There's a telltale sign that Mayor Greg Nickels has turned into Mark Sidran, the conservative he ran against in 2001.

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It's not that Nickels prioritizes downtown developers. There's a smart-growth impulse to Nickels's development agenda that keeps Nickels in the progressive corner.

It's not that Nickels got all Focus-on-the-Family about strip clubs. That's just election-year politicking—juvenile, but the kind of politicking you can expect from any politician, conservative or liberal.

It's not that Nickels likes to steamroll his agenda through the council instead of honoring Seattle's penchant for process. Liberals can be assholes too, and we need more pushy liberals. And it's not even that Nickels pulled the plug on the monorail, Seattle's populist mass-transit project. There was a shitload of controversy hounding the monorail, and Nickels made a political decision to side with the majority of anti-monorail newspaper columnists and editorial boards in town. That's disappointing coming from a mayor who likes to think he's brave, but still, it doesn't make him a conservative.

No, the telltale sign of Nickels's transformation from blue to red showed up in last month's primary election results. Judging from those results, Nickels's handpicked council candidate, Casey Corr—the candidate that Team Nickels is doorbelling on behalf of, donating cash to, framing talking points for, and investing all its political capital in—is conservative Seattle's great white hope.

An analysis of the precinct results from the primary show that Nickels's boy Corr got walloped in South Seattle (he didn't win a single precinct in South Seattle's heavily minority-populated 37th District), but he won the few moneyed precincts throughout the rest of the city. In North Seattle's 46th District, which includes working-class neighborhoods like Northgate, Corr swept the pricey Laurelhurst enclave, but not much else. In the youthful and swinging 43rd District, which includes Capitol Hill and the U-District, Corr took old-money Madison Park, and that's about it. And in the 36th—the district that includes lefty Ballard—Corr nabbed richy-rich Magnolia. These precincts were Sidran turf in 2001—leafy stretches of fancy homes that were foreign territory to liberal Team Nickels four years ago.

Since Nickels faces half-baked competition this time around, the best way to gauge where Team Nickels is at in 2005 is to size up the real campaign they're running—the Corr campaign against Council President Jan Drago.

Corr likes to boast on the stump that he's running a doorbelling campaign—but he's clearly been doorbelling the conservative parts of town that went for Sidran in 2001. When I asked Corr if he had doorbelled in Seattle's densest neighborhoods—places like the Central District or Capitol Hill—Corr told me: "I still have work to do."

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Team Nickels, a savvy political machine, knows the first rule of politics: Don't waste time trying to change people's minds, just find the people that agree with you. Judging from the votes, Corr and Team Nickels believe that the people who agree with them live in Sidran's Seattle, red Seattle. What a difference four years make.

josh@thestranger.com

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