Bob Ferguson, candidate for King County Council, is a trim, boyish 38-year-old who looks at least a decade younger. He sports an unfashionable, middle-parted mop of dusty brown hair and a set of prim wire-framed glasses that give him a patrician, if slightly anachronistic, appearance. Some, including his opponent, incumbent King County Council Chair Cynthia Sullivan, would argue that Ferguson's politics are as conservative as his appearance: Though an avowed Democrat, Ferguson supported a Tim Eyman-backed initiative that would have shrunk the county council from 13 members to nine. He's intrigued by freeway monorail, a light rail alternative that would run down the middle of I-5. And he believes Sound Transit should freeze funding for its costly light rail project before it tunnels deeper into King County's budget.

All of which would seem to be political suicide in the district Ferguson is seeking to take, a staunchly Democratic North Seattle swath that has, for the last 20 years, been represented by the pro-light-rail, anti-Eyman Sullivan. But on a recent doorbelling trek through the View Ridge neighborhood, on the northeastern edge of Sullivan's district, residents seemed receptive to Ferguson's message, though the majority of their questions--How do you feel about rent control? (Ferguson claims no position); whom do you support for president? (either Kerry or Dean)--had nothing to do with the county. "People want to get a sense of who you are," says Ferguson.

No one brings up Ferguson's most controversial position: his push to shrink the size of the county council, which at 13 members is among the largest of such bodies in the nation. Ferguson claims cutting the council by nearly a third could save the county $4 million a year. Sullivan, who took me out doorbelling in Wallingford later the same afternoon, disputes that figure, claiming the true savings would be more like $1.2 million. "It's hard to know why you would want to do it" given the relatively modest savings, Sullivan says. "Try telling people it's not a lot of money when the parks are getting closed and human services are being cut," Ferguson shoots back.

Ferguson's stance could be a political liability. Christian Sinderman, a consultant for Sullivan and frequent Eyman opponent, says Ferguson's association with Eyman may make him "DOA in [liberal] northeast Seattle." But Ferguson snorts at critics who lump him in with the anti-tax crusader, claiming that, as a Preston Gates & Ellis attorney, he spent "hundreds of hours" fighting Eyman's initiatives on behalf of cities like Seattle. He'll have to work hard to get that message across: Sullivan claims to have 65 percent name recognition in her district, and will likely outspend her opponent two to one. That's why Ferguson says he's personally knocking on the doors of every primary voter in the district--a minimum, Ferguson says, of 20,000 doors in all.

For those who believe in omens, here's an anecdote: While Ferguson and I were meandering through the manicured streets of View Ridge, a crow started tagging along behind us, crying out every couple of feet. After following us for about a block, the bird flew into the air and lighted on Ferguson's head, flapping its wings wildly as a panicked Ferguson (who yelled out, "Shit!"--probably a major lapse for the lifelong Catholic) nearly fell to the ground. The next day, figuring I might take the crow attack as a sorry sign for his fledgling campaign, Ferguson sent along a little crow symbology. Turns out crows can be either good or bad omens. For some, the birds mean impending death. But for others, the crow is a symbol of optimism and hope. Perhaps Ferguson can take comfort from that.