Fisken is a fifth-generation Seattleite, a downtown-business-connected, wealthy, older white guy. He's got deep ties to the oldest families in town, went to Yale and Harvard, and ran a business-publishing company for the last 10 years.
This background shows in his fundraising. Limo liberals have been sallying forth from their mansions and gated communities to support him, and corporate attorneys and the like make up a hefty chunk of his contributor list. He's raised $48,000 (mostly in large contributions from folks like super-developer Matt Griffin, the city's economic development czar Mary Jean Ryan, and a gaggle of lawyers from the powerhouse downtown law firm of Preston, Gates and Ellis).
Fisken will need that money for the tight race he's in. His two main opponents for city council seat #9, former state legislator Dawn Mason (with her strong activist base) and TV commentator Jim Compton (who's a familiar face to voters), seem likely to do well in the primary. But both Mason and Compton have weaknesses. Mason's confrontational style tends to put people on the defensive. Compton hasn't visibly defined his positions on any of the big issues, and seems to be coasting on name recognition alone. And still up for grabs are the big establishment prizes, such as the Times' and P-I's endorsements, and the Muni League's ratings. Fisken hopes to snatch up all three. With neither Mason nor Compton having defined themselves as the establishment candidate, this is a real possibility.
So, is Fisken the downtown candidate? Should we be worried about this guy?
Obviously, being wealthy and well connected is not a very strong set of credentials for public office. In fact, nothing makes me want to take the boots to a candidate more than the feeling that his primary qual-- ification is privilege. And Fisken can come off as pure Chamber of Commerce, saying he wouldn't repeal the parks exclusion ordinance, for example, and that "We've invested a huge amount [downtown] and I think a lot of those were good investments."
But before we start making flammable effigies of the guy, let's take a closer look. In many ways, Fisken surprises. While he's wonky and not very charming, he has obvious integrity. Lots of people don't like the company he keeps, but pretty much everyone seems to respect him. Compton's the one you'd want holding forth at your cocktail party; Mason's the one you'd want on your side in a bar fight; but Fisken is the neighbor you'd want to trust with your extra set of house keys.
We may need that kind of good housekeeping next year. His supporters point out that while our next council may swing toward the progressives, it is also likely to be the most rookie council in years. And the city bureaucracy has proven very effective at using the arcana of the budget process to protect various departments' turfs and stymie council members' new priorities. The very qualities that make Fisken so uncharismatic -- he's running as a budget hawk, emphasizing his egghead experience with the minutia of the city's budget process -- could help keep the rest of the council on track. Indeed, experience will be in short supply when Martha Choe and Tina Podlodowski finish their terms.
Fisken's remarkable grasp of local government rings true when he talks about his biggest issue, transportation. If he's elected, he says, "We're going to be a city you don't need a car to live in." All the candidates this year talk about traffic (apparently they can read the polls), but Fisken has really done his homework.
Take the city's Transportation Strategic Plan, a big weighty tome of transportation analysis. Fisken has read it -- twice -- and carries the damn thing around with him. It shows. Fisken has a ton of ideas about how to turn Seattle into an alternative transport-- ation mecca. Emphasize light rail and bike lanes, a monorail "circulator," and more density around transit stops. Don't let the small, vocal constituency of auto-oriented businesses set transportation policy for the whole city.
This plain-speaking has won him support from urban greens, especially Washington Conservation Voters, though the fact that Fisken's campaign manager is on the group's board may also have had a little to do with that.
But the first rule of politics is dance with the one who brung you, and Fisken's political friends are mostly the wealthy and connected. Few local politicians are corrupt enough to trade in actual quid pro quos, but like all of us, politicians get their ideas from their pals. And for many, the biggest strike against Fisken is not his character, nor his intelligence, but the folks he calls friends.