by Erica C. Barnett, Josh Feit, and Amy Jenniges

City hall incumbents were on display last week, getting the campaign engines going. The Stranger's news squad crashed the parties.

Who:

Heidi Wills

Where: Wild Ginger, Third and Union

When: Wednesday, June 4, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

What: Two spunky, beaming, and formally dressed University of Washington sophomores (Caetlin and Ryan) greeted folks at the top of Wild Ginger's glossy, winding black banister and cement staircase, collecting the $50 to $100 suggested donation and letting folks into the restaurant's loft space. Hosted by "Seattle's Leading Ladies"--including Council Member Jan Drago, former Deputy Mayor Maud Daudon, and SAM bigwig Mimi Gates--Wills' fundraiser was "certainly not Barney's of New York, but definitely Town Square of Nordstrom," as one attendee put it, describing the preppy crowd. In short, pure Heidi "Whitey" Wills.

The architects, pretty Preston Gates attorneys, and tech lobbyists crowded in amid the black-tile bar, soft curving yellow couches, dimly glowing candles, brown velvet chairs, and pan-Asian spread (served by slim handsome guys in black aprons) and applauded as Wills gave her speech.

They couldn't quite hear her over the restaurant din, but so what: They really didn't need to hear Wills. Like the room, Wills--wearing a stiff blue jacket and skirt--is all presentation. That's not to say Wills doesn't know her shit. When you could hear what she was saying, it was an obscure factoid about low-income utility assistance or something. But specifics seemed unimportant to the guests, who are enamored with Wills' image as a worker bee who stumps for chardonnay-sipping, NPR-listening do-gooder values on their behalf.

Message: One Day, I Will Be Maria Cantwell

Head count: 85

Money raised: $12,000

No-show: Maria Cantwell

Who: Judy Nicastro

Where: Boomtown Cafe, Third and Jackson

When: Wednesday, June 4, 5:30-8:00 p.m.

What: While her high-rolling colleague Heidi Wills hobnobbed with a decorative assortment of ladies who lunch, Judy Nicastro worked a decidedly more proletarian crowd at the Boomtown Cafe. No pan-Asian dainties here; the grub was rec-room-party basic, with Busch beer to wash down the peanuts, veggies, and dip served straight from the tub. The fundraiser--Nicastro's "official" kickoff is actually on Wednesday, June 11--was attended by a small but enthusiastic crowd of housing and homelessness activists.

Maybe it was just the heat, but everyone seemed to be suffering a bit of collective amnesia. When I rattled off some positions Nicastro had taken last year that weren't in sync with those of the activists--voting for a $6 million giveaway to developer Richard Hedreen, signing off on South Lake Union redevelopment, and opposing the low-income housing levy--housing activist John Fox, who helped coordinate the event, just shook his head and said he was still "weighing" those votes against good things Nicastro had done.

Nicastro, wearing a summery flowered dress and looking a bit flushed from the heat, didn't tiptoe around the housing levy issue. "I believe it's government's job to help the neediest first. [The levy dedicated some money to homeownership for middle-income folks.] I am unmovable on this issue," Nicastro told the cheering crowd.

Mythologizing about herself as an "independent, feisty, courageous woman," Nicastro lashed out at Mayor Greg Nickels. "I will continue to go out on a limb" against the mayor, she vowed, noting her opposition to Nickels' Northgate redevelopment plan and his decision to increase his office budget while cutting city services. "None of my colleagues wanted to talk about it," she said of the mayor's budget increase. Council President Peter Steinbrueck was the only city council member who turned out for her event--and he quietly stepped out the door a mere 10 minutes into the evening.

Message: The poor and needy are my constituents--at least until my "official" kickoff.

Head count: About 100

Money raised: $2,000

No-show: Housing Resources Group director Jim Ferris, who's supporting challenger Kollin Min.

Who: Peter Steinbrueck

Where: Top of the Market, Pike Place Market

When: Thursday, June 5, 6:00-8:00 p.m.

What: Rather than mingling, City Council President Peter Steinbrueck--wearing a blue oxford and a cell phone clipped to his tan slacks--rooted himself at the door, greeting everyone who entered the high-ceilinged, wood-floored, sunny room with a hug or a handshake. The crowd wasn't so much a who's-who of Seattle as it was a cross section of the city: NIMBY activists, downtown business folks, lefties like John Fox, monorail geeks, and the regular North End "suburban" crowd. Adding to the folksy feel, former Governors Mike Lowry and Al Rosellini showed up--and there was even a jazz act of twentysomething Garfield and Roosevelt High alums.

The casual affair (the picnic spread featured veggies, hummus, and chicken kebabs) made it plain that popular Steinbrueck has little to prove. Still, he is a politician: He showed a gushing two-minute video featuring testimonials from housing activists, and he gave a speech that subtly stung the mayor's neighborhood proposals. Steinbrueck said the community should be consulted before we "remodel the city." A bit more relaxed after his pitch, the boyishly handsome pol mingled with the affectionate crowd.

Message: Seattle Loves Me

Head count: About 150

Money raised: $8,000

No-show: Chief Seattle

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