Given The Stranger's long-standing opposition to Sound Transit's light rail project, our endorsement of Sound Transit die-hard Greg Nickels certainly calls for an explanation. (Heck, in 1999, when we endorsed Nickels for a fourth term on the King County Council, we warned that Nickels was "a little too starry-eyed about light rail"--and man, were we right about that.) So what's our deal? Is our Nickels support simply a side effect of our Sidran creeps? No.

The answer: We believe King County Council Member Greg Nickels, 46, has paid his dues for 14 years as one of this town's hardest-working politicians, establishing a commitment to Seattle that will bring the kind of horsepower to city hall that's been missing for years.

Schooled in the bratty partisan environment of the King County Council, where Republicans hold a 7-6 majority, Democratic frontman Nickels has had to scrap for increased bus funding, growth boundary protections, and social services spending, while warding off misguided Republican demands like changing Metro policy so Seattle couldn't get any new transit dollars until places like Redmond and Issaquah were getting as much.

We believe Nickels' ability to stare down county Republicans like Rob McKenna, Pete von Reichbauer, and Chris Vance (not to mention Sheriff Dave Reichert) in these bristly partisan battles has prepared Nickels for the ugly political combat that's on tap at city hall for police accountability, increasing neighborhood density, and preserving affordable housing. With stalwart foes like the Police Guild and real-estate developers to contend with, Nickels' experience sparring against the Republican majority at the county level will serve him well.

Not only is Nickels battle-ready, but his left-of-center Democratic values match the ideals of Seattle voters, voters who send liberals like Jay Inslee and Jim McDermott to Washington, D.C. and vote 66 percent for Al Gore. While it's wonky (and, at times, dull stuff), Nickels' record on the county council and the King County Board of Health adds up to reflect these liberal priorities. For example, as chair of the King County Board of Health, Nickels made Seattle the first city in the country to outlaw outdoor tobacco ads, and passed a comprehensive countywide food-safety inspection program. On the county council, in addition to dueling with Republicans for Democratic line items like restoring $23,000 to help fund the Tenants Union and $25,000 for low-income legal aid services, Nickels co-authored the 1989 Open Space Bond Issue, passed a program to preserve private lands as green space through property tax incentives (the program has preserved over 5,000 acres in King County), and led the fight to establish a five-year pilot program to improve child-care wages in daycare centers in South and East King County.

As for being "starry-eyed" about Sound Transit, Nickels is brazenly unapologetic. "I will break ground on light rail," he recently boomed in a KIRO radio debate with Sidran. "I will end this 30-year delay. No more votes. No more delays." For a guy Sidran accuses of being hampered by process, Nickels is downright impatient: "The people know where I stand. Mark has been all over the map on this. Mark has offered no substantive plan. He's only offered delay, indecision, more studies, and more votes. I will build light rail."

As much as we disagree with him on this issue, we think Nickels' indomitable spirit on light rail is good news. Nickels' long-term engagement--his obsession--with transportation will ultimately work to force action on the issue that's at the top of everyone's list. Meanwhile, his opponent has zero experience tackling transportation. (Talking to Republican Rob McKenna doesn't count as experience, Mark.) Sidran's namby-pamby campaign drivel about looking at light rail and the monorail and getting "the biggest bang for our buck" is akin to shrugging his shoulders. That's not the kind of passion we need on this pressing issue.

And remember--unlike Sidran, Nickels is a legit and longtime monorail advocate (he even tried to funnel $50,000 from Sound Transit to the monorail board for a monorail study in January 2000). He also jump-started the Sounder project and worked diligently to shore up our bus system.

Send a Democrat to the city hall. Vote Nickels.

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