Al Runte, a rumpled former UW professor who won almost a third of the vote against Mayor Greg Nickels in 2005, is on a roll. Towering over his four opponents on a makeshift stage in the University Heights Community Center, Runte explains his philosophy. It boils down, basically, to this: Developers, especially Paul Allen, have too much power; the city spends its money in the wrong places; the council has failed to listen to the neighborhoods. Runte would put neighborhoods first, tax developers to pay for open space, and reorient the city's priorities toward basic infrastructure. "The developers are not interested in paying fees—they're interested in making you pay their fees for them," Runte says.
Runte is in a race for the open seat on the city council—the seat being vacated by Peter Steinbrueck next year. Despite the crowded field, he believes he has a shot at making it through the primary—and, potentially, winning it all. This same belief motivates virtually every long-shot candidate for local office: the conviction that somehow, despite a shoestring budget, strong competition, and low name recognition, they will be the one who makes it through against all odds. Here's a look at some of the long shots and also-rans in this year's council races.
Position 1 (Jean Godden)
Lauren Briel, Robert Sondheim
Lauren Briel, a cheerful 28-year-old sales manager for the Urban Mobility Group, an affiliate of the Downtown Seattle Association that promotes transit, knows she's a long shot for the seat currently held by Jean Godden. A New Jersey native with no past political experience, Briel has raised just $2,300—a sore spot for the first-time candidate, who notes that many organizations that issue endorsements won't even interview a candidate who's raised less than $10,000. "The thing I've probably been most disappointed in is that no one cares how talented you are or what you could possibly bring to the city council. All they care about is how much money you have." Briel's platform centers on improving Seattle parks and making them safer, keeping well-educated people from leaving Seattle, and improving the city's transportation system.
Robert Sondheim is the owner of Capitol Hill's Rosebud restaurant and a longtime fixture in that neighborhood's business community. "I think if [Godden] focuses all of her attention on [front-running Green challenger] Joe [Szwaja], I might slip in under the wire," he says. Sondheim, who was also a candidate for appointment to the open seat vacated by Jim Compton in 2006, is focusing his campaign on police and neighborhood businesses. "There is lawlessness on the streets. We need more police walking beats in the neighborhoods." So far, Sondheim has not reported any contributions.
Position 3 (open seat)
Al Runte, Scott Feldman, John Manning
Al Runte, who lists his occupation as "independent scholar" on candidate questionnaires, could not be accused of lacking a healthy ego. The former professor (he was denied tenure) frequently presents himself as the only solution to Seattle's problems. However, there is something about his anti-developer, pro-neighborhood populism that could be appealing to a segment of Old Seattle. Runte contends that "there's no such thing as a tax break—it just falls on somebody else," and promises that, if elected, he'll push to impose a $500-per-unit "impact fee" on residential developers to pay for open space—the same impact fee that was sidelined by Mayor Nickels earlier this year. Runte would also like to refocus the police department on neighborhood policing, and he opposes a proposed four-story parking garage in Woodland Park.
Runte hopes to raise $150,000 for his campaign through small ($50 and $100) donations; he has just under $2,000 so far.
Scott Feldman, an unemployed technology marketing manager, was not able to reach The Stranger by press time. (We did trade calls.) At a candidate forum last week, Feldman hit his signature issues: a surface/transit solution for the Alaskan Way Viaduct and keeping the Sonics in Seattle. He has reported no contributions.
This is John Manning's third attempt to get back on the city council; Manning resigned in 1995 over domestic-violence charges.
Position 9 (Sally Clark)
Judy Fenton, Stan Lippman,Bob Brown III
Judy Fenton, also known as the lady who wants to get rid of the nude statue of a father and son that sits at the entrance to the Olympic Sculpture Park, insists she cares about plenty of other issues than the "controversial" sculpture. (She says the nudity is inappropriate for a public park.) She also wants to expand capacity on the Alaskan Way Viaduct, increase the size of the police force, budget more for road maintenance, and reverse the city's focus on density and transit. "We've had three decades of trying to get people to do mass transit," Fenton says. "I think we're giving it too much hope." Fenton, a self-employed food concessionaire, "military wife," and mother of six, has not raised any money so far.
Stan Lippman is making his umpteenth run for public office; Bob Brown III is a retired firefighter who would not take down my number and did not return my call. [For The Stranger's take on the front-runners, see "Primary Primer," Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit, June 14.]