Only two city council members (Jan Drago and Jean Godden) could be bothered to show up at the mayor's State of the City address on Wednesday, March 7, which Nickels delivered, for the first time in recent history, somewhere other than city council chambers. (Those who showed up got a free lunch, a $50 value.) Some credited the new scenery (a convention center meeting room) or the friendlier-than-usual audience (500 Rotary club members, plus several dozen city staffers and members of the public) for the mayor's less-stuffy-than-usual performance. On a rhetorical level, however, the mayor's speech was the usual mix of self-evident truisms ("we need snowfall to provide clean, pure water to drink"), sweeping grandiosity ("this is a pivotal moment for mankind"), hackneyed catch phrases ("growing smart means ___"), and reappropriations of proposals made by others (the council directed the mayor to find money for new cops earlier this year).
The city council members usually sit through these speeches like they're being punished. Nonetheless, deprived of the opportunity to do so in the comfort of their own council chambers, several council members raised hell, complaining that the city charter explicitly states that the mayor "shall deliver a message on the state of the city" directly to the council. "Philosophically, it really gets at the crux of what democracy is about," City Council President Nick Licata said. "The President does not give his State of the Union in front of the chamber of commerce." Other council members, including Drago, Sally Clark, and Tom Rasmussen, were less exercised. "It's a spat that I'm so not interested in," Clark said. Nickels spokeswoman Marianne Bichsel said the mayor may hold future speeches, including his summer budget speech, outside City Hall. "A lot of mayors around the country do their State of the City addresses in different venues," Bichsel said. "It's not unusual."
With less than three months to go before the filing deadline, just three credible contenders have jumped into the city council races. Five seats are on the ballot in November. The low number of candidates is surprising both because the filing deadline is earlier than ever (making the race for early backing all the more imperative) and because there is an open seat, Position 3, which Peter Steinbrueck announced he will vacate at the end of the year. There hasn't been an open council seat in a regular election for eight years; Michael Grossman, campaign consultant for incumbent David Della and Position 3 candidate Bruce Harrell, says, "It just doesn't seem plausible that there won't be more challengers." However, consultant Christian Sinderman says the 2005 election, in which four incumbents beat back challengers, "reminded people that, all things being equal, incumbents win." Additionally, with the possibility of two open seats in 2009 (both Drago and Richard McIver are said to be contemplating retirement), potential contenders like Darryl Smith may sit 2007 out.
Tim Burgess, former head of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, has made a few political donations that may not be in line with the liberal constituency he'll need to attract as a city council candidate: $1,000 to anti-choice, pro-war, pro-abstinence education presidential candidate John McCain in 2000, and $1,350 to Republican then-AG candidate Rob McKenna (who recently endorsed McCain) in 2004. Burgess says he gave the money under "unique circumstances"—attacks on McCain by the religious right and the defeat of his first choice for AG, Democrat Mark Sidran, respectively—and adds, "I'm definitely a Democrat." Burgess previously supported Della, but says he's "been disappointed in his leadership," particularly on parks, which he oversees as head of the council's parks committee. Burgess also disparages Della's preference for a larger new viaduct to replace the current Alaskan Way Viaduct on the firstname.lastname@example.org