DESPITE HIS CASUALLY ELEGANT outfit -- reading glasses dangling neatly from the collar of his dark blue Paul & Shark Italian sweater, pressed green khakis topped off with comfy brown weekend shoes -- you can't help but notice just how lousy Mayor Schell looks. His thinning white hair, parted to the right, simply won't stay put, and his left eye -- in fact, the entire left side of his face -- looks as if Mike Tyson took a free swing. Indeed, while Schell, 63, has serious bags under both eyes, his left eye in particular seems to be receding into a quicksand of puffy skin. The guy looks a lot like Jimmy Carter did during the Iran hostage crisis -- dead tired.

Chalk it up to a gargantuan mid-term identity crisis that has most observers doubting Schell's viability as a mayoral candidate in 2001, with some people flat out calling for his resignation. The WTO disaster is the most obvious checkmate on this administration, but there are other plagues on the House of Schell: stalled police contract negotiations, two years' worth of strained relations with the city council, no obvious base of support (the downtown businesses bailed after the WTO conference), an endlessly bogged-down $3.2 billion light-rail project, 38 neighborhoods still haggling over dollars for their plans, and competent, solid pols like King County Council Democrat Greg Nickels, circling in for the kill.

Schell has ducked the press for nearly two months now, hoping that we'd simply continue to quote the pseudo-poetic non-specifics of his January 24 State of the City speech. "We are moving beyond discrete institutional programs to integrate stewardship of the environment into everything we do," he said. Hmmm.

Last week, The Stranger sat down with Mayor Schell for an interview that was arranged only after we promised not to ask questions about the WTO. And when we first sat down at the glass table in his roomy 12th floor office overlooking Fourth Avenue and the Bank of America Building, it looked like Schell would stick to his mantra: The WTO was off the table, he said, until the city council issues its findings in June. However, like all Seattleites, Schell is drawn to the unsettling topic. In fact, it's obvious that he's dying to talk about it. And so, with nervous Schell aide Dick Lilly looking on, the mayor eventually couldn't resist.

The Stranger: Who's going to be mayor in 2002?

Mayor Schell: I am.... Who knows?

You graduated from Columbia Law School in 1963. Tell me something you believed then that you no longer believe.

I think I was much more focused on success being the job I had and how much money I had. I don't believe that anymore. I think a successful life is a lot more complicated than the job or your net worth or whatever people think. I've gotten to the point where it matters more how you feel inside and whether you feel you have a purpose in life.

Where did you spend New Year's Eve?

On the street. Well, I was all over the place, but I watched the fireworks right underneath the Space Needle, talking with some protesters, actually. It was sort of cool. First, they were sort of surprised, and second, they wanted to get their picture taken with me.

What were their questions?

"Why did you cancel the celebration?" Which we didn't. We just said, "Don't assemble on the grounds."

Did the cancellation impact any of your friends' plans?

No... that was really a tough decision. I had to make a number of tough decisions that I knew weren't going to be popular, but I didn't feel I had any choice. We had a bomb delivered. We were the only city that had a bomb, that was bigger than the Oklahoma City [bomb] in terms of its capacity, its detonators. The FBI didn't know whether there were more. They knew there was a larger conspiracy, but they didn't have the blanks filled in.

According to counts by Operation Nightwatch, the number of homeless people in Seattle has been steadily rising during your administration. The number increased from 784 to 983 last year. What initiatives are you putting into play to tackle this problem?

I'm not sure that's the right number. [The numbers were confirmed by the city. -- Ed.] We focused initially on women and women with children. I've been monitoring that, and I get a report every two weeks. And we're not turning away more than two or three [per night], and lots of times none. We've added 400 shelter beds in the last two years, and another 200 of transitional housing -- more than any other administration's done in years. We're spending roughly $9 million a year on it. [However, the mayor's $9 million allocation in 1999 did not result in more spending on homeless programs. Thanks to federal cuts, the grand total that Seattle spent on homeless programs actually dropped between 1998 and 1999 from $14.4 million to $13.1 million. The mayor's increased spending was a necessary stopgap which, in the end, didn't make up the difference. -- Ed.]

In your State of the City speech, you said transportation was one of your four priorities. However, you never mentioned the monorail in that speech. Last week you voted against $50,000 in monorail funding. What's your beef with the monorail?

Um, nothing; I think the technology is something we ought to explore. The initiative had the big X with 36 station stops, and it was all gonna be paid for with private dollars. And they were given two years and $200,000 to see whether that really worked. The last effort of the council was another $50,000 to do this. I think the sense that the council has, and that I have, is that it's not real.

It feels like you have a double standard. You've floated proposals asking the public to spend more money than they originally committed to Sound Transit, but you refuse to consider public support for the monorail. We were $200 to $300 million over budget on Sound Transit.

Which we found. There was the initial plan that Sound Transit put through, and we had to make the cuts to get it back in line with the budget. And then we had to find the extra money to get to Northgate, and have them come up with a real strategy to do that.

You found the money to get to Northgate!? [Estimates run as high as $300-$500 million.]

No, we found the money to get to the U-District, which was the promise, and we've got a strategy for getting to Northgate, which includes getting money from the state....

How much money do you think we'll get from Olympia?

Oh, God knows. We're working on it -- $200 million.

What are two or three specific ways you'd like the next police chief to be different from Norm Stamper?

I hope he or she has the same values that Stamper did, but they also have to be somebody who's able to manage a very complex city department. And who has the respect of the people in the department.

Stamper didn't have that?

In any difficult job like that, every time you make a choice or make a move you're going to make somebody unhappy. So over time, these jobs are probably only good for five years. I think probably the average tenure of a big-city police chief is less than five years.

How long is the life cycle of a mayor?

Well, we'll see! I think if you do your job really well, every time you make a hard decision you lose support. Time will tell.

There was a rash of calls for your resignation, from the State Police to my Safeway checker. Do you feel like your support is eroding?

Uh, I don't think so. Clearly there's a significant segment of people who think I made a mistake [in handling the WTO conference], and they need to find somebody to blame, and the mayor is the convenient person to blame. That's part of the job. But I'm certainly not gonna resign because a couple of right-wing cops in Olympia think I should. And the irony is, that's one element, and the others were sort of the extreme left wing.

You said that you didn't want Norm Stamper to resign. Given the rank and file's open dislike for him, the rash of Internal Investigative Services screw-ups, and the WTO mess, what would it have taken for you to ask for Stamper's resignation?

There are a lot of speculations and assumptions out there that are not supported by the facts. And I don't want to get into talking about.... The chief did resign. And while he was here he did a lot of good things for this community. He put the focus on the preventative side of criminal issues. He focused on domestic violence; he focused on community policing; both of which I totally support and agree with. He focused on engaging the communities that were underrepresented, from gays to communities of color. All those things weren't always popular with the rank and file. And so the fact that some of the rank and file were unhappy with him doing that -- I don't have a lot of sympathy for them.

Do you think the WTO mess was a direct result of a lack of effectiveness in the SPD leadership?

We have hired a totally independent police expert to tell us what they did right, what they did wrong, and what they could have done differently that would have led to a different result. So I would suggest we wait on that. The fact that we had an unprecedented event here and nobody was killed... under the circumstances, when you look at Rodney King and other areas, our police by and large conducted themselves with a lot of patience and discipline. That is not to say there weren't mistakes made, and I think it's important to understand and learn from it. Nobody's happy with the way it came out. And probably more people are unhappy that we allowed the protests to happen, than there are angry protesters.

Wait a minute. Your sense is that more people are upset that you let the protests happen than are upset about the No-Protest Zones?

Yeah, very clearly. I think generally people feel this is "Clean Seattle." We let the images of Seattle with tear gas go around the world, people breaking windows and marching in our streets, and the delegates getting roughed up. There was sort of a city embarrassment.

Were you embarrassed?

I wish everybody had behaved themselves, and we'd had everybody protest, and everybody got heard, and that it would have been more civilized. I don't like the fact that we had to use the National Guard, or that the police had to use tear gas. I don't like any of those things.

Here's an easy one: I've heard you're a movie buff....

Not really, not as much as I'd like to be.

Oh, I thought you were. I won't bother with that, then. So, I'm gonna ask another WTO question: When and how did you come up with the idea to declare the No-Protest Zone, and was there a precedent for this?

Well, first of all, that's a press word: "No-Protest Zone." It wasn't ours; it was a "limited-security zone." That was done on Tuesday afternoon in the presence of the governor, the county executive, the head of the state patrol, the sheriff's office, the police department, the secret service, and the FBI. After listening to the street commanders and everybody else involved, there was clearly an issue of the safety of our citizens that afternoon. And we felt we had no choice. It was at that moment [when] we set a curfew. The next morning the security zone was established -- which was discussed on Tuesday afternoon as the proven course of action -- to ensure the protection and safety of the delegates and our citizens.

Do you owe Capitol Hill an apology for the evening of December 1?

Anybody who was innocently impacted or got tear-gassed -- I had lots of friends who got tear-gassed, I had a niece in the marches -- I apologize for that. I think any officer would. That does not mean -- and it got misconstrued during the WTO conference when I said that -- that I apologize for the police doing their job. They had a difficult job to do, and I think what they were doing was appropriate. Not all of them -- I'm sure we will find that there were those who abused the circumstances.... I did not engage in the security plan for this; I'm not an expert on the security plan. I listened to what the cops planned. They did the best they could, I believe, but I'm sure they made mistakes. I don't think we had any choice but to do what we did in declaring a state of emergency. And in establishing a perimeter.

What a lousy year to be mayor of Seattle. The Wallingford shooting, I-695, WTO riots, national attention on bad Boeing parts, the Microsoft antitrust decision, Ken Griffey's leaving....

Don't hold me responsible for Ken Griffey leaving.

Okay, I won't. Police negotiations are stalling, the bomb smuggling.... What's the best piece of advice you've gotten during these past few trying months, and who gave it to you?

Pam [Schell's wife]. Keep your sense of humor.

So tell me a WTO joke.

[Schell's aide, Dick Lilly]: We're not issuing WTO jokes.

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