Housing advocate John Fox is flaunting his new friend, City Council Member Peter Steinbrueck. On Saturday, January 27, Steinbrueck was Fox's guest star at a bench-installing campaign to highlight Seattle's seven-year-old ban on sidewalk sitting.

This is a striking shift from last year, when Fox, the fit, rosy-cheeked head of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, and Steinbrueck, chair of the council's housing committee, hurled insults at each other in news articles and doubted one another's effectiveness. Steinbrueck basically called Fox an alienating blowhard and Fox pretty much called Steinbrueck a sellout.

Well, Fox is thinking more strategically now. It seems he's finally wised up and realized he's not going to get a more sympathetic council member than Green Peter Steinbrueck to consider the displacement coalition's purist agenda.

Now Fox has found a new target--and it isn't a conservative. Fox is smart enough to know that council members like Jan Drago, Margaret Pageler, and Jim Compton are virtually immune to his political mobilizing.

Fox is after Zen master Richard "Sustainability" Conlin, a sometime liberal (he admirably battled against the Teen Dance Ordinance and recently saved some park space in Columbia City) who has turned into a swing vote. Conlin has Green cred, as well as support from unions and environmentalists. Because of this support base, Fox, who is a player in Seattle's left, thinks he can impact Conlin's upcoming bid for re-election. Fox accuses Conlin of assuming a liberal identity during his 1997 campaign and then voting like a conservative. (Conlin voted for the Parks Exclusion Ordinance and against fixing Sidran's awful car Impound Ordinance, and he bailed on Steinbrueck's attempt to save homeless services in Pioneer Square.) Fox's plan is to spotlight Conlin's tarnished record and, in turn, entice a more progressive candidate to run in November. "Hopefully, we'll get a better politician," says Fox.

Fox's most recent attack on Conlin came two weeks ago. "Get off your high horse Richard," Fox wrote in a well-circulated rant about Conlin, whom he calls "arrogant." He sent his harsh critique of Conlin in a three-page e-mail, long-windedly entitled "Seattle Displacement Coalition Bulletin #19: Coalition Responds to Richard Conlin's Comments About the Homeless and the Philosophy of [City Attorney] Mark Sidran He Seems to be Embracing." The e-mail went out to about 800 people on the displacement coalition's mailing list on January 16.

Fox's e-mail was a response to Conlin's support of last year's Alcohol Impact Area, which is basically a ban on the cheap, strong booze that poor people buy ["Drink the Poor," Allie Holly-Gottlieb, Aug 31, 2000]. Conlin told The Stranger he supported the move because the health department said it would help street drunks get sober.

Conlin thinks Fox, an unelected activist, has the luxury of only focusing on housing issues. "You can't just say to the community, 'I'm sorry, whatever you want is bad because we need to have low-income housing here,'" he says. "My job is to work with the community and try to find ways to meet as many needs as possible."

allie@thestranger.com