seattle Channel)

In a supportive crowd of neighborhood activists, the former city council member lets loose a barrage of charges against NIckels' punishment/reward style of governance.

Former Seattle City Council President Peter Steinbrueck, until recently the prospective leading challenger to Mayor Greg Nickels in this fall's elections, let 'er rip last Saturday at a well attended Seattle Neighborhood Coalition meeting at the Salmon Bay Cafe in Ballard.

Steinbrueck, bound for Harvard this fall on a Loeb Fellowship, intends to study urban design and related issues, and then to return to Seattle restored and reinvigorated. He expressed his regret that, after his disavowal of candidacy, no like-minded challenger had emerged to challenge Nickels. He made clear, however, that in his judgment Nickels had to go. Among Steinbrueck's comments:

  • The Nickels mayoralty was "a Gestapo-like regime" which ruled through "threatening, punitive actions" against City Council members, city employees, and just plain citizens who questioned its actions and policies.
  • Competent planners and other city staff had become demoralized and were leaving city government rather than work for such a regime.
  • The Nickels administration operated with a "punishment/reward mentality" in which favors and contracts were awarded to its allies and others were frozen out.
  • Performance and other audits were shunned by the administration; it hated accountability.
  • Zoning decisions were taken to favor developers and, often, outside the spirit of the zoning code.
  • A cavalier, destructive policy was resulting in destruction of the city's tree canopy. He hailed those in the audience who were, case by case, trying to fight the policy.
  • The administration presented its budget and policy proposals to the Council not as a basis for discussion but as diktats to be adopted. As council president, Steinbrueck said, he had taken to putting a hold on such proposals until appropriate council hearings and involvements had taken place.
  • The council would benefit from fresh blood and independent-thinking members lest, as he put it, "everyone there becomes a Jan Drago."

Among those attending the breakfast (mainly, neighborhood representatives from around the city) were Council candidates Rusty Williams and Bobby Forch, both running for the seat being vacated by Richard McIver. Several of the neighborhood types related chapter-and-verse examples of Nickels administration bullying of them and their political allies. Petitions were being circulated for signature on behalf of changing the present at-large-elected council to one elected partly by district and partly at large. I signed one of the petititions. Steinbrueck, however, said he opposed the concept and continued to favor a council elected citywide.

Steinbrueck will make another appearance on his farewell tour this coming Thursday evening at the Seattle Public Library when he leads a discussion of comparative Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. planning models. He can be expected to throw fewer lightning bolts in this non-political setting. But he threw enough last Saturday to get Nickels' attention.


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Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of