This is the upcoming theater column in tomorrow's paper, and it's already making trouble:

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Seattle is in the middle of a bitchin' mayoral race. Nickels, the incumbent, bit the dust in the primary, leaving two greenhorns on the field, meaning the campaigns won't be interminable debates about what went right or wrong in the last eight years. They will concern the future—and offer a rare opportunity to restructure the city's political priorities.

The fact that culture isn't a campaign platform—like transportation and housing and education—is insane. Seattle is packed with artists and cultural organizations that have palpable public benefits. It's time for them to stop apologizing and start demanding. Rocco Landesman, the new head of the NEA, is marching into Washington, D.C. wielding a torch and a sword against the myopic conservatives and mealy-mouthed capitulators who've been "advocating" for the arts for the past eight years.

We should do the same here and now. Culture has a constituency, but it doesn't have candidates—yet.

Let’s leave aside the sanctimonious, art-is-good-for-you arguments and talk money. A few numbers from an exhaustive 2005 report by Americans for the Arts: Nonprofit cultural organizations generated $330 million in economic activity in Seattle. (An ArtsFund study puts the figure at $1 billion in King and Pierce counties.) Almost five million people attended those events—more than the 4.2 million people who attended professional sports. Thirty-seven percent of them came from out of town, spending their money here instead of there.

In 2005, the city’s Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs got a $2.57 million budget for operations and allocations (minus money for public art) and helped turn that into $12.3 million in local government revenue: it, along with arts organizations, nearly quintupled the city's original investment.

And that’s just the nonprofits—it doesn’t count rock shows, clubs, etc. Serious studies about how culture raises property values, attracts business, and feeds a city of ideas (that become profits) haven’t been done yet.

What are the mayoral candidates saying about all this? So far, the bearded Mike McGinn looks more attractive than the bespectacled Joe Mallahan. In an interview with local blog Publicola, Mallahan proposed cutting the city's Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs—the one that nearly quintuples its budget in return revenue—as a cost-saving measure. (He also suggested subordinating it to the Office of Economic Development.)

Last weekend at the Rendezvous, McGinn met with club owners, regional-theater directors, and other cultural industrialists. At a party afterwards, among the celery sticks and glasses of bourbon, McGinn called Mallahan's proposal "foolhardy."

"If anything," he said, "that office is not being leveraged to its full potential." That's what I'd hoped to hear.

Mallahan will meet with arts leaders later this month and might make a stronger case for himself. Either way, this election is a chance to shove culture to the center of the debate, where it belongs.

Artists, club owners, board members, et al. are a constituency, one with clout and money and common interests—and good-looking actors who'd make persuasive door-to-door canvassers.

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End of column, beginning of shitstorm.

The Mallahan campaign is now backing away from the statement above, saying that what Publicola reported is not Joe's position. From Publicola's endorsement interview: "Mallahan claimed... that he (Mallahan) would likely cut some smaller departments like the arts department, which he said he’d merge with the Office of Economic Development."

I tried to call and email Mallahan's people for days (six) to confirm this statement, but didn't get through until late this morning, when it was too late to pull the column. (Trivia: Theater is one of the first sections of The Stranger to go to the printer.)

Charla Neuman, from the Mallahan campaign, says:

I wasn’t there for the Publicola interview to know why they suggested that was Joe’s position. All I can tell you is it isn’t his position and I was in the room when someone suggested it as a budget saving possibility and Joe said no, there were better ways to find cost saving and he wouldn’t put the burden on the arts community.

Josh Feit, of Publicola, counters:

Mallahan definitely told us: "He would likely cut some smaller departments like the arts department, which he said he’d merge with the Office of Economic Development." He's accused us of "misquoting" him before, but then he apologized to us when he realized he was wrong about that.

Whatever happened during the interview, I'm glad Mallahan is no longer considering/never did consider cutting the Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs—and it doesn't change the point:

Culture is a constituency. Let's get out there and start acting like one.