What's up with Seattle City Council Member Judy Nicastro? Her recent vote to bail out Sound Transit was lame-o; her only goal for 2002 seemed to be some online self-promotion scam; and I think she frickin' libeled me in March just so she could brown-nose council scrooge Margaret Pageler. That's why The Stranger had stopped serving as Nicastro's official media mouthpiece. Well, I'm happy to report Nicastro is once again the council's badass populist vote.

Standing her ground by casting the lone "nay" vote in a 8-1 June 10 skirmish, Nicastro voted against the proposed housing levy.

Nicastro's objection? The levy--a special property tax designed to help poor people get housing--will earmark an unprecedented chunk of money for homebuyer assistance. Of the $86 million levy, 9.1 percent of funds will aid homebuyers--that's a 102 percent jump from the homebuyer portion of the previous levy, and these dollars will be available to people making nearly $40,000 a year.

"I'm all for home-ownership," Nicastro said, "but government shouldn't be in the business of helping people buy equity in houses. We have limited dollars to help poor people. It's an inappropriate use of public dollars."

Nicastro's not being a brat. The debate about home-ownership forced an unprecedented 4-4 deadlock during the council's original June 3 levy vote ["The Color of Money," Josh Feit, June 6]. Back then, four council members--including Nicastro--supported Council President Peter Steinbrueck's plan capping homebuyer assistance at 4.9 percent. Four other council members backed Richard McIver's plan, which earmarked 10 percent for home-ownership. (The ninth vote, Heidi Wills, was out of town during the June 3 standoff.)

When Wills returned and sided with McIver's plan, President Steinbrueck--Nicastro's ally against earmarking more money for homebuyers--went into deal-making mode. Steinbrueck's "compromise" looked very much like McIver's earlier plan. "There comes a time when you have to stop hooting and hollering," Steinbrueck told me before the vote (after acknowledging he wasn't happy about the percentage of dollars going to homebuyer assistance). "Deals. That's what we do."

Admittedly, it's hardly a Satanic deal: The vast majority of levy dollars are going to renters, and the majority of that dough is going to the truly poor--people making less than $16,350. For this, the council deserves props.

But the push to increase homebuyer assistance dollars (which was sheepishly justified in racial terms--i.e., getting housing equity to people of color) was ultimately bad policy. And Nicastro deserves applause for saying so.

Appropriately, she got some: An older woman in the front row cheered when Nicastro cast the defiant vote. Nicastro should keep that applause in mind when the booing, sure to come, begins.