Only a handful of strippers turned out Monday, October 3, to witness the city council's 5-4 vote to ban lap dances, prohibit direct tipping, and require bright lighting in strip clubs—and they were almost outnumbered by lawyers, who promised a legal challenge once Mayor Greg Nickels signs the legislation.
The surprisingly close decision (until recently, only Peter Steinbrueck was willing to defy Seattle's prudish strip-club regulations) was very nearly thwarted by Nick Licata, who proposed amendments that would have dropped the four-foot rule, loosened the lighting requirement, and ditched a ridiculous provision requiring a "continuous railing at least three feet" high. Ultimately, all three amendments failed on 5-4 votes (with Licata, Steinbrueck, Jean Godden, and Tom Rasmussen dissenting), though not without fireworks: At one particularly tense moment, ban sponsor Richard McIver (who, like two of his four cohorts, faces a tough reelection battle) attempted to shout down Steinbrueck, who was arguing that "no one knows" what "a minimum lighting level of 30 lux horizontal," as required by the legislation, means. "We had a presentation, maybe you weren't there. But most of the city council knows what that means," McIver said.
"Thanks for interrupting me," Steinbrueck shot back crisply.
"You're welcome," McIver snapped.
The strip-club debate wasn't all terse parliamentary one-upmanship. Opponents of the rules, including a newly voluble Godden (reportedly cajoled by female city-hall staffers to speak out against the ban) spoke movingly about why she felt the new rules were a mistake. "It seems to me there is a bit of paternalism here," Godden said. "For too long, men have tried to tell women what kind of work they could do. In my own career, my adviser told me to quit my career in journalism because women would never be allowed in the newsroom. I thank God he was wrong, and I think we're wrong today."
Ban opponents did score one significant (if Pyrrhic) victory: The new rules won't take effect until the mayor comes up with zoning regulations saying where strip clubs can be located—something the council, particularly Steinbrueck, has been demanding for the past two years.
Last week, defending himself against charges that he'd violated the city's ethics code by producing an eight-page election-year flier touting his accomplishments on city time, the mayor asked his legal counsel, Regina LaBelle, to call Council Member Licata to tell him that Nickels was using Licata's own periodic (and Ethics-approved) newsletter, "Nick's Notes," in his defense against the ethics charge.
If Nickels's election-year flier is a violation of the city's ethics code, isn't LaBelle's call defending Nickels's campaign mailer, made on city time, an even bigger violation? Probably not, argues Ethics Director Wayne Barnett, who points out that the mayor frequently uses the city attorney's office to defend himself. But the city attorney, unlike LaBelle, doesn't answer directly to the mayor, making an ethical conflict less likely. So far, no one has filed a complaint about LaBelle's use of city time to defend Nickels's mailing.