On Monday, in the drippy chill of a mid- December Seattle morning, a hundred or so viaduct partisans wearing green buttons emblazoned "The Tunnel--Dig It!" gathered under a sagging canopy to laud the city's choice of the tunnel (also hyped by Mayor Greg Nickels in a Times editorial one day earlier) as its "preferred" viaduct replacement alternative. Tripping over sodden wires and mopping the moisture from their hair, dozens of dignitaries clustered around Mayor Nickels, whose microphone, despite the elaborate electronic setup, stubbornly refused to yield a peep.

Two city council members merit mention here: One for his conspicuous absence, the other for his recent (deathbed?) conversion. Nick Licata, the longest holdout for the wack-a-doodle-doo "retrofit" option (which even he has since abandoned) skipped the conference to run an errand, saying later, "I'm not gonna get on board until they show me the money." (Jim Compton also bailed on the conference, but no one, including the mayor, seemed to notice.)

The second noteworthy council member was transportation chair Richard Conlin, who until just weeks ago seemed open to the People's Waterfront Coalition's smart, progressive no-highway option. So much for dissent: The Conlin I saw at the mayor's press conference was a changed man, spouting floridly about freeing "the stunning shores of Elliott Bay from the gray shadow of the concrete monolith that looms over us like the walls of a castle." Could Conlin's sudden change of heart have had anything to do with the (also looming) presence of Port Commissioner Paige Miller, who's all but announced her intention to run against Conlin in 2005? As one observer put it later, Conlin--who has been on the opposite side of every major transportation issue, including the popular monorail, from his council colleagues--"has finally seen the light."

The Times' decision to run the mayor's editorial had at least one unintended consequence: Another Times op-ed, co-written by Nickels and Licata, was spiked after Times editors realized they'd scheduled two pieces by the mayor in less than a month, in violation of Times policy. The editorial, a cry for help on behalf of two flailing theaters--ACT and Empty Space--encouraged "everyone... to commit in the New Year to making Seattle's live theater a more significant part of your life." It will run in a slightly different form, under Licata's byline, in the P-I next year.

As two arts organizations struggled for their lives, another got a sudden transfusion: On Monday, the King County Council voted to pour $500,000 into Seattle Opera's McCaw Hall. The cash is a windfall by any measure, but some city council members say it's been a long time coming. Several on the council believe the county offered a "verbal agreement" to help pay for the opera hall; but county council prez Larry Phillips says any council members who think the county promised anything are--and I quote--"hallucinating."

barnett@thestranger.com

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