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Paul is Dead

Norm's Resignation Ain't Gonna Save Schell's Butt

"He is intrigued by the idea of being a transitional mayor, a one-term leader with the experience, respect and savvy to take Seattle into the next century."

-- The Seattle Times endorsement of Paul Schell for mayor, October 19, 1997.

Thanks to Norm Stamper and the Seattle Police Department, it looks like Paul Schell is going to wind up being the intriguing one-term transitional mayor he dreamed of becoming in 1997. Oh, there have been mayors whose political careers survived worse rioting than the WTO riot-lite Seattle experienced last week -- even mayors whose actions made riots incalculably worse, as Schell's did last week, have survived.

Take Chicago's first Daley. In the spring of 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Riots broke out in every major city in America, but only in Chicago did the mayor give "shoot to kill" orders to the police, a sort of late '60s version of a "Protest-Free Zone." Civil libertarians demanded the resignation of Richard J. Daley, just as some civil libertarians are demanding Schell's resignation now. Daley -- Chicago's mayor-for-life, boss of the biggest political machine in the country, a man so powerful the dead voted at his command -- refused to resign, of course, and was still mayor in August of '68 when the police rioted at the Democratic National Convention. Daley went right on being mayor after that riot, and died in office seven years and two elections later.

If Chicago's Daley could survive two real riots in one year, then Seattle's Paul Schell should to be able to live through one riot, right? Not necessarily. Unfortunately for Schell, Seattle ain't no Chicago, and jowls or no jowls, Schell ain't no Daley. Daley had a machine, as well as patronage, graft, and Teamsters on his side. Schell has none of those things. More importantly, Schell appears to lack political common sense. Any smart pol will tell you that you can piss off some of the people some of the time and survive (Daley), but you can't piss off all of the people all at once and hope to survive for very long (Nixon).

In an absolutely amazing display of political ineptitude, Schell's handling of the WTO protests managed to piss off both the city's law-and-order crowd (by not clamping down right away) and the city's lefties and civil libertarians (by coming down too hard when they did clamp down). "Schell should have stuck with one or the other tactic," says Matt Fox, the political brawler who defeated Commons I & II and managed Charlie Chong's many campaigns. "He should have been lenient or hard-assed, but not both on different days in the same week!"

Making matters worse, Schell angered his only real political block: the downtown business crowd, who lost millions of dollars from shoppers who couldn't, or didn't want to, get downtown. Even Mindy Cameron, the editorial page editor at The Seattle Times who coaxed Schell into the mayoral race in '97, has abandoned the mayor. In last Sunday's Times, Cameron called Schell's administration "deeply wounded."

Now that Seattle Police Chief Stamper has resigned -- a man too decent or too sinister for the job (we may never know which) -- Schell's dwindling number of supporters probably hope the heat will be off their man. Not likely. Stamper's resignation came too soon to do Schell much good. The nine mayor-wannabes on the city council are only beginning their investigations, and the council will do all it can to keep the mayor's handling of WTO protests in the news for the next two years. Unlike the mayor, "healing" isn't in the self-interest of individual council members; keeping the mayor on the ground bleeding is. And Stamper won't be there to take the fall.

 

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