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In his 10 years on the city council, Peter Steinbrueck has made a career—a gleeful hobby, really—of holding Mayor Greg Nickels's feet to the fire. In a month when most of his colleagues are canceling committee meetings to go on vacation, Steinbrueck has scheduled three meetings of his urban planning committee in a row, racing against the clock to complete or launch a half-dozen major legislative initiatives that push back against the mayor's agenda.
Among them: amending the mayor's plan to protect industrial lands; tweaking the mayor's proposal to let Vulcan expand in South Lake Union; and requiring the city to determine the greenhouse-gas impact of all proposed developments. Steinbrueck's entire committee will be gone in December, forcing him to draft new members or preside over meetings alone. "I'm determined to accomplish as much as I possibly can in the remaining few weeks before I go," Steinbrueck says somewhat wistfully. "I'm working against time."
Steinbrueck has been a frequent, vocal opponent of the mayor's agenda and style. Many of his biggest legislative accomplishments—shifting the debate on the viaduct; killing the mayor's proposed strip-club district in Georgetown; opposing Nickels's nightlife license; pushing for stricter affordable-housing requirements in exchange for taller buildings downtown—have cast Steinbrueck as the mayor's most vocal opponent. "Peter's been outspoken in consistently opposing the mayor," says council president and longtime Steinbrueck colleague Nick Licata. "Over time, though, he was better able to compromise."
But even now, six weeks before he leaves the council, Steinbrueck seems eager to take Nickels on. "This mayor has made the work of the council a lot more difficult," he says. In 2005, the city's Department of Planning and Development, which answers to the mayor, refused to work on new green-building regulations Steinbrueck wanted. So Steinbrueck yanked money from their budget, giving the mayor a long-overdue incentive to take the council seriously. "You learn ways to be effective ... or you languish," Steinbrueck says. "I'm not one to sit around and let shit happen to me." Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis agrees with Steinbrueck in principle, if not in practice: The council "will certainly be easier to work with" once Steinbrueck leaves, he chuckles.
That's almost undoubtedly true, at least in the short run. However, the council has gotten smarter about using the tools at its disposal—imposing budget provisos and freezing legislation—in the years since Nickels became mayor. Many seem to think Richard Conlin—who just this year defeated a Nickels proposal to put a new trash transfer station in Georgetown—may step up to fill Steinbrueck's oppositional role.
In the meantime, though, Steinbrueck has three committee meetings to hold.