Peter Steinbrueck has been making himself scarce.
The former member of the Seattle City Council disappeared for a month, ignoring reporters' calls, then reemerged mysteriously at a Belltown cocktail party last weekend, where he announced to anyone who would listen that he has not decided whether to run for mayor. Despite the fact that politicians like to disguise their intentions for as long as possible, I believe him: Steinbrueck hates dialing for dollars, his family reportedly doesn't want him to run, he isn't sure if he wants to make an eight-year commitment ("Which is what it ought to be," he said—a swipe at Mayor Nickels's attempt to win an unprecedented third term), and he never had a real opponent in eight years on the city council, a seat he won twice with overwhelming majorities.
Nonetheless, Steinbrueck can win—and more easily than he thinks. Here's how:
(1) By uniting Nickels's enemies. Steinbrueck—perhaps uniquely among Seattle politicians—has the ability to unite both wings of the Anybody But Nickels camp: left-wingers who support both protections for trees and increased density near transit stops, and conservative Old Seattleites who feel abandoned by Nickels and his downtown-centric policies.
(2) By being a real person, not a cardboard-cutout frontman for a political machine. Although he first got elected on a just-folks "Seattle Way" platform, Nickels has increasingly dissociated himself from regular people, hiding in his seventh-floor City Hall office and leaving most day-to-day contact with the press and the public to Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis. In contrast, Steinbrueck is open, accessible, and on good terms with the press—a huge asset when running against an entrenched incumbent.
(3) By articulating a vision of Seattle that's both green and affordable. Affordable-housing advocates have tried to marginalize environmental advocates as opponents of low-income people—portraying them as elitists who want to force everyone in Seattle to live in tiny, expensive "shoebox" apartments. Steinbrueck—a true environmentalist who also understands that density is greener than single-family sprawl—is one of the few politicians who can bridge the gap between affordable-housing activists and Seattle's environmental movement.
(4) By running a truly grassroots campaign. Other potential Nickels opponents have been intimidated out of running by Nickels's fundraising machine. But the Nickels juggernaut isn't as formidable as it appears. Nickels has less than $200,000 on hand, and many potential donors have already maxed out. If anyone can run a truly grassroots campaign—that is, one based on word of mouth and widespread dissatisfaction with Nickels—it's Steinbrueck, an experienced, popular politician who offers an alternative vision for Seattle's future.
Oh, and if Peter doesn't run, my boss is going to.