One year ago, Bob Ferguson--a frumpy, unapologetically contrarian Democrat with dowdy brown hair, small wire-framed glasses, and an intense, focused manner--quit his job at a big-name Seattle law firm to campaign against 20-year King County Council incumbent Cynthia Sullivan. He said he'd knock on the door of every primary voter in the district, and by all accounts he did--more than 20,000 doors in all. I hit the streets with Ferguson during the early days of his campaign ("Walking the Talk," Erica C. Barnett, July 10), when it was far from clear that this 38-year-old political novice stood a chance in hell against the then-solid Sullivan, who won the backing of labor, environmental groups, and the entire Democratic Party establishment. Last Friday, September 19, Ferguson's tenacity paid off when he defeated Sullivan by a 450-plus vote margin.

But even back in June, it was clear that Ferguson's door-to-door energy and his message (checking Sound Transit and shrinking the King County Council from 13 members to nine) had struck a chord. "There was almost universal agreement that Sound Transit's management had been a disaster," Ferguson recalls now. And while it's too soon to call Ferguson's election a referendum on light rail, it's clear that many Seattle voters found more to like in skeptic Ferguson than longtime Sound Transit stalwart Sullivan. Even Christian Sinderman, a Sullivan campaign consultant who seemed as shocked as anyone by the incumbent's fall, concedes that Sound Transit could have helped to push Ferguson to his victory.

But more important than specific issues, Ferguson says, was his willingness to get out and walk his district, block by block. "In my mind, there is no question that the doorbelling was the single most important factor in my election," he says. Ferguson also carpet-bombed his district with eight different campaign mailers, and led an army of eager volunteers so hyperorganized they could pinpoint the location of every one of Ferguson's blue-and-white campaign signs, which were festooned with red "Outstanding" sashes seemingly minutes after the Municipal League of King County released its candidate ratings.

Ferguson's influence on his two biggest campaign issues--Sound Transit and shrinking the council--will be limited by his fellow council Dems, who seem unlikely to lend him a sympathetic ear. Is Ferguson doomed to become the next Maggi Fimia (a cranky, maverick Democrat whose only support came from the minority council Republicans)? Sound Transit board member Sullivan, sounding understandably chilly four days after her concession, predicts Ferguson "won't have any influence on Sound Transit," saying, "He is going to have to demonstrate that he can do something constructive on the council" before he can win his fellow Democrats' support.

King County Council Member Dwight Pelz, a hard-line liberal who frequently clashed with Fimia, says, "If Bob Ferguson's like Maggi Fimia--shortsighted, narrow-minded and self-centered--then there could be a problem." He adds, "But everything I've heard is that he's a solid professional." For his part, Ferguson says he tends to "agree with the Democrats on more issues than not"--such as growth management, human services funding, and labor.

Obviously, Ferguson isn't going to be appointed to fill Sullivan's Sound Transit board seat any time soon. But some insiders predict Ferguson may try to wield influence on light rail in subtler ways--perhaps by attempting to influence state legislation such as Representative Ed Murray's perennial proposal to make the Sound Transit board an elected body. Or Ferguson could try to turn hot-and-cold colleague Julia Patterson, who sits on the Sound Transit board, against the current light-rail plan. Patterson did not return a call for comment on Ferguson's election.

barnett@thestranger.com

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