IN AN UPBEAT AND OVERLY SENTIMENTAL LETTER mailed over the weekend, Seattle City Councilmember Tina Podlodowski announced to supporters that she would not seek a second term. The former Microsoft executive was elected in 1995 in the most expensive race for a council seat in Seattle's history--she spent almost a quarter of a million dollars, including more than $75,000 of her own money.

In the letter, Podlodowski cited the recent split with her partner, Chelle Mileur, as the reason she wouldn't seek a second term: "During this time of transition for my children," she says, "it's become clear that there is simply not enough time in the day to do the sort of job I want to do as a City Councilperson, and also be the kind of parent my kids need right now."

Podlodowski elaborated on her decision in an interview: "There have been City Council folks who worked nine to five or less," she said, in an apparent swipe at former Councilmember Sherry Harris, who spent more time on the lecture circuit than in Seattle on council business. "They weren't effective and didn't last long."

Podlodowski originally ran as a pro-business liberal. Her supporters expected her to bring a new dynamic to the council, but she quickly became aligned with its conservative "old girls club." She voted in favor of the Commons plan, the convention center expansion, and a law allowing cops to ban people from public parks. She opposed the monorail initiative, and voted to maintain the city's poster ban.

With the election of Nick Licata, Peter Steinbrueck, and Richard Conlin to the council two years ago, Podlodowski apparently realized that public sentiment demanded a more progressive posture. She voted to require landlords to give tenants 60 days notice before large rent increases, toughened the city's anti-gay-discrimination statute, and put the screws to Seattle's hated cable service, TCI.

In the letter to her supporters, Podlodowski touts her accomplishments, including having served as an openly gay council member: "As an out lesbian, I could dispel many myths and stereotypes about the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community and our families."

There has been a lesbian on the City Council since Harris was elected in 1991 (she was defeated in 1995 by John Manning), and Podlodowski's decision not to run again invites speculation as to whether a "queer seat" on the council now exists, and whether one should.

Sarah Luthens, Co-Facilitator of the Seattle Progressive Coalition, concedes that Podlodowski has done some good work while in office, but was disappointed in her stand on several issues. "Tina has failed to be a consistent voice against corporate welfare -- not speaking out against the football stadium, for instance," says Luthens. But it was Podlodowski's vote against imposing sanctions on the Burmese government that was most upsetting. "That was her biggest failure. We needed her vote to help promote a democratic cause and fight military repression. She failed in a very big way to do the right thing.

"It isn't enough to simply elect a lesbian to the council," Luthens continues, "if she's going to vote the wrong way on issues like that. Being good on gay rights and reproductive freedom gets people off the hook in this town, and if you happen to be gay or lesbian, you can get away with stuff you couldn't if you were straight."

Partly in response to Podlodowski's record on Burma, the Progressive Coalition endorsed council hopeful Char Carrol, a gay activist, at their April 10 meeting. Carrol had announced her intention to run against Podlodowski, but pulled out of the race on April 27, citing her partner's treatment for breast cancer and the "strong negative reactions" she received from gays and lesbians over her intention to run against Podlodowski. Luthens says Carrol hasn't been drawn back into the race.

Podlodowski emphasizes that "given the number of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people in the city of Seattle, it's appropriate that someone from our community sit on the City Council. And there are plenty of queer people qualified to do the job."

In the past, outgoing councilmembers have made early endorsements, anointing their successors. Dolores Sibonga endorsed Martha Choe; Charlie Royer endorsed Tom Weeks. But Podlodowski declined to make an endorsement at this time.

"It remains to be seen what the field ends up looking like," she says, "or if the decision I've made spurs other folks to think in terms of running for office. I think Bob [Rohan] has the credibility, if he wants to run again. Anne Levinson, whom we just appointed to the municipal bench, has tremendous skills. [My legislative assistant] Sally Clark could do the job."

Bob Rohan, attorney, co-founder of Northwest AIDS Foundation, and founder of Fairness Lobby, a gay political lobbying group, ran for City Council and lost in 1996 to Charlie Chong. Rohan is not considering a race this year. "This is a great opening for a person in our community to run," he says, "but I don't feel the drive to run, and I've made a commitment to the Fairness Lobby. This isn't the right time for me, personally."

Given that City Council President Sue Donaldson has already announced she won't try for a third term, and the rumors that Martha Choe won't run again, there will be two or three seats up for grabs this fall. Watch for the wide-open race to attract an enormous field of candidates, and for Seattle's downtown and business interests to quickly unite behind a slate of corporate-friendly stooges. With the Licata, Conlin, and Steinbrueck bloc actively challenging business as usual--from the convention center to predatory rent increases--developers and landlords will do all they can to prevent progressives from gaining a majority on the council.

As for herself, Podlodowski doesn't rule out future runs for elected office. "I'm only 38," she says, "so I'm not ruling out anything. But the focus over the next couple of years is going to be on my kids."

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