Is this what we have to work with? Last week, the Metropolitan Democratic Club hosted a debate between the candidates for city council—the first round of the traveling road show that culminates in the August 18 primary, and an opportunity to see the first-time candidates in their most unvarnished form. All but three candidates showed: Mike O'Brien was MIA, as were Nick Licata and the elusive Darryl Dwayne Carter, whom no one has ever seen. Although first-time candidates are always rough at this stage (see Tom Rasmussen, whose speeches included pauses long enough to take a smoke break), the consensus seems to be that this year's crowd is especially lackluster—with a few exceptions.
• Those speech lessons Robert Rosencrantz has dropped thousands on are making a difference, although not necessarily in the way Rosencrantz hoped. The three-time candidate, running in the crowded field to replace retiring council member Richard McIver, went from sounding nerdy and uncomfortable in his last two runs to sounding overrehearsed, almost animatronic, in this one. During the introductory remarks, he bounded to the podium, announcing boisterously, "I ran for city council before and lost twice. Can I win now? Yes. Why? Three reasons..." before I stopped taking notes. (Something about racewalking.) Robert, you gotta dial it back a bit.
• This year's council slate is overwhelmingly male. Out of 24 folks running for city positions (council, city attorney, and mayor), just two—Sally Bagshaw and Jessie Israel, running for positions 4 and 6, respectively—are women. Without their presence, the stage would've been a wall of suits.
• Speaking of suits, the candidate most in need of a wardrobe overhaul was Position 4 candidate David Bloom, who showed up in a brown suit/yellow shirt combo straight out of the 1976 JCPenney catalog. In fairness, Licata, who's also been known to rock a brown suit in his day, wasn't there.
• Council Member Richard Conlin is opposed only by West Seattle resident David Ginsberg, which is a shame, because his talking points are a little rusty. Asked what he would do to bring reform to the Seattle Department of Transportation, he responded, "We've got to find ways to do the right thing right and change the ways we are doing the things that we are doing wrong." ZING!
• On the other hand, Conlin's response to a question about the upcoming housing levy, which Mayor Greg Nickels wants to renew for seven years at the current rate of 17 cents per $1,000 of property valuation (or $145 million), was interesting. Conlin said he might consider renewing the levy for a shorter period, perhaps three years, to put the next levy election on the same ballot as the next presidential election. (Okay, I realize "interesting" is subjective.)
• The race with the greatest contrasts is definitely Position 4, where a former prosecuting attorney (Bagshaw) with talking points straight out of Mark Sidran's 2001 campaign is facing off against a longtime housing activist with strong lefty cred (Bloom). They disagree on just about everything: the jail (Bloom: "I do not believe Seattle needs a new jail"; Bagshaw: "When there is violent crime, those people must be locked up"), the proposed tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct (Bloom: "It is a misappropriation of public funds"; Bagshaw: "Underground is best"), and the need for residential parking zones around light-rail stations (Bloom: "We may need to... require fewer parking spaces to encourage and support the kinds of households that do not have to have automobiles"; Bagshaw: "We need to make places for people to leave their cars to get on transit").
• The most bizarre suggestion of the night came from Jordan Royer, a former aide to Nickels, who proposed (if I understood him correctly) that the school district turn over some of its playgrounds to the city to use as parks as a cost-saving move. "That's where my kids play anyway," he said. Not sure how much money that would save or what the legal implications would be, but I do know that parks are used by a lot more people than just little kids.
• Finally, Rusty Williams—son, as he mentioned about half a dozen times, of the late former city council member Jeanette Williams—talked at length about Seattleites "as a species," a statement that prompted seattlepi.com columnist Joel Connelly, who appeared to be having a lovely dream, to perk up in his seat.
Last week's candidate parade also included renter Josh Caple, West Seattle neighborhood guy Dorsol Plants, city employee Bobby Forch, architect Marty Kaplan, North Seattle NIMBY David Miller, and Rosebud restaurant owner Robert Sondheim. Four of these people will be on your next city council. Don't say you weren't warned.