It wasn't the ending Richard Conlin was hoping for, but at least it was an ending.
On Monday, January 23, as Jan Drago handed off her gavel to Nick Licata, hugged the new council president awkwardly, and took Licata's former seat on the dais, a month of intrigue and infighting over the council presidency ended. The appointment of Licata, a dark-horse candidate many laughed off as too liberal and unconventional to lead the council, came as a surprise to many on the second floor. But in a way, it made perfect sense: Licata won his last election with more than 80 percent of the vote, and, in his third term, is one of the council's more senior members.
For the past month, ever since the resignation of Conlin supporter Jim Compton, the council had been in a stalemate, split 4-4 between Jean Godden and Conlin. Committee meetings, council business, even the appointment of a new council member were put on hold while the council dickered over who would sit in the center of the dais. The council finally broke through its deadlock this weekend, when Licata won the support of four council colleagues and Conlin agreed to withdraw from the race.
Licata, a former commune resident, provided few clues about what, exactly, would be different during his presidency, offering only that he would "be fair and open ... the same skills that got me through 25 years in a collective household." But it's a fairly safe prediction that the council will have a less-chummy, more-adversarial relationship with the mayor than under Drago—something Mayor Nickels tacitly foreshadowed with a tepid press release commending Licata for his work with "the arts and open space" on Monday.
Everyone, including Conlin, seemed relieved that the drama was over. As Tom Rasmussen, who returned from South America to prevent Godden supporters from ramming through a vote on the presidency in his absence, quipped, "This mini-drama, which... even reached the depths of South America, is finally coming to a close. And with it, what we thought was going to be the never-ending presidency of Council Member Drago is coming to an end as well."
Council members also seemed relieved that the presidency wouldn't be a factor in their choice of a new colleague. However, the six-person shortlist, which consists of six women, five of them minorities, has come under scrutiny for possibly violating I-200, which bars them from considering race as a factor in hiring. According to right-wing blogger Stefan Sharkansky, at least one unsuccessful council candidate has "indicated plans to take legal action against the city council" for "discriminating" against white and/or male candidates. At least four members have said publicly that the winning candidate would likely be a minority woman; according to City Attorney Tom Carr, council members "can consider [race and gender] as factors to promote diversity" as long as they don't vote based on race. The would-be plaintiff had not returned a message sent through Sharkansky by press time.
Even if a lawsuit was ultimately unsuccessful, staffers worry that a temporary injunction could leave the council with just eight members—exactly the situation that has prevented them from moving forward with their business since Compton left office.