HOW DOES A MAN respond when a woman humbles him in public? Well, if the man is Seattle City Attorney Mark Sidran, the response is likely to be a pretty classic testosterone power play: He'll make degrading sexual comments to her--in front of her colleagues. According to a June 19 letter written by City Council Member Judy Nicastro, this is exactly what happened after she dissed Sidran at a June 7 public hearing.

And how does a smart woman like Nicastro respond? She gets the whole thing in writing.

The sordid affair began three weeks ago at a contentious June 7 city council meeting, where council members were mulling over Nick Licata's amendments to Sidran's car impound ordinance. After Licata made his pitch (the ordinance unfairly targets the poor), Sidran weighed in with the counterpoint. For Nicastro, Sidran's attack on Licata highlighted a conflict-of-interest issue that dogs our policy-driven city attorney: Can his legal opinion be trusted on the impound ordinance, which Sidran wrote and obviously supports?

"I don't really think it's appropriate for the city attorney to be here arguing against a council member," Nicastro said. "I have no problem with him sticking to the facts; however, editorializing... is inappropriate." Ouch.

According to Nicastro, Sidran retaliated the following day in a City Hall elevator. A June 16 letter to Sidran from Nicastro (cc'd to Council President Margaret Pageler and Mayor Paul Schell, and obtained from Sidran's office by The Stranger) reads: "The following day [after the impound ordinance hearing] at around 10:00 a.m., my assistant... and I were in the elevator. You joined us on the 10th floor with two other women who got on the elevator. I stated to you, 'Mark, I hope you understand about yesterday. It was nothing personal.' You responded by saying, 'Oh, no. Like I told someone, I love it when you are in your dominatrix mode. Public spankings are so much more fun.' One of the women in the elevator commented, 'This is some conversation.'"

At that point, according to a third witness, who was "shocked" by Sidran's "unprofessional" comments, things became "awkward."

"The comment... was unacceptable... degrading and unprofessional," Nicastro's letter continues. "I have a difficult time believing that an equally offensive comment would be directed toward one of my male colleagues...."

In a June 19 letter to Nicastro, also obtained from Sidran's office, the city attorney apologized for his comments: "I apologize for my comment the other day. I know that humor is risky, especially humor that is risqué. Although it was meant to be good-natured kidding, I certainly understand why you took offense and I am sorry to have caused you distress. I also want to assure you that my comment was not motivated by your gender or your position on any issue. Many people will tell you that I have an equal tendency to annoy men as well as people who agree with me. Even more important, I hope you will not allow this remark to affect your opinion of the professionalism of the men and women who practice law in my office. As for me, I will do my best to be more circumspect in the future." (The letter was cc'd to Pageler and Schell.)

Nicastro declined to comment about the elevator incident or the memos. Sidran did not respond to calls from The Stranger.

Obviously, there's nothing here in the way of a sexual harassment suit, but Nicastro was wise to extract a written acknowledgment from Sidran regarding his bizarre, stupid, and sexist comments. This official record of Sidran's macho display (including his condescending apology) is surely handy to have on the books. It also sheds light on the way Mr. Civility behaves toward bright young women like Nicastro, who do something few local politicians are willing to do: stand up to him.