photos by Victora Renard

EVEN HER ALLIES were startled.

"She sure is putting the Castro in Nicastro," one city staffer whispered to another as Council Member Judy Nicastro revved up the rhetoric. As city hall's working-class hero, Nicastro has been known to wax proletarian from time to time. But Nicastro was in rare form in city council chambers on October 30, 2000. Finding herself on the losing end of the 5-4 council vote that raised city campaign contribution limits, Nicastro went over the top.

"Theoretically, anyone can participate in the political process," she began, her Jersey accent blaring. "But in reality the majority are locked out. While influence and goods are distributed among the rich and connected, the nonwealthy are being cast aside as Dickensian poorhouse characters. The rich and connected know their class interests. They do not give to the politicians whose ideology will not advance their interests."

Thank you, Comrade Nicastro!

Nicastro, who looks something like an Italian Meg Ryan, had originally left the fiery speech back in her office because she planned to play nice. She knew going in to the meeting that the vote was a done deal. But when proponents of the ordinance--like Jan Drago--started hyping the benefits of downloading more money into the election process, Nicastro sent one of her aids to fetch the speech. Clearly, the class issues of campaign finance touched a nerve, and Nicastro, 35, couldn't keep her true colors in check. And this speech, it's safe to say, represented Nicastro's truest colors. Scrawled on a few sheets of loose-leaf notebook paper, the speech was written by Nicastro's 62-year-old mother.

"There was nothing I could possibly say that was better than what my mother had said," Nicastro explains today. "My colleagues were so off the mark. I had the gem my mom had written, and at that moment, it was the best argument. It was an injection of reality."

Nicastro's mom, Doris Nicastro (who moved to Seattle from New Jersey in 1990 to be near Judy), originally wrote the screed as a letter to local news- papers. However, like an embarrassed teenager, Nicastro implored her mom not to make a scene, and quietly held onto the letter herself. Obviously Nicastro knew, consciously or subconsciously, that there would be an appropriate time to bust out a dose of Doris.

Lord knows, this city's timid politics could use a dose of Doris Nicastro. A clerk at Virginia Mason who lives on Capitol Hill, Doris talks like a combo of Roseanne and Bea Arthur. "The biggest problem facing Seattle today," Doris recently told me, is that under Bush's Republican administration, "less federal government money is going to get funneled our way, and the poor are going to get hit. That's who always gets hit, right? When shit rolls downhill, it rolls all the way down and hits the bottom. You know what I mean?"

Throughout her first year in office, Judy Nicastro has been engaged in a delicate balancing act: hiding her mother's candid populist politics while judiciously channeling those politics. This is the story of Nicastro's first year in office; a year marked by the emergence of a more finely tuned politician than anyone had imagined when the rabble-rousing renters' rights activist got into the race. "I'm the pragmatic Doris," says Nicastro.

"She's a pragmatist, not an idealogue," says Council President Margaret Pageler. "I didn't see that on the campaign trail. I assumed she was going to be a knee-jerk liberal. [But] I was pleasantly surprised. She's more interested in finding solutions than in being politically correct." Pageler, who was elected to a third term in 1999, says she's excited about the constituency Nicastro represents. "She represents newcomers and young people," Pageler says.

The Stranger championed Nicastro during her long-shot city council race in late 1999. The Seattle Weekly did not endorse Nicastro in the September '99 primary, and The Seattle Times, after endorsing Nicastro in the primary, dropped her in the general election because of her renters' rights platform. But we were consistent in our support. "We've been quoting Judy Nicastro's bad-ass renters' rights rap since before she decided to run," we wrote in our September 9, 1999 primary election issue, "so our endorsement should come as no surprise. While most of the candidates are busy telling us they'll complete the Licata-Steinbrueck-Conlin power axis, Nicastro is busy defining her own turf. Nicastro's turf-of-her-own is renters' rights, and she comes out swinging. Team Licata or not, we're convinced Nicastro will be a power."

In our October 28, 1999 general election guide, we were more succinct: "Judy Nicastro is the best candidate running for city council this year."

Worried that Nicastro had a shot, landlords, business leaders, and Mark Sidran supporters rallied around Nicastro's opponent: high school principal, landlord, and former City Council Member Cheryl Chow. Indeed, two different landlord groups set up independent expenditure accounts to funnel cash in Chow's direction. (Independent expenditures allow people to skirt campaign finance limits by letting supporters spend an unlimited amount on the candidate of their choice, as long as they don't coordinate the spending with the candidate or give the money directly to the candidate.)

The vapid and fragile Chow (who cried at endorsement interviews) netted $20,000 of the nearly $115,000 spent by independent groups, mostly from landlords and Microsoft execs. Nicastro, on the other hand, netted just $310 from independent groups like the Greens. Excluding independent expenditures, Chow out-raised and out-spent Nicastro by $12,000 (a lot when you consider the $400 campaign contribution limit), getting 16 percent of her direct cash from businesses as opposed to Nicastro's one percent. But Nicastro won the race--though by a slim 1,500 votes out of the 160,000 cast. The race was so close that Nicastro wasn't able to declare victory until a week after the election.

"Judy's victory is great news for US and bad news for THEM," we wrote in our election wrap-up. But we also issued a warning: "We fully expect Nicastro to get to work sticking it to The Man.... Get to it Judy--or else." Nicastro has been in office for a year now (she was sworn in on January 10, 2000), and we felt it was time to check in on the Wallingford rabble-rouser-turned-politician.

Unless Judy Nicastro's brain is taken over by evil aliens some time in the next two years, she's got a freebie Stranger endorsement coming for whatever office she seeks next. And there will, she assures us, be other offices: Nicastro is seriously contemplating running for mayor in 2005, and she's also cast her eye on U.S. Representative Jim McDermott's seat. But we do (suh-prise!!) have a few complaints that we'd like to get off our chests before 2005 rolls around.

Worst and foremost, on July 31, 2000, Nicastro went along with her brazen colleagues and voted to gut I-41, the original monorail initiative passed by Seattleites in 1997. In fact, Nicastro sucked on the monorail issue. In June, she floated a plan to study an itty-bitty alternative monorail route from the Experience Music Project to South Lake Union--a complete insult to voters. ["Judy Nicastro Wants to Build a Monorail for Paul Allen," Dan Savage, June 29, 2000]. All of these shenanigans came on the heels of an election campaign in which Nicastro had hyped her support for the monorail.

We also think Nicastro was a chicken for bailing on Sane Transit, the ad hoc group which boldly (and presciently) rose up to challenge Sound Transit last summer. Surely one of the coolest political developments of 2000, Sane Transit attracted lefty city council members like Nick Licata and Peter Steinbrueck, and Nicastro's failure to join her maverick cohorts left us (and others) sorely disappointed. "I worked with her early on, and she asked good questions about Seattle's financial exposure," says Rob McKenna, King County Council Member and anti-Sound Transit hero. "Since then we haven't seen her. She appeared to be poised to go public with her reservations and that didn't happen."

Nicastro and her staffers, who had worked with Sane Transit in the summer, suddenly disappeared when the group started taking political heat in the fall. Conveniently, Nicastro has updated her rap: "I now believe that the light-rail project should be scrapped, and we should shift the money into an integrated monorail system." (A little late, Judy. Sound Transit announced that light rail was $1.1 billion over budget last December.)

Finally, Nicastro's first year in office was peppered with minor gaffes. What was she thinking when she kicked off her political career in January 2000 by advocating the circus animal ban? And we're still scratching our heads over her decision to play along with the bluenoses at city hall and extend the endless "moratorium" on new strip clubs. Come on, Judy: If topless dancers aren't a populist issue, what is?

Fortunately, these screw-ups and lapses are outweighed by Nicastro's titanic record on renters' rights--the issue she stormed into city hall advocating. Representing the city's previously unrepresented majority (52 percent of Seattleites are renters), Nicastro has made an impressive showing on this front. Even the city's leading tenants' advocacy group, the tough-as-nails Tenants Union--which prefers to distance itself from politicians--concedes, "Council Member Nicastro has done a great job keeping the concerns of renters on the minds of people at city hall."

No kidding. Let's go to the videotape:

On June 10, Nicastro made good on her campaign promise to hold a Renters' Summit. More than 500 people (including the mayor and the entire city council) showed up at Seattle Center early on a rainy Saturday morning to discuss and debate ways of preserving affordable rents in Seattle. ["Hey Renters," Josh Feit, June 1, 2000; "Judy Rising," Josh Feit, June 15, 2000.] The summit featured a keynote address from Dennis Keating, one of the country's leading advocates of rent control. As if that weren't in-your-face enough for confrontation-phobic Seattle, Nicastro used the rest of the day to force her agenda down her colleagues' throats. Key items on her list included working to repeal the state law prohibiting rent control; pushing a deal with developers that would set aside up to 40 percent of units for people making 60 percent of median income ($31,560 for two people); and giving tenants or nonprofit developers the first option to purchase subsidized units that are about to be converted to market-rate housing (a.k.a. "right of first refusal").

"This was significant," boasts Nicastro staffer Jill Berkey. "These issues--right of first refusal and rent control--had never been talked about in that kind of forum."

Nicastro has already turned one of the items into law, making property owners set aside 40 percent of units to low-income folks in the Pike-Pine corridor in exchange for breaks on parking requirements. Amazingly, she also got her colleagues to put the most controversial idea from her Renters' Summit on the city's Olympia-lobbying priority list: repealing the state law that prohibits rent control.

But wait, there's more. During this season's budget war, Nicastro upped Mayor Schell's wussy rental assistance program by 300 percent. Her $950,000 budget item, estimated to help 800 households next year, will go to a one-time bail-out fund dedicated to extremely low-income tenants facing eviction notices from landlords. Meanwhile, Nicastro drummed up $159,000 so the city could add one southeast Seattle housing inspector to the city's understaffed Department of Construction and Land Use (DCLU), the agency that checks up on wayward landlords. "There is an increasing request for services in southeast Seattle," says DCLU Code Compliance Manager Bob Laird, who was thrilled that Nicastro took up the fight. Laird says it's been 10 years since the DCLU added a new general inspector.

Nicastro also upped the fine on property owners who don't maintain their vacant buildings. The 400-percent increase (from $15 a day to $75 a day) is intended to motivate delinquent property owners into fixing up dormant housing stock and getting it back on the market. There are about 200 such properties across Seattle. And in her final affront to landlords, Nicastro won the votes to direct Seattle's lobbyists in Olympia to fight for a change in the state's rental deposit law. Currently, the interest on a rental deposit goes into the landlord's pockets. In Judy Nicastro's world, the interest goes to the renter.

It should come as no surprise that landlords despise Nicastro. "When there is a push to change the balance of the landlord/tenant relationship, it... causes problems," says Jim Nell, executive director of the Apartment Association of Seattle & King County (AASK). Nicastro has been the featured villain in AASK's monthly newsletter all year. Spotlighted under headlines like "Ignorance or Lack of Knowledge No Excuse for Judy" and ridiculed as promoting ideas that are "unrealistic at best and highly improbable at worst," AASK's newsletter has even characterized Nicastro's agenda as "socialism."

And here's the cool part: All of these "socialist" victories over landlords have been won by a woman who, less than two years ago, couldn't name a single city council member. Better yet, when Nicastro first decided to run for council in early '99, Cathy Allen--Seattle's self-appointed (and over-quoted) political consultant--told the upstart candidate she didn't have a chance, and advised Nicastro not to run. Allen also advised Nicastro's campaign manager, Jill Berkey, that if Nicastro did choose to run, "She should wear makeup!"

"I've always worn makeup," Council Member Nicastro sasses back today.

Unlike other council types--former TV newscasters, former assistants to County Exec Ron Sims, landlords, and sons of famous locals--Nicastro was an outsider. (And not a faux outsider like George W. Bush. As Doris Nicastro puts it, "Bush? Well, he's outside of the America I know. Way outside of my America. He's a rich boy.") Before she ran for office, Nicastro was working as a parts buyer for Boeing (a job she hated) and living in a one-bedroom rental off Stone Way in Wallingford, which she could barely afford. Nicastro still lives in that apartment, with a tiny kitchen, a portable Fred Meyer CD player, and no discernible view.

She can more than afford these digs now, of course. In fact, Nicastro was so stunned by her first $2,700.09 paycheck (Council Member Nicastro earns $84,000 a year) that she posted the pay stub on her refrigerator for weeks. But even with the new and improved salary, Nicastro is more comfortable club-hopping on Capitol Hill than fundraising with the Mindy Cameron crowd. More important, Nicastro remains pissed about the lack of affordable housing for working-class people.

"It's only because my landlord charges me way below market rate that [I was] lucky enough to afford to live there," she says about her days before pulling down a city hall salary. "That's very problematic. At the age of 33, I was a full-time worker at Boeing [making around $34,000], and I could not afford a one-bedroom at market rate. I could not afford to live in my apartment. Every working person is entitled to live alone. No politicians were addressing this."

Less than a year later, Nicastro would show up in city hall to address the issue herself.

You can thank Ronald Reagan for the class-conscious politics of Council Member Nicastro. In 1981, when Nicastro was a 14-year-old living in Saddle River, New Jersey (Exit 156 off the Garden State Parkway), President Reagan was moving full speed ahead to enact his sweeping agenda. One early piece of Reaganomics was a social-security reform that gutted the "widows benefits" program: a government subsidy for widows. Nicastro's mother Doris depended on that small government stipend because her husband, Peter (Judy's father), had died suddenly of cancer when Judy was 12. The money, about $900 a month for Judy and her brother Andy, "was just enough that my mom didn't have to get two jobs," Nicastro says. The stipend also provided an allowance for the kids to attend local college. "All that was gone," Nicastro says. "I wasn't going to college. My mom took two jobs. And that was that."

The Nicastros had been downsized from comfortable middle class to struggling working class. In addition to her day job as a secretary, Doris took a job nights and weekends at a 1-800 telemarketing center.

"That's when I became politicized," Nicastro says, "seeing my mother at home, frantically calling Congress between jobs. She was completely distraught. She was scared to death. And rightfully so. My mother would say, 'People's lives are behind those laws. Our lives.'"

Indeed. Judy had to get a job, and in turn, she bombed high school, finishing at the very bottom of her class. After high school, she moved to New York City and went to the frivolous Fashion Institute of Technology, where people study "draping techniques" and "fragrance marketing." Nicastro worked at Lord & Taylor, and went dancing at the Peppermint Lounge a lot.

After a few years of living the party-girl life, Nicastro needed a change. Burned out on New York City, the 22-year-old moved west in 1988. She got into the University of Washington on something called the Educational Opportunity Program, a federal grant for poor kids who didn't do well in high school because they had to work. But before Nicastro could make the most of college, she sought help from her brother Andy, who followed Nicastro to Seattle in 1989. One year her senior, Andy--who never went to college himself--had to give Judy a crash course in reading comprehension.

"I couldn't read," Nicastro says. "I mean, I could read. I wasn't illiterate, but I couldn't comprehend what I was reading. So Andy taught me how to comprehend. We'd go through The Seattle Times paragraph by paragraph. I would reiterate what the paragraph said... what the article said, and then we moved on to The New York Times. We spent about six months doing that, because I definitely needed to catch up. Then I was fine."

Nicastro was a prominent campus feminist and an evident LUG ("Lesbian Until Graduation"). Nicastro had a two-year relationship with a woman during college. She became active in campus politics, running for student government on an anti-frat, pro-woman platform. During her campaign for representative on the UW's Board of Control, she focused exclusively on a non-UW issue: passing I-120, a statewide ballot to codify Roe v. Wade into Washington state law. Once she got the job, Nicastro focused mostly on women's issues, helping to set up services to cope with sexual violence on campus. In her junior year, Nicastro ran for student body president and won, beating out someone she describes as "the perfect frat boy."

"Fraternities hated me, and I hated them," Nicastro recalls. "I would go into Red Square where all the students hung out, and I would tell them how the fraternities have beer vans. They'd go around and pick people up at the frat houses and give them beer and drive them to vote. So, I was like, 'We've got to vote!'"

Her years as a campus feminist rabble-rouser convinced her to go to law school. She wanted to become a lawyer so she could defend battered women. Unfortunately, Nicastro didn't pass the bar; burdened with law school debt, she took a job as a sales rep at Boeing's Lynnwood site in 1997. It was at this time, when she was unable to afford a house with her then-boyfriend, that Nicastro "really sunk into a depression." "This is screwy," Nicastro thought. "Two professional people who can't buy a house in Seattle."

That was in the fall of 1998.

Soon Nicastro was on the phone with Nick Licata's office. ("The only city council member I knew," she recalls. "I just knew he was a cool lefty.") Nicastro started asking Licata's office questions about (gasp!) rent control. "Hysteria hit," Nicastro says. "I was told unequivocally that rent control would never happen. It was an unpleasant conversation."

Feeling thwarted by city hall, Nicastro--with the help of the Tenants Union and the Seattle Displacement Coalition--started her own group: Local Housing Needs Local Laws. The idea was to repeal the state law that prevents Seattle from regulating local rents. Nicastro swung into action. She lobbied for and a got a committee hearing in Olympia on rent control; she went head-to-head with the Apartment Association on KUOW; and on February 2, 1999, she staged what turned out to be the precursor to the June 2000 Renters' Summit. Nicastro and her ad hoc group held a forum at Seattle Central Community College on Capitol Hill. ["A New Voice in the Battle for Rent Control," Ben Jacklet, February 11, 1999.] The forum was a huge success. Licata showed up. State Representative Velma Veloria (D-11th District) showed up. Two television news teams showed up, as did 200 renters. An extra classroom had to be opened to accommodate the crowd. "They were shocked. It was tons of people who the politicians had never seen before. That was really exciting. It wasn't the usual fussbags," says Nicastro. "And that's when I knew this was a hot issue. An issue that needs to be addressed politically."

In Nicastro's view, addressing housing "politically" means actually getting something done. To get things done, Nicastro has fused her hard-earned populist sensibility with a consistent streak of pragmatism--the "pragmatic Doris."

"When I was first elected, I knew that my colleagues had a very distorted picture of who I was," Nicastro says. "Because of the rent-control issue during the campaign, people bucketed me into a total far-left freak."

Indeed, Nicastro spends a lot of mental energy in a state of fear about being perceived as a radical weirdo. This insecurity seemed to surface during the 1999 election, when she suddenly announced to local newspapers that she had a fiancée. This hubby-to-be (a KIRO radio announcer) conveniently disappeared within days of her victory. One couldn't help but wonder if Nicastro feared that the 10-year-old Lesbian Until Graduation issue would enter the campaign. Nicastro flatly denies it. "Wow, that's weak," says Nicastro, when asked if she acquired a fiancée in an attempt to avoid being perceived as a lesbian. "That's not true at all. Getting engaged had nothing to do with the election. Besides--being gay in Seattle is an advantage politically."

More significant than sexual politics, Nicastro has taken a few key moves to distance herself from the lefty Licata-Steinbrueck wing of the council. While Licata and Steinbrueck are satisfied taking lots of stands--and they take good ones--Nicastro is more conservative about spending her political capital. She picks her fights carefully, and she fights to win. "I want to win," Nicastro says. "I believe I'm elected to win, to bring home the bacon for renters and for working people. So you have to be very strategic in how you use your time and capital."

Most notably, she left a righteous Licata in the lurch on the monorail vote; and she didn't sign onto Sane Transit, the Sound Transit watchdog group that Licata and Steinbrueck backed. "I'm worried about the same things Nick and Peter are worried about [with Sound Transit]," Nicastro says, defending her skittishness about denouncing the untrustworthy agency. "But I didn't want to use my political capital for that issue. I wanted to make sure that my other colleagues saw me as not jumping on every issue that Nick and Peter are on. I don't like my name being on everything and anything." To that end, Nicastro recently left her name off of a Steinbrueck letter that advocated preserving homeless services at the Morrison Hotel. She also distanced herself from Steinbrueck, Licata, and her Green supporters during the presidential election by making a display of being anti-Nader/pro-Gore. Steinbrueck endorsed Nader. Licata sent out a memo on green paper advising a pro-Nader strategy.

Evidently, about the only thing Nicastro hates more than being mistaken as a political extension of Steinbrueck and Licata is being mistaken for colleague Heidi Wills, the other female thirtysomething freshman on the council. Frustrated by city staffers constantly waving and saying, "Hello, Heidi," Nicastro recently permed her hair to end the confusion.

On a more serious note, it's no accident that the main issue Nicastro used to demonstrate her independence was Sound Transit. While Nicastro has given up trying to win support for her programs from conservative council members like Jim Compton and Jan Drago ("Council Member Drago clearly has issues with me," Nicastro grouses), Judy pins her success on swing votes from Heidi Wills and Richard McIver. Both Wills and McIver, it so happens, are Sound Transit diehards. By distancing herself from Sound Transit critics, Nicastro demonstrates the importance she places on political pragmatism; she values it so much she's willing to come down on the wrong side of this issue.

Nicastro has shown a flair for strategic politicking on other issues as well. For example, it was no accident that the number-one reform proposal listed on Nicastro's Renters' Summit flyer--reducing parking requirements--was also a centerpiece of the legislative agenda of the Apartment Association, the group that worked so hard to defeat Nicastro. "I wanted to show that my policies are broader than just renters' rights. And I knew by doing a pro-developer incentive, I would get people to say, 'Oh, maybe there's more to it.'"

But isn't she worried about offending what seem to be her obvious allies at the Tenants Union? Hardly. In fact, for similar strategic reasons, Nicastro--currently shopping some new tenants' rights legislation--distances herself from the TU. (The group is perceived as radical by landlords and some council members.) "I want the TU's support," Nicastro says, "but I don't want their enthusiastic support. [I don't want them] saying 'it's the best legislation.' Then my colleagues would think it's too biased, and I wouldn't get my votes. I'm all about the votes. If all we had were Nick's [Licata] and Peter's [Steinbrueck], then I would be fine with the enthusiastic green light from the Tenants Union, but that's not the council we have."

While Nicastro's political savvy does seem to be working (just look at all she got done for renters in her first year), we think her preoccupation with appearing moderate often ends up stalling her infectious momentum, and has watered down some of her bold ideas. In short, we think Nicastro should trust her inner Doris more.

For example, mere seconds after winning the primary in September '99, her cell phone rang, and standing there among her staunchest supporters partying at the Hop Vine in Capitol Hill, she started soft-peddling her rent-control message to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter on the other end of the phone. Rather than making her a more attractive candidate to the mainstream, her dishonest answer annoyed her supporters, slowed her momentum, and dogged her for the remainder of the campaign. Nicastro seemed unaware that she had just won the primary based on the power of her renters' rap, not in spite of it.

This tendency toward moderation is also rearing its head in Nicastro's latest renters' rights legislation. As the Tenants Union has pointed out, there are loopholes in Nicastro's proposed ordinance that are clearly aimed at appeasing landlords. For example, there's a clause that allows landlords to wiggle out of shouldering the burden of proof in rent retaliation cases by simply giving a tenant "reasonable grounds" for an otherwise suspect increase. (Section 2, B 3.)

Indeed, as Nicastro transitions into her sophomore year, her renters' rights agenda and the wisdom of her pragmatism will face an immediate test as she shops her new ordinance. The proposal, the keystone of a Nicastro tenants' bill of rights, is intended to make it easier for tenants to prove that landlords have taken retaliatory measures against renters. Unveiled in Nicastro's packed Landlord/Tenant and Land Use Committee hearing on Wednesday, January 17, the proposed ordinance sets out to do several cool things.

First, if passed, it would make landlord retaliation a civil offense. Currently, landlord retaliation (e.g., raising rent, reducing services, or increasing the obligations for tenants who complain about housing violations) is a criminal offense. Practically speaking, this change would make it easier for the city to win cases against abusive landlords. Here's why: Civil cases have a lower standard of proof than criminal cases, and they give prosecutors more legal power to investigate the defendant. Additionally, civil offenses bring financial punishment, while criminal violations land offenders in jail. Given that landlords are often corporations--and you can't put corporations in jail--financial punishments are likelier to get landlords' attention.

Nicastro's proposed ordinance also attempts, in certain retaliation cases, to shift the burden of proof from the plaintiff to the landlord. In short, if a tenant complains about retaliation within 90 days of the alleged offense, the landlord has the burden of proving that the act was lawful.

Finally, the legislation includes unprecedented and explicit protections of a tenant's right to organize.

"We think this is some of the most powerful and progressive landlord tenant legislation in the country," says Doug Bloch, head organizer for ACORN, a decidedly leftist activist group that organizes low-income tenants locally (and has been kicked off property for doing as much).

Even though Tenants Union members testified at the public hearing that Nicastro's ordinance needs amendments to deal with landlord loopholes, it's a testament to Nicastro's political skills that the TU supports the legislation. "I'm inspired by the existence of this proposal," lead TU organizer Siobhan Ring told the committee, after a stream of beleaguered tenants complained about their lack of legal recourse.

"It's a very important ordinance, and we support it because our main goals are reflected in it," says TU organizer Scott Winn.

It's not clear what Nicastro will focus on when and if she feels like she's made Seattle's housing market safe for working-class people. However, on that Friday afternoon, November 5, 1999, when Cheryl Chow finally conceded to Nicastro, the victorious candidate was definitely bubbling over with ideas. In fact, on that gleeful afternoon, over a plate of Vietnamese duck curry, she mentioned that she wanted to pass a law banning ATM card surcharges. While Nicastro hasn't taken on the banks yet, she has shown promise on another issue: reforming the Seattle Police Department. Rest assured, it was Nicastro, along with her talented legislative assistant Charlie McAteer, who turned Jim Compton's weak racial-profiling ordinance into a meaningful piece of legislation. (Nicastro is the third member on Compton and Drago's Public Safety and Technology Committee.)

So Judy Nicastro--her politics forged by Reaganomics, feminism, a brassy mom, and a will to win--is now thinking about running for mayor in a few years. And after that?

"What I really want," Nicastro jokes, "is to become governor. You don't have to pay rent. You get a house."