At the Judy Nicastro party at the Collins Pub on Second Avenue and Yesler Street, the crowd started out small and subdued and the party went downhill from there. As the first results, mostly absentee ballots from older voters, showed her trailing former Seattle Times columnist Jean Godden, 56 to 44 percent, Nicastro put a brave face on the results. "Hey, we expected this," the tough-talking incumbent said, and then smiled, adding, "I do not do well with the early absentee voters." Her political consultant, election veteran Blair Butterworth, was clearly in a down mood. If Nicastro, tainted by the brouhaha over Strippergate, had won 45 percent of the early absentees, she would have a better chance, he said standing by the television as he anxiously awaited the next batch of votes just after 9:00 p.m.
The second vote batch did not come in until 10:00 p.m., and Nicastro's numbers did not improve much, with Godden still leading by a 54-46 margin.
Meanwhile, the Godden party in a small upstairs room of the Pyramid Alehouse in SoDo was hopping. The spread was impressive, with huge cheese trays sided by platters of crackers, bowls of hummus, and roasted vegetables. A number of Seattle notables were in attendance, including monorail advocates Joel Horn and Tom Weeks, and, ironically, monorail opponent Henry Aronson.
Jean Godden is no Jackie Onassis. She isn't Lady Bird Johnson. Hell, she isn't even Nancy Reagan. But Godden's patrician pretenses and prefab promises to bring "maturity" to the Seattle City Council appeared to have been enough to convince a majority of voters to pick the 72-year-old champion of Old Seattle over Nicastro. From the early days of her campaign, Godden surrounded herself with an aura of inevitability--and a wall of mystery, shying away from public appearances and sending campaign staffers to represent her at public forums. Perhaps she was afraid voters would find out what she stood for, which appears to be very little.
For her part, Nicastro spent much of her time on the council on the defensive. She's been lambasted not only for her role in Strippergate, but for her "Judy-cam" proposal, and for campaign tactics that have been erratic at times. But despite a few embarrassing missteps, Nicastro has been a lone, outspoken voice for many things The Stranger cares about: tenants, low-income housing, and urban density. (As a preview of things to come, just one day before she was defeated, Nicastro's attempt to protect tenants and ban unfair third-party water billing practices was defeated, five to three.) Nicastro's stand against the low-income housing levy--which she opposed because she felt too much of the "low-income" levy was being diverted to help middle-class Seattleites purchase homes--along with her legislation making it easier for tenants to sue landlords who retaliate, her attempts to rein in Sound Transit, and her efforts to increase density in low-rise, anti-growth Seattle--were principled positions, not calculated campaign ploys.
After the second round of votes came in, Judy tried to sound upbeat, saying: "Well, the margin went my way... it's better than if it had gone the other way." Nicastro predicted the vote would come down to the absentees and we wouldn't know the result until next week. Judy gave a long thank-you speech to her staff, volunteers, family and friends, hitting all her basic themes: she's independent, she took on the mayor's budget, she's proud of her vote against the housing levy. Perhaps the most telling, maybe even poignant moment of the speech came when she hyped the third-party billing legislation Sadly, at press time it looked like we may lose that kind of legislation altogether.
Godden offered criticisms, but few alternatives. If Nicastro does lose, her voice on the council will be missed.
One party that was hopping Tuesday night was Tom Rasmussen's, the nice gay man with impeccable liberal credentials, who led hectoring schoolmarm Margaret Pageler 53-47 at 10:00 p.m. At a Belltown condo, a packed room of raucous Rasmussen fans drank, cheered, and celebrated. Rasmussen's partner, Clayton Lewis, was positive about the early results: "Margaret was very negative for the last few days. We thought we'd tighten up, but we actually improved our margins."
And if bad girl Nicastro was in trouble, good girl Heidi Wills was faring even worse. The first vote tallies, showing Wills trailing challenger David Della, prompted an audible grown from an otherwise quiet crowd of 75 Wills partisans huddling at the Merchant's Cafe in Pioneer Square. Wills continued to trail by a 52-48 margin as the next set of votes were counted. Wills, however, was her typical upbeat self, all smiles as she touted her campaign's last-minute get-out-the-vote effort.
There were no candidates in the most important election of the night: Charter Amendment No. 5, which called for replacing the current at-large system of city council elections with a districts-based system that proponents say would empower residents of the city's diverse neighborhoods. After leading early in the evening,. districts was losing, 51 to 48 percent, at press time. Eighty percent of the anti-districts campaign dough came from big donors in $5,000 hits from folks like Vulcan, Safeco, and Boeing. In short, on the biggest issue on the ballot, the deeply flawed status quo was not changed tonight. And while Pageler's apparent defeat was a triumph for Seattle progressives, the fading fortunes of Nicastro and Wills, and the triumph of Cathy Allen's politics of vacuousness do not bode well for Seattle progressives.