Wednesday, October 22, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Hegamin: Watchdog With Eye For Numbers

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

IT MAY BE the worst mismatch of the season: An incumbent endorsed by just about everyone and a watchdog who can't afford a campaign.

Ever since he retired from Seattle City Light nearly a decade ago, Bob Hegamin has been tracking city spending and challenging government decisions, all from the living room of his West Seattle house.

"Government is a body you have to watch constantly," the 70-year-old Hegamin says. "People don't have the time to do it. I have the time to do it."

A self-proclaimed "one-man shadow government," Hegamin also has been running for office. This year, for the sixth time since 1981, he is on the ballot again.

Twice, Hegamin has challenged an incumbent mayor - Charles Royer in 1985 and Mayor Norm Rice in 1993.

So this time around, he isn't daunted by his opponent, City Council President Jan Drago, even though she has collected all the major endorsements, raised nearly 100 times as much money, and in the September primary won 62 percent of the vote to his 16 percent.

"I never look at the numbers," Hegamin says.

Not those numbers, anyway. The numbers he cares about are in the city budget.

Hegamin calls the city's government "financially broke and functionally broken."

It isn't just potholes. He's concerned that parks aren't being maintained, streets aren't being cleaned and city buildings are run-down.

But Hegamin is no fire-in-the-belly activist. He gestures only rarely and smiles often. His strategy, he explains, is plodding patience.

When asked if he is angry about the alleged neglect of neighborhoods, he shakes his head slowly.

"Oh, no," he says. "You read about New York and Chicago and L.A."

An engineer by training, Hegamin says he has a natural curiosity about how things work.

"I don't golf. I don't bowl. I don't fish. This is it," he says. "I find it very intriguing."

Bob Hegamin was born in Shanghai, China, in 1926 to an American father and a Portuguese mother. As an American citizen, he was interned by the Japanese from 1943 until the end of World War II.

His family moved to New York in 1945. A few years later, he joined the U.S. Air Force and served for four years.

In December 1956, Hegamin was tired of New York and began looking for a job in another city. He had two offers, one in Kansas, the other in Seattle. He remembers checking the newspaper for the temperatures. Seattle showed 56 degrees. Kansas, he recalls, was 15 degrees below zero. His decision was made.

Hegamin started his career at Boeing, as an engineer's aide. For 11 years he worked there, finishing his bachelor's degree at Seattle University at the same time. He spent the next 20 years as an electrical engineer for Seattle City Light. From 1982 to 1987, Hegamin also chaired a neighborhood-activist group called Shareholders of Seattle.

His only endorsement comes from the Civic Foundation, a coalition of neighborhood activists that helped get Charlie Chong elected to the City Council last year. Civic Foundation administrator Brian Livingston said Hegamin was chosen for his ideas on how to reduce city spending on "glamour" projects.

Hegamin, who lives with his wife in West Seattle, says many of his ideas line up with Chong's. One of the reasons he chose to run against Drago, he says, was to counter what he calls her "downtown perspective."

In one of his campaign fliers, Hegamin says City Hall has moved away from a constitutional form of government.

"We are just simply told what is good for us, to take it and to like it," he wrote. "Where will it end?"

He opposed Mayor Norm Rice's "urban villages" plan and the Commons proposal to turn the commercial and light-industrial area by South Lake Union into a 60-acre park and mixed-use neighborhood. Hegamin says the private sector should determine where growth happens and the city should build the infrastructure to support it.

He calls the city's purchase of the Key Tower a "rip-off." He is opposed to the city's $90 million transportation-bond proposal because he says the city is to blame for neglecting maintenance.

Hegamin is his own campaign manager. He produces his own fliers on a word processor at home but hasn't raised enough money to send them out.

He has six children and six grandchildren, but none is involved in the race. In fact, he says, they'd rather he didn't mention them at all.

"They're not all that interested in politics," he says. "This is my avocation."

Susan Byrnes' phone message number is 206-464-2189. Her e-mail address is:

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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