Greg Nickels is going to be the mayor of Seattle for another four years.
That bothers some people: neighborhood leaders in places like Northgate, who believe Nickels abandoned the spirit of the neighborhood plans; Seattle Displacement Coalition leader John Fox, who says Nickels is catering to billionaire Paul Allen; and even some former Nickels fans at The Stranger, who think the mayor's monorail mandate placed politics over principle.
When someone is running basically unopposed for a major office, unhappy voters look to the nobodies, the vanity candidates, and the weirdoes—and consider casting a "protest" vote. On primary-election night a surprising number of people marked the ballot for former University of Washington Professor Al Runte. (Runte, a windbag Wedgwood resident who has a superficial grasp on the issues and no political track record, scored 22 percent.)
Moving into the general election, people will be similarly tempted to "punish" Nickels. But even handing Runte 46 percent at the polls will not faze Team Nickels. "A clear majority of the voters have expressed their preference for the mayor," Nickels's campaign manager Viet Shelton boasted after Nickels tallied just 54 percent on primary night last week. And that's exactly what Team Nickels will say in November.
But don't despair. If you're frustrated with Nickels (but can't stomach a woefully inadequate candidate like Runte) there is still a way to send a resounding anti-Nickels message this November, a message that will rattle Team Nickels and pack a bona fide political punch. You can, with your vote on Election Day, flip Nickels the bird and simultaneously put a check on his agenda: Vote against Nickels's boy, Casey Corr, who is running for city council.
Corr, 50, is a former Nickels staffer. He was Nickels's communications director between 2002 and 2005, and his city council campaign is being managed by current Nickels staffers. Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis is micromanaging Corr's campaign. Nickels's director of community outreach, Marco Lowe, and Julien Loh (also on Nickels's outreach staff) are rounding up volunteers and doorbelling for Corr on the weekends. Nickels's fundraiser, Colby Underwood, is Corr's fundraiser. Nickels's political campaign consultant, Moxie Media, is Corr's campaign consultant. Nickels's campaign manager, Shelton, shares campaign volunteers with Corr. And half of Nickels's office, including the mayor himself and the deputy mayor, has contributed money to Corr's campaign. The impressive list of Team Nickels donors also includes Nickels's outreach director Lowe, Nickels's legal counsel Regina LaBelle, Nickels's communications staffers Martin McComber and Marianne Bichsel, Nickels's policy director Mary Jean Ryan, Nickels's recent speechwriter Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, and Nickels's council lobbyist Sung Yang.
By keeping Team Nickels's choice candidate off the city council you'll be doing more than flipping Nickels the bird. You'll be upending Nickels's game plan and dashing the mayor's hopes for a rubber-stamp council. That's why you should vote against the mayor's boy, Casey Corr.
Corr—who looks something like Ron Howard's evil twin—left the mayor's office last January to run for city council. In July, as the council primary-endorsement season began in earnest and Nickels was getting walloped at neighborhood-level endorsement meetings, Corr recognized that his reputation as a Nickels lackey was a liability. So, at the 34th District Democrats candidate forum in West Seattle, Corr suddenly remembered an issue where he disagreed with the mayor. (A week earlier, when The Stranger asked him for examples of issues where he disagreed with Nickels, Corr drew a blank.) In West Seattle, Corr hyped his objection to one aspect of Nickels's funding plan for the South Lake Union trolley. Corr echoed trolley critics like Council Member Nick Licata (and The Stranger) by saying the trolley—partially funded by dollars previously earmarked for new Metro bus hours—would siphon service away from other neighborhoods. Corr told the crowd: "The mayor was wrong. When I'm on the council, I will not pit neighborhoods against each other."
So, can we expect Corr to make an issue out of Nickels's bigger plans for South Lake Union? After all, by prioritizing South Lake Union in general (so far, Nickels has slated about $420.6 million in capital costs for Paul Allen's biotech designs), Nickels is siphoning much-needed dollars away from other neighborhoods—like the $500 million backlog in citywide transportation fixes. But Corr is the mayor's pet, and he demurred. Parroting Nickels, he told The Stranger during our candidate forum that funding South Lake Union "does not take dollars away from other neighborhoods." When pressed, he also told The Stranger that—surprise!—he doesn't really object to Nickels's trolley plan either. "No, I like the trolley," Corr says.
In fact, as a Nickels staffer, Corr breathlessly promoted Nickels's trolley plan. "The [South Lake Union] waterfront park is profoundly important—with a streetcar you can be shopping at Nordstrom and sailing on Lake Union in 15 minutes," he told KING 5 in May 2004. "Our goal is to make transit very attractive. With light rail [serving] Westlake Center, the streetcar will go south to Westlake so we'll have a transit hub."
Obviously, voters shouldn't be fooled by Corr's snippet about bus hours. The reality is this: Corr supports Nickels's South Lake Union trolley plan, and he supports Nickels's grand plans for South Lake Union. "I support the vision. Let's send a signal that we welcome the investment. Build a great neighborhood." In fact, Corr has no substantial complaints about the mayor's agenda or record—and why would he? As he boasts himself, "I helped write it."
In the end, Corr's trolley sound bite—designed to fool folks at candidate forums—is just one more example of his penchant for fast-footed political opportunism. Want another? When the monorail went south, Corr jumped out of Richard Conlin's race—after first attacking Conlin for being a monorail obstructionist—and jumped into Jan Drago's race, where he attacked her for being a monorail advocate.
We like the mayor. Mostly. We've had to bust Nickels when his development agenda has overreached. In addition to the South Lake Union trolley, we've zapped Nickels on the $5 million Vulcan giveaway at South Lake Union Park, his cave to Harbor Properties on downtown zoning, his proposed $200 million Sonics bailout, his proposal to let the UW expand unconditionally, his exaggerated numbers about the wonders of biotech (20,000 jobs?), and his multifamily-housing exemption tax break for Vulcan.
That's why, despite our general agreement with Nickels's big-city agenda, we're advocating for a council that will berate, not fellate, Nickels. A healthy conflict between the executive and legislative branches is supposed to be one of checks and balances—not one of checks from Team Nickels to Casey Corr.
When Corr is challenged about being too close with Mayor Nickels, he doesn't respond with examples of where he'd buck Nickels. His shaky trolley example is all he's really got. Instead, he changes the subject and accuses his opponent, Drago, of being a rubber stamp for Nickels. Corr is being evasive and dishonest.
Drago took over as council president in January 2004 and led the council back from the brink of irrelevancy. Drago, for example, rallied the council to reform a centerpiece of Nickels agenda—his blanket lease lid lift in the University District. Drago's fix saved local businesses by ensuring that the university could not displace shops with U.W. office space at street level on University Way and nearby blocks.
Much more important, though, as budget chair during Nickels's first two years, Drago led the council in its fights with the mayor over the most important piece of business at city hall: setting priorities in Seattle's then approximately $650 million general fund. After a particularly hard-fought battle with the mayor in the fall of 2002, when Nickels slashed social services to address a $60 million shortfall, budget chair Drago organized the council to rewrite the mayor's budget by restoring $1.6 million for community medical clinics, $551,000 for homeless shelters, $493,000 for homeless relief agencies, $1.2 million for a fire engine company in Green Lake, and $1 million for the Seattle Police Department's community service officer. (Drago also found $500,000 for food banks.)
The council, Drago said, made "some significant changes to the mayor's budget. A budget for hard times must never compromise public safety and health. Our budget puts people ahead of bricks and mortar, and restores compassionate balance to our priorities."
A rubber stamp? Hardly. Defiant budget chair (and now council president) Drago took an unambiguous stand against Mayor Nickels.
You too can take an unambiguous stand, by making sure Team Nickels can't install lackeys on the city council. Cast a real protest vote this November: Don't vote for the mayor's boy. Don't vote for Casey Corr.