Anna Davidson

On Tuesday, February 27, three-term Seattle City Council Member Peter Steinbrueck announced that he will not seek reelection to the council later this year. Instead, Steinbrueck says, he will work full time to promote the surface/transit option to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, an option that has gained momentum as opposition to a new elevated viaduct and a politically moribund tunnel has grown.

"I can't think of anything more motivating than to take this on with all the energy and time and commitment I can possibly muster, and I can't see doing that while running for reelection," Steinbrueck, whose father, Victor, famously battled to save Pike Place Market, says. "If I'm out running, it will be a huge distraction from what really matters to me: preventing a hostile new imposition on our central waterfront and working toward a better way that's sustainable, environmentally responsible, and affordable." (Steinbrueck's comments echo an exuberant speech he made at the Friends of Seattle kickoff party last month, to wild applause.) Steinbrueck has won his last two elections with overwhelming margins, making him a credible potential spokesman for the antiviaduct cause; in 2003, he defeated his opponent with 82 percent of the vote.

Steinbrueck says he hopes to build a large coalition between the various environmental and urban-planning groups that currently oppose the new elevated viaduct, one of two options on the ballot March 13. Those include pro-surface/transit groups like the People's Waterfront Coalition, Friends of Seattle, and the Sierra Club, as well as more mainstream environmental groups like Transportation Choices and Futurewise, which both support the mayor's tunnel. "Until we get the election behind us, we can't really jell into a larger, more powerful civic coalition," Steinbrueck says.

Steinbrueck's departure from the council leaves an open seat; the last time that happened was in 1999, when Heidi Wills, Judy Nicastro, and Jim Compton were all elected in open races. So far, four candidates have declared their intent to run for council in November: Shea Anderson, Tim Burgess, Bruce Harrell, and Venus Velazquez. Of those four, only Velazquez has not declared for which seat she is running. Candidates can switch seats at any time before the June filing deadline, however, and Steinbrueck's surprise departure is sure to inspire a frenzy of filings for his open position. Steinbrueck says he has a candidate or two in mind himself, but would not specify who.

Steinbrueck has frequently been mentioned as a candidate for mayor, and a successful campaign on the waterfront would put him in a comfortable position to oppose incumbent Greg Nickels (whose own relentless support for the tunnel has badly damaged his political credibility) in 2009. Steinbrueck says that although it would be "counterintuitive to say that I'm leaving office to run for mayor," he's "certainly keeping the door open for higher office," including Congress. recommended

barnett@thestranger.com