Jean Godden, the former Seattle Times columnist who's challenging Seattle City Council Member Judy Nicastro this November, is following a time-tested formula in her attempt to topple the divisive incumbent: Choose a controversial opponent; stage a splashy last-minute kickoff; and position yourself as an "objective" candidate who "asks the tough questions," conveniently enabling you to sidestep those very questions.

It's a formula that worked for council incumbent Jim Compton, another media-city hall crossover candidate, who beat former state rep Dawn Mason in 1999. Godden's campaign consultant, Cathy Allen, who orchestrated Compton's '99 campaign, is hoping it will prove equally effective for her current client. Following the Allen-Compton playbook, Godden came on strong in July with a headline-grabbing last-minute entry into Nicastro's crowded race. Unlike Compton, however, she hasn't made much of a case for herself since. If Godden does win, it will be in spite of her own lackluster performance on the campaign trail.

So far, Godden's strategy has been to position herself as the "mature" alternative to the "youthful" (38-year-old), flaky Nicastro. Speaking at a Wedgwood campaign forum Thursday night, October 2, the 72-year-old Godden said her race was about "judgment and experience," a subtle dig at the single-term incumbent. Some observers think Godden's all-spin, no-substance campaign could backfire. John Wyble, a consultant who worked for another Nicastro primary challenger, Kollin Min, says Godden needs to "define herself" now that it's Judy vs. Jean. "She may be able to win without [saying] where she stands on the issues, but she's going to [finish] stronger if she does."

Judging from Godden's performance at last week's back-to-back North End forums, it's clear Godden is following Allen's game plan--not Wyble's. From her stage-right perch in the Eckstein Middle School auditorium Thursday night, Godden was gracious, charming, and almost painfully nonspecific, answering questions with platitudes ("The participation in crafting the [neighborhood] plans is what makes Seattle a wonderful place"), amusing anecdotes ("In the '80s, when we raised the price of parking, everybody joked that we'd have to carry around bags and bags of quarters"), and unilluminating generalities ("I have a passion for Seattle"). That's not the kind of energetic, issue-driven campaign that proved successful for Compton, who started out--much like Godden--with a newsman's resumé and zero political experience. The difference is, once Compton made it into the general election, he got specific. Godden hasn't.

Nor has she shown much interest in campaigning; at an environmental forum last Wednesday, October 1, Godden was a notable no-show, sending a proxy to fill in for her scheduled 20-minute appearance. (Turns out it was Godden's birthday, though that didn't keep her from showing up--along with Allen--at a fundraiser for gubernatorial candidate Christine Gregoire that night. The fundraiser took place, oddly enough, at the home of Nicastro campaign manager Linda Mitchell.) If Godden wins, it won't be a surprise. But for voters hoping for an experienced, hard-working council member who takes controversial stands, it may be a disappointment.

barnett@thestranger.com

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