It's the most melancholy of American political rituals: the Last Hurrah, the final campaign of politicians whom history has left behind, the clench-fingered grasp at a little larger place in history.

Charlie Chong is making his Last Hurrah, and for those of us who supported him in his earlier races for council, it's really quite sad to watch. Chong—once a firebrand populist—is running a dispirited, lame campaign, and is limping along on old ideas and name recognition. Given that his most formidable opponent, Heidi Wills, has been campaigning like mad, racing around the city at all hours of the day and night collecting money and voters, it seems that Chong is headed for a crushing and deserved defeat.

Wills has garnered nearly every endorsement worth having. She's already raised $71,500 (compared to Chong's $35,000), and plans to dial up another $30,000 before the primary. She's using that money to launch the Mother of All Mailers: 100,000 pamphlets, sent to every person in the city who is likely to vote in the primary and distributed city-wide by volunteers and supporting organizations. There will also be thousands and thousands of calls made on her behalf, both from her own phone bank efforts, and by groups like Washington Conservation Voters. She's even winning the yard sign race, with over 300 (compared to Chong's 200) gracing yards and parking medians around the city.

Wills is a brilliant campaigner, brilliant enough to scare a lot of people. And she's got the goods to back it up. She's smart and well-versed in growth issues like urban design, affordable housing, alternative transportation, and open space issues. And thanks to years of experience within government, she knows the details of these issues better than some sitting council members.

So, why isn't Chong out there challenging her on her ideas and telling us all why we should elect him, not Wills, to the council? He's not only been noticeably absent from key events, but even when you do catch him on the stump, he speaks in outdated generalities, rather than addressing real issues, such as where we're headed as a city and who will benefit and lose as Seattle becomes more dense, more wealthy, and more gentrified.

He's been absent because he's fighting the last war. The great glue keeping his support base together has always been anger: anger at property taxes, anger at corporate welfare, anger at developers who want to throw up high-rises full of renters and block neighborhood views. Charlie's brilliance in the past has been in banding unlikely groups together (Republicans, progressives, NIMBY types) with common enemies. He's not so skilled at building coalitions based on what he's for, which may be why Chong has never put forward much of a concrete plan for the city's future.

Instead of talking issues, Charlie's crowd keeps attacking Wills as a downtown pawn and raising the "Rohan Factor." Three years ago, Chong tore up challenger Bob Rohan, despite Rohan's having raised over $170,000 and gotten every endorsement in town. Chong's supporters have taken to chanting Rohan's name like a mantra, and compare him and Wills at every opportunity. "Heidi is pulling in all the squishy corporate liberals, getting this air of inevitability," Fox says. "She's running a Rohan campaign, except hers is better than his ever was. Still, the George W. Bush, female-style thing may impress campaign folks, but it doesn't mean that the general public trusts you. I think we'll win."

But Wills ain't Rohan, and this ain't 1996. In some ways, it's amazing how quickly three years can change a city. In 1996, Charlie seemed like a breath of fresh air, the only dissident voice on what otherwise looked like a council of downtown cronies and quislings. Now, with signs of Seattle's success all around us, three former activists (Nick Licata, Richard Conlin, and Peter Steinbrueck) on the council, and the prospect of at least a couple more progressives winning seats this year, Charlie looks like a relic.

Charlie Chong defined a moment in Seattle politics. That is a huge achievement. But as Jules Verne said, at any time there are only two parties that matter: the party of the past and the party of the future. Wills has got her eyes on the horizon. Charlie's time has sadly past.

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