During this season's city council election, the forces of darkness wanted voters to believe that junkies, panhandlers, and homeless people were the city's power brokers. The Seattle P-I (remember David Horsey's stupid cartoon depicting panhandlers mugging grannies for campaign contributions?) and the moneyed group, Safe Streets and Parks for All ("Seattle's Top Rich Fascists," Nov 11), spun candidates as either for or against pissing in public, and seemed to be warning the electorate that ghastly street people were going to storm the Bastille and win special rights if certain candidates were elected.

The litmus test for candidates was the set of ordinances known as "civility laws"--which includes things like 1994's no-sitting-on-the-sidewalk ordinance and 1997's parks exclusion law. The laws were written in City Attorney Mark Sidran's office. According to Safe Streets, the candidates who would uphold Sidran's Seattle and head off the homeless block were Jim Compton, Heidi Wills, Margaret Pageler, and Cheryl Chow. In newspaper advertisements and mass mailings, these four candidates pledged not to repeal the laws. With the exception of Chow--who lost by less than a percentage point to the indomitable populist campaign of Stranger-endorsed Judy Nicastro--the guardians of "civility" won. (Let's be clear: These laws are not about civility. Given the chilling example of the parks exclusion ordinance--which, according to an ACLU study, disproportionately targets minorities--this set of laws is about appeasing powerful people who want to sweep class divisions under the carpet, rather than dealing with root causes.)

As you can see from the chart above, current council members Jan Drago, Margaret Pageler, and Richard Conlin have consistently sided with Sidran, while Nick Licata, Richard McIver, and Peter Steinbrueck have not. With the election of Compton and Wills and the re-election of Pageler, the Sidran block has held one vote and added two. Add Nicastro to the anti-Sidran block, and the equation stands at five to four in favor of the forces of darkness.

There's an outside chance that Wills could be a swing vote. Wills told this paper that her "first priority" is "going after the Teen Dance Ordinance." The TDO is not a "Sidran ordinance," but it's redolent of the same "orderly" mindset. Wills also says she supports "repeal or significant changes" to the poster ban.

Even if Wills comes through as a swing vote, it looks like the civility laws won't be repealed, and the most we can hope for is preventing more Sidran junk from earning an automatic rubber stamp. The parks exclusion law and the no-sitting ordinance have withstood court challenges. The Noise Ordinance, amended in council, has been approved by the music-industry lobbying group JAMPAC. Opponents of the poster ban were not even able to gather enough signatures to put an initiative challenging it on the ballot this year.

Licata's office says the best bet for people concerned with the civility laws is to pressure the council to "be more vigilant" in the future, when Sidran's office tries to download more Giuliani garbage into Seattle.

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