Former Seattle City Council member and East Precinct Seattle police sergeant John Manning, a 47-year-old barrel of a guy with a warm smile, easy manner, and a passion for the city, sure seems like one of the most viable candidates to set his sights on city hall this season. Sticking to a compelling rap about "redefining public safety" so it includes investment in people and human services rather than just law and order, the former cop speaks sincerely (even poetically) about the days when he led community policing efforts to fight crime on Cherry Street between 23rd Avenue and 26th Avenue.

Manning lives in Rainier Beach, and he filed candidate papers on April 21. While he hasn't decided which seat he's running for, Manning says he's planning to challenge incumbent council member and public safety chair Jim Compton.

As appealing a candidate as Manning is, he's also got a serious handicap: Manning was elected to the city council in 1995 and had to resign after less than a year in office after getting arrested for breaking into his estranged wife's home in December 1996. (He wound up pleading guilty to two misdemeanors.) That arrest followed an earlier domestic incident and arrest in October '96 when Manning "grabbed and moved around" his wife, as he recently characterized it to me.

Manning has his rap down on this ugly subject too. He says his 18-month, court-mandated domestic violence counseling was "enlightening" and helped him get in touch with unresolved personal issues related to his father and "abandonment." He says running for reelection won't open any old wounds because the wound is healed. "I can show you the scar," Manning says.

He's since remarried and has two young children. He now works for Windermere Real Estate in southeast Seattle. He also says his former wife "supports" his campaign--although his ex-wife makes it clear that she hasn't "endorsed" him.

Manning's willingness to discuss the incidents of domestic violence that forced him to leave the city council six years ago is commendable (he wisely addressed it head on in the press release accompanying his candidacy announcement) and he gives the impression that he would bring a sense of maturity to city hall. His read on the current city council is that there's too much bickering and "high school politics." He also believes that small-minded battles are "hurting our economic viability."

It's hard to get a gauge on Manning's political leanings, and the idea of an ex-cop overseeing SPD policy may not appeal to community activists. While Manning thinks former Seattle City Attorney Mark Sidran's impound ordinance is "crazy," he supports controversial police tactics like buy busts and reverse buy busts. On non-police issues Manning thinks the biggest problem in Seattle is the lousy business climate, and he seems resigned to light rail--even though his community in South Seattle wanted an elevated system.

Many city hall watchers dismiss Manning's effort to return to city hall, but Manning may surprise people--especially Compton. Manning defeated an incumbent city council member (the disastrous Sherry Harris) in his first run for office, and while Manning faces a tougher challenge this time out (he has baggage and Compton is hardly a Harris), Manning is sincere and thoughtful. And most refreshing, he doesn't come across--as so many of Seattle's politicians do nowadays--as part of the Democratic machine. If he raises the $200,000 he promises to (without being part of that machine), he could be one of the most interesting candidates this year.