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Wednesday, November 5, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seattle City Council -- Longtime Activists Elected -- Steinbrueck, Licata, Conlin May Change Focus Of City Politics

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Seattle voters yesterday rewarded decades of community activism by choosing age and experience over youth and potential and, in the process, elected two people to the Seattle City Council who could prove a major headache for Mayor-elect Paul Schell and downtown business interests.

Peter Steinbrueck, who, along with his late father, has for decades been associated with historic preservation and the Pike Place Market, cruised to an easy victory over Thomas Goldstein, a youth worker.

Nick Licata, a longtime neighborhood activist and opponent of government spending on big, downtown projects, defeated transportation expert Aaron Ostrom.

Joining Licata and Steinbrueck on the City Council will be one other newcomer, Richard Conlin, a longtime activist on environmental issues. He easily beat former Councilwoman Sherry Harris, who lost her seat on the council two years ago to John Manning.

In all, five council positions were on yesterday's ballot. President Jan Drago handily defeated Bob Hegamin.

The biggest vote-getter of all was Richard McIver, who was appointed to the council in January. McIver received nearly 80 percent of the vote in his campaign against Kerman Kermoade, who was running for office as part of his college research paper. Rather than take the defeat personally, or even wait around for the vote count, Kermoade headed to Arizona for vacation.

Yesterday's vote sets the stage for some mildly tense times on the City Council, where five members endorsed Ostrom and, in some cases, actively campaigned on his behalf. Leading the charge for Ostrom was Drago, whose staff helped distribute yard signs for the 29-year-old transportation planner.

Last night, Licata said he thinks he is "outside the council's comfort zone" and said he needs to try and reach some understanding with the members who opposed him.

"I'm going to have to talk to each one of them individually," said Licata. "I'm going to tell them, `You tried your hardest and I still won. Now let's start from ground zero and see where we agree and where we can work together.' "

While there may be some bruised feelings to work through, it's not hard to see how this new council will be different from the one that will retire in January.

Gone is the council's biggest advocate for kids - Cheryl Chow, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in the September primary. Goldstein likely would have taken over that role had he won. Without him, it's hard to know who will speak for children on such issues as in-line skating, teen clubs, noise and organized youth activities.

What kids lose in representation, neighborhoods gain. Mayoral runner-up Charlie Chong will be gone, but in his place will be two savvy community activists who know their way around the city's bureaucracy.

"They are both smart, and they are both dedicated," says one city official who asked not to be named. "They know how to work the system and they will have to be dealt with on the issues they care about."

One of those issues is transportation. Very early this morning, Steinbrueck was trying to make sense out of the vote for the ballot measure on the Monorail. By 1:05 a.m., he thought he knew what the vote was all about and he was ready to act.

"People are frustrated as hell with traffic and transportation in this city," he said. "There's simply not enough emphasis on in-city solutions to the traffic problem. . . . (Monorail) supporters ran a campaign that had no money and only a vague plan, and it passed. The county needs to take a look at this vote. It's a very strong statement."

Another issue that's likely to be high on this council's agenda is the environment - from how the city operates the buildings it owns, to what it puts into the cars its employees drive, to the fate of trees in the Cedar River watershed.

Those were the kinds of issues Conlin thought about last night as his lead over Harris widened and he had the luxury to think beyond the next vote count.

"We need a habitat-conservation plan that reduces logging to the minimum needed to maintain the watershed," said Conlin, who expects to serve on the Utilities and Environment Committee. "And when it comes to utility deregulation, we need to be nimble to keep City Light as something that works for us."

Councilwoman Margaret Pageler welcomed Conlin's and Steinbrueck's interest in the environment.

"I'm excited about the added energy around environmental issues," said Pageler, who has been trying to get her colleagues interested in setting environmental standards on how the city operates. "We haven't had the collective energy to push the issue the way we should. Two more council members will be great."

Pageler said one other reason it will be nice to have Steinbrueck around is that "his eyes don't glaze over when somebody starts talking about zoning issues."

The council's three new members are all longtime residents who know and respect each other. Licata is Conlin's insurance agent and Licata and Steinbrueck have known each other for decades.

Of the three, Conlin is the most recent arrival to the city. A Democratic activist in Michigan, he moved to Seattle 17 years ago. In his time here, he has worked on a number of environmental projects, including arranging hazardous-waste-pickup days. He is a co-founder of Sustainable Seattle.

Licata went to graduate school at the University of Washington and was the founder of an underground newspaper called the Seattle Sun. An anti-war activist during his college days, Licata first ran for the City Council in 1979, losing in the primary.

Licata is not into owning things, and his spartan lifestyle has allowed him to spend his spare time fighting City Hall. He opposed public financing for the stadiums being built for the Mariners and Seahawks, and believes the city spends too much time worrying about downtown interests and getting commuters into and out of the city.

Steinbrueck's father, Victor, was an architect who led the original effort to save the Pike Place Market. Peter followed in his father's footsteps, first as an architect and then by fighting off an attempt by a New York investment group to take control of the Market.

One issue high on Steinbrueck's agenda is affordable housing. And that, says Councilwoman Sue Donaldson, is the right issue as Paul Schell takes over as mayor.

"Paul's going to do for (affordable) housing what Norm (Rice) did for education," said Donaldson. "The way we'll be successful is to look at every neighborhood plan and see what we can do immediately and what needs to be spaced out over time."

Of the three new members, Steinbrueck will be the first to take office. His election is to complete the remaining two years on the term of John Manning, who resigned. McIver has been doing that for the past year, but this election he moved to the seat being vacated by Chow.

According to the terms of his appointment, McIver was to serve until voters chose a replacement. Steinbrueck will be sworn in as soon as the election results are certified. That will put McIver, and probably his staff, out of a job until he is sworn in on Jan. 5.

That date can't come soon enough for Licata, who was biting his tongue last night trying not to talk specifically about the first things he hopes to accomplish on the council.

"I want to see where I can build some coalitions right away," he said. "I need to get some legislation passed. I want to prove that while I may be someone they disagree with, I am also someone they can have an honest, open discussion with."

All things seemed possible last night. There even seemed to be options for some of the losers.

As Ostrom's campaign party settled into a blue funk, Donaldson gave him a big hug. Long before the final numbers were in, she was trying to line him up a new job.

"The new mayor would be smart to have him in his administration," she said, before heading over to Schell's victory party.

Robert T. Nelson's phone message number is 206-464-2996. His e-mail address is: rnel-new@seatimes.com

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

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