The Stranger endorsed longtime school board member Michael Preston for city council in this year's primary election. His impressive school board record includes fighting commercialism in Seattle's schools, giving individual schools more control over money and curriculum, and funding low-income students. Preston is in the general election now, after scoring 23 percent of the vote.

The 50-year-old Seattle native--an African American who grew up in Yesler Terrace, went to Garfield High School, and graduated from Western Washington University--wants to stop light rail, increase affordable housing, and jump-start police accountability by pushing for video cameras in all police cars.

"[My opponent] Richard Conlin tends to vote the wrong way on these issues," Preston says. With his frank, progressive politics, Preston will be an asset to the nicey-nice council.

However, in an uphill battle, Preston faces incumbent Conlin. Preston has few endorsements, while Conlin got the thumbs-up from both daily papers, all of the district Democrats, and the King County Democrats. More important, Conlin is liked by liberal voters, and for good reason: Over the last four years, he pushed 38 neighborhood plans through the council and tripled the neighborhood matching fund to $4.5 million.

"We need to stay the course and make sure that our neighborhoods continue to get the kind of service and priority that we've established in the last few years," Conlin says.

Conlin is also a reliable youth advocate. He passed a repeal of the Teen Dance Ordinance (Mayor Schell vetoed it), he's currently trying to put city money into the Vera Project, and last year he shored up federal cuts by securing $451,000 for children's services in Columbia City. Conlin's past achievements helped him net 46 percent of the primary vote.

Obviously, Preston is up against a solid incumbent. However, the real obstacle for Preston is his "baggage"--an overblown reference to past financial mishaps. Though Preston and public officials have cleared up all past mistakes, the accusations seem to stick. We have a theory about why this stuff continues to dog Preston--but regardless, the bottom line is that his past problems were minor, and most were only incidentally connected to Preston. So we've laid them all out, just to show that they shouldn't prejudice your vote.

In 1981, Preston was hired as the executive director of the Central Area Youth Association (CAYA), a Seattle agency that serves inner-city kids. As director, he increased the number of kids served, restored United Way funding, helped renovate the group's facilities, and secured private funding.

Preston also started a bingo program to raise money for CAYA. The bingo manager Preston chose, however, was trouble.

"The person I hired to run bingo was stealing money," Preston says. When Preston discovered the problem in 1994, he reported it to CAYA's board. They fired Preston and the bingo manager, questioning Preston about the bingo funds.

Preston settled a wrongful termination suit against CAYA for a six-figure sum, and the Washington State Gambling Commission found Preston not guilty.

The second issue stems from Preston's mother's businesses: two taverns, both called Goldie's, located in Edmonds and Shoreline. Both were faltering when Preston stepped in. The businesses owed gambling taxes to both cities and taxes to the state.

After his mother filed Chapter 11 in 1998, Preston helped her sell the Edmonds location, and focused on the Shoreline location. Headlines tied the financial problems to Preston, who was managing both taverns.

"I have never filed bankruptcy, and have no back taxes," Preston says. "I never will."

In fact, under Preston's guidance, the Shoreline location became profitable, and his mother gave him a nine percent share, he says. All back taxes have been paid.

"They're up-to-date and current," says Steve Oleson, a budget analyst for the city of Shoreline.

Finally, Preston failed to file financial statements with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) several times during his school board tenure. Last year, Preston paid $1,339 in back fines. The PDC says Preston is caught up, and his 2000 and 2001 filings were on time.

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