WHEN TINA PODLODOWSKI announced last May that she wouldn't run for a second term on the Seattle City Council, gays and lesbians expected an openly queer candidate to quickly jump in the race. With Sue Donaldson and Martha Choe also leaving the council, there were three wide-open races. Gay and lesbian politicos predicted that a "viable gay or lesbian candidate" would quickly declare and emerge as a front runner for one of the three open seats. "Viable gay or lesbian candidate" is gay politico code for "Not Janice Van Cleve."

But the filing deadline for city council elections came and went last Friday with no out gay or lesbian entering any of the races.

There's been an open lesbian on the city council since 1991, when the wildly disappointing Sherry Harris was elected. Now, with Podlodowski stepping down at the end of a successful first term and no openly queer candidate in the race, the queer seat on the city council will be empty next year.

For longtime gay activists like Don Moreland, former president of Lesbian and Gay Democrats of Seattle, the situation raises a red flag. "We have a lot of friends, but when push comes to shove, friends aren't the same. We have to be there for [other politicians] to get it. " Moreland, for example, says he had to personally take one (unnamed) council member aside last week to change her viewpoint on the extension of the fair employment ordinance. "From her questions during the hearing, I had to wonder where she was going on this one. She just didn't get it, but I think I changed her mind."

"To use a cliché, it is always important to have a place at the table," says State Representative Ed Murray, whose name was floated as a possible candidate for the city council. However, Murray doesn't believe city council is the best place to fight for gay rights. Unlike the State House of Representatives, the Seattle City Council is not packed with drooling homophobes. Murray spends much of his time in Olympia fighting off anti-gay legislation. While Murray says its important to have a place at the table, he points out that when Tina Podlodowski steps down, it's unlikely that a queerless Seattle City Council will pass much in the way of draconian anti-gay legislation. The fight over gay and lesbian issues, he says, is in Olympia. "The issues that I want to work on -- gay and lesbian civil rights, farm worker housing, funding our community college system -- those are statewide issues, addressed at the state level. That's where I want to put my energy."

Dave Horn, another potential gay pol who bowed out, agrees. Horn, who works on consumer protection issues as an assistant state attorney general, says, "There's an excellent chance that I will run for something someday. I'm very into public service, but I have to ask myself where can I help best? The council does a lot of important things, but I'm more focused on issues that are decided at the state level."

Another person mentioned as a potential gay candidate was Sally J. Clark, former legislative aide to Podlodowski.

Clark, however, says the time's not right for her. Clark's name was first floated by her old boss, Podlodowski. "It was flattering for Tina to suggest that I should think about running, but I'd like to do a little more, have more skills, learn a little more about how things actually get done, before I do something like that."

Clark left Podlodowski's office to take a job as Neighborhood Development Manager for Southeast Seattle in the Department of Neighborhoods, where she's learning more about how things actually get done.

Clark, though, doesn't feel the gay and lesbian community is in any real danger. "The people who are on the council next year will listen when we come knocking. We may have to work a little harder to make ourselves heard, which could mean a stronger role for an advocacy group that monitors city government, but we won't be shut out."

Although he didn't throw his hat in the ring, Seattle attorney Bob Rohan doesn't share Clark's confidence about a non-gay, but gay-friendly city council. "I wish someone would run," says Rohan, who ran against Charlie Chong in '97. "We need people from our community to be in government. Tina has shown what you can do at the city level; having people on the council gives gays and lesbians a lot more clout." Rohan believes gay clout lead to the strengthening of anti-gay discrimination protections. But more importantly, he says, "there's also an intangible benefit that comes with having people who are out and in public office. It really does help everyone in our community."

Rohan, however, says he won't be running for any office in the foreseeable future. Last year, Rohan founded a new gay political organization, the Fairness Lobby, to clean up the mess made by Equality Washington's disastrous I-677 campaign.

Gays and lesbians in Seattle worried about not having a place at the table can take some comfort from recent council history. A few years back, one group that long had representatives on the council suddenly found themselves completely shut out. Despite their lacking a place at the table, the Seattle City Council did nothing to undermine the rights of straight, white men.

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