Press "Enter" to skip to content

Seattle: About to rumble?

Greg Nickels

Greg Nickels

When Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels was first elected to that job in 2001, the campaigning was tough. First there was the matter of outpolling a sitting mayor, Paul Schell (and dispatching of a bunch of sliver candidates), but that turned out to be the easier part. In the runoff with City Attorney Mark Sidran (just recently cycled off the state utilities commission), it’s easy to forget now that Sidran raised and spent far more money, probably had a broader range of support, and got most of the media endorsements. In the runoff, Nickels won with 50.1% of the vote, likely the closest major race in Washington until the governor’s contest three years later.

It’s a sign of how readily office holders can establish themselves – and Nickels did, forcefully – that re-election in 2005 was an easy walk, not a run, prevailing with a 29% lead over his nearest opponent. And there’s some thought that this year – and Nickels evidently will seek a third term – may be more of the same, as demonstrated in the decision by City Council President Richard Conlin not to run for the job.

And yet it’s not that simple. Over at Crosscut, editor David Brewster makes a persuasive argument that this election still may turn into a snorter. Odds favor his case.

The key point is Nickels’ favorability ratings in the polls, which long had held to a generally sound level but in recent months have taken a serious hit. The recent no-road-salt dispute in the city – the decision not to salt snowy Seattle roads, a decision later apparently reversed – may have been a contributing factor in Nickels’ 28% favorables in one recent poll. Such a low number likely will rebound, at least somewhat. Even so, some core vulnerability is evident.

Brewster points out structural elements that favor a change. Late entrants in Seattle city elections often benefit from a burst of interest shortly before the election; Norm Rice in 1991 and Schell in 1999 would be examples. Three terms is a lot for a big-city mayor; remember the saying about how “friends come and go but enemies accumulate” – a political truism.

And, he points out, there’s no lack of ambition among Seattle political people, and no lack of possible candidates – Conlin’s non-candidacy doesn’t translate to the lack of any serious candidate; there is a bench.

Brewster concludes that “Those Nickels popularity numbers are just too low, too tempting. And the times are too ripe for change and Obama-like appeals from newcomers. And did I forget to mention the snow?? We’re going to have a doozy.” Sounds highly possible.

Share on Facebook