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Sunday, January 21, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Mindy Cameron / Guest columnist

Turning over the reins to a seasoned pro

Times editorial page editor

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George W. Bush isn't the only guy with a cool new job this week. Let me introduce the new editorial page editor of The Seattle Times, James F. Vesely.

The title officially passes to Vesely tomorrow, but unlike George W., James F. gets no big parties. We're pretty busy putting things back together after the newspaper strike, so along with oodles of congratulations from colleagues, these few inadequate words will have to suffice.

Readers know Vesely as the guy who writes a Monday column with an Eastside perspective. Insiders know him as the best-informed writer in the region on growth-management policies, pressures and realities.

I know him as one of the finest newspaper pros I've ever worked with, a wise and trusted colleague. And friend.

My first contact with Jim was 10 years ago this month. I had been editorial page editor for about a year and was looking for an associate editor. Another editor suggested a fellow she once worked with in Detroit.

Jim Vesely, she said, is a very good newsman and great guy to have around.

As part of the candidate-assessment process I asked him to critique a week's worth of editorial pages. He didn't hold back.

"You should lighten up some days," he wrote in an often-blistering, four-page critique.

Of one editorial published 10 years ago he said: "Bare of facts, the editorial simply has no impact. It seems bland and overwrought instead of precise."

He closed with this: "Opinions without the weight of attributable facts tend to become social philosophy and as we know, philosophy is offered in the class down the hall."

It was, as I would come to learn, vintage Vesely.

He began his newspaper career in Chicago's suburbs as a young reporter covering civil rights. The night Martin Luther King Jr. was shot, Vesely was on the West Side of Chicago watching it go up in flames.

He describes being on the fifth floor of the City-County Building in Chicago watching Mayor Richard J. Daley "stride out of his private elevator like the Bismark breaking for the open sea."

He won a coveted journalism fellowship for an academic year at Stanford, where he studied constitutional and criminal law "because that's what kept coming across my desk in the newsroom ... disguised in the folds of everyday life."

Vesely spent 12 years at the Detroit News, including a time as managing editor, and also was the top editor for a brief stint at The Sacramento Union.

He served active duty in the U.S. Army in the '60s. Get him at the right moment and, with just a hint of uncharacteristic cockiness, he'll tell you about jumping out of airplanes.

Vesely has traveled extensively as a journalist in Asia, and for the past decade has written many of the unsigned editorials on this page about affairs in the Pacific Rim.

Before he joined the staff, Jim told me, "I love the hot pursuit of ideas and the rigorous examination of an argument." Ten years later, I know how much he really means that and how good he is at both the pursuing and the arguing.

He has helped to improve these pages and hone our opinions in countless ways during the past decade. Any success I may have had in my years here is shared with Jim. The Blethen family, which owns this newspaper, and readers of these pages are lucky to have Jim Vesely moving into this office.

And me? I'll hang around for six weeks as a member of the editorial board, helping through a short transition, and writing a column. Then I will get on with my long-planned retirement from daily journalism.

District elections: Setting the record straight. I wrote recently about renewed interest in electing members of Seattle City Council by district rather than at-large. In that piece, I referred to the 1995 campaign for district elections, but managed to mischaracterize both the origins and the nature of that campaign. Several who were involved were kind enough to set me straight. It didn't start in West Seattle and it was not a "corrupt" campaign, as I wrote. Kerman Kermoade, an early backer, told me it all started in another part of town. Control of the campaign, he said, was "innocently ceded" to a political consultant who turned out to be a front for Tom Stewart, a major financial backer of the campaign. "The original organizers were completely baffled by the hidden contribution of Tom Stewart," Kermoade said. Another supporter of district elections, Seattle policeman Ed Streidinger, called to say the campaign may have been "inept and naïve" but it wasn't corrupt.

Sorry about all that. Meanwhile, the essential question remains: Is it time for another run at district elections in Seattle?

Mindy Cameron's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is: mcameron@seattletimes.com.

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