WHY IS EVERYBODY trying to nail city council candidate Heidi Wills? Maybe it's because of her slick campaign -- she's raised more money than any other candidate ($60,500 so far). Maybe it's because she just seems too freakin' happy on the campaign trail (picture Reese Witherspoon in Election). Or, let's be honest, maybe it's because she's a young woman, and good looking too (if you're partial to that '80s tennis star look). Whatever the reason, city council candidate Heidi Wills, 31, is the target of more disparaging rumors than that satanic witch murderess Hillary Clinton.

Wills is running for Tina Podlodowski's open seat, against Charlie Chong. It's not likely, however, that the "speculations" on Wills are coming from the Chong camp. These far-fetched doozies read more like the handiwork of a jealous former co-worker. Here at The Stranger we've been flooded with e-mails and letters from tipsters urging us to "unmask... the phony that she is."

Having now spent more than a few afternoons chasing down the dark side of Heidi Wills, we would like to be the first to report that -- as much as you'd like to hate Heidi -- she ain't the Manchurian candidate. "She's a female. She's young. And as the front runner, she's blowing everybody away," explains Lisa Collins, a political consultant with Seattle-based Moxie Media. "Naturally, there's a catty factor."

The most interesting "tip" casts Wills as a pod person for downtown law firm Stafford Frey Cooper. Stafford Frey is the firm that defended SPD Sergeant Don Cameron in the now-infamous internal investigations cover-up -- they have also given small amounts of dough to support City Attorney Mark Sidran in past campaigns. Our anonymous tipster's red flag went up upon discovering that Wills' campaign manager, Stafford Frey attorney Michaelanne Ehrenberg, had taken a leave from the firm to work with Wills. They claim the relationship could end up posing a conflict of interest should Wills be elected, since Stafford Frey often represent clients with business before the city council.

But according to Seattle's office of Ethics and Elections, Ehrenberg's position with the firm shouldn't be viewed as suspicious unless she was given a paid leave of absence to work on the campaign and Stafford Frey wasn't listed on Wills' campaign contributor list (meaning they were being sneaky about their support). Well, none of this matters anyway, because it turns out Ehrenberg isn't on leave from Stafford Frey -- she quit the firm to take on the role of Wills' campaign manager (the duties never overlapped). Granted, she's not getting paid by Wills. But she's not getting paid by Stafford Frey either. Nor is she returning to the firm, staffers say.

All that's left of the Stafford Frey conspiracy is a campaign contribution from Ehrenberg, who listed Stafford Frey as her former employer. As for representing firms with business before the city council -- Stafford Frey represents everybody from the Dow chemical company to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to Pemco insurance to the City of Federal Way. We ran the client list by conflict-of-interest watchdog Brian Livingston, and it didn't trip his alarm.

Yet the Heidi chronicles continue. Last week a laundry list of Wills "tips" arrived on a mysterious piece of paper labeled "Confidential" (a follow-up to an e-mail we'd discarded three weeks earlier). Wills, the rap sheet explained, was never "chief of staff" for King County Councilmember Cynthia Sullivan. In fact, we were informed, Wills was fired from her job there. It also said Wills was nothing more than a "glorified secretary" at her next job in King County Executive Ron Sims' office, rather than a high-ranking official, as she claims. Reference checks with Wills' former colleagues in both Sullivan's and Sims' offices debunked the rumors and confirmed Wills' account of her work as a senior aide and policy wonk for King County. "Saying she wasn't Sullivan's senior aide, saying that she was fired, that's a big joke," says current Sullivan aide Andrew Schmid, who worked under Wills for two years, "a mean joke." Several of Wills' colleagues from the King County Council, including staffers from Sullivan's and Sims' offices, have contributed handsomely to Wills' campaign.

Another wild Wills rumor has it that Sullivan and Sims have pulled their support for Wills and are urging others to do the same. Hmmm... Sullivan and Sims signed on to a July 28 Wills fundraising letter, and Sullivan has donated $400 to her campaign (that's a lot of cash for someone who allegedly fired her).

Finally, the ubiquitous rumor on Wills: She never graduated from UW. Not true. Wills was eligible to graduate in 1993, but thanks to a B-/C+ on her final thesis paper, she opted to wait for her diploma until she could redo the paper for a better grade. Wills never did rewrite the paper and finally -- realizing it might be a campaign issue -- accepted her diploma in June 1999.

In defending herself against the bevy of rumors, Wills says simply: "I question the validity and motives of someone who doesn't have the integrity to attach their name to the accusations." One of our tipsters explained, "P.S. If my boss found out what I was doing, she'd fire me. So I gotta keep anonymous for now."

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