On a day when precisely three spectators braved the first cold snap of the winter to watch the city council creak back into action with its inaugural post-holiday meeting, it was somewhat telling that the only thing anybody at city hall could talk about was the 2005 election--still a full 10 months away. Even Jan Drago's bizarre self-commendation--an apropos-of-nothing press release celebrating her 11 years on the council--could be seen as an electoral declaration of sorts: In a statement issued by council PR gal Jackie O'Ryan, Drago declaimed, "I see too well how much more hard work is still needed."

Drago, in other words, is running for reelection. So, it appears, is council vet Richard McIver, the other incumbent whose electoral future has recently been in question. The lack of an open council seat will force would-be challengers like (right-leaning) Port Commissioner Paige Miller and (waaaaay-left) King County Council Member Dwight Pelz to take on one of four entrenched incumbents. Miller's already made it clear that she's angling for the seat held by Richard Conlin, a wishy-washy enviro whose recent opposition to the monorail has alienated some of his onetime backers. (Though not, apparently, increasingly embattled monorail board member Cindi Laws, who met with Conlin to discuss the 2005 election--and to tell him definitively that she isn't running--just a few weeks back.)

As for Pelz: Rumors were flying Monday that the indefatigable politician had set his sights on McIver, a fellow South Ender and the only black member of the city council. (Pelz, a white resident of Mount Baker, blazed this ground before, in state legislative races against black opponents throughout the '90s.) McIver's support among the black community is seen as soft at best. He's also under fire from the Seattle Fire Fighters Union, which singled him out in its December newsletter as the only council member to vote against legislation that increased firefighter funding. Union leader Paul Atwater says the firefighters are "very disappointed in council member McIver's performance on public safety issues," adding, "We are definitely watching that race."

Challenging McIver, counterintuitive though it may seem, may be a smart move. Pelz has promised not to run against fellow lefty Nick Licata (who'll be opposed, most likely, by former Judy Nicastro foe Robert Rosencrantz), and would only split the vote with fellow strong contender Miller in a race against Conlin. And he'd be nuts to take on council president Drago, whose canny (if late) support for the monorail likely solidified her backing from organized labor.

Down the ballot, meanwhile, speculation was swirling in the unlikeliest of places: The Port Commission, where Miller's departure would leave an open seat, and where progressive incumbent Lawrence Molloy will likely face a challenge from a business-backed contender. Among the possible contenders for the two seats: former State Rep. Velma Veloria and former Mayor Charlie Royer, whom one observer described as the potential "300-pound gorilla" of the race.

barnett@thestranger.com

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