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Wednesday, March 7, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Mardi Gras melee tarnishes image of Pioneer Square

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Despite some bar owners' apologies, residents and shop owners last night complained that the violence of last week's Mardi Gras represents only the latest and worst example of a whole neighborhood paying the price for Pioneer Square's drunken nightlife.

And Seattle Mayor Paul Schell, trying to deal with delicate, election-year questions about the city's handling of a celebration-turned-riot, told a community gathering of about 200 people that Seattleites have to look deeper to figure out how society has gone wrong and how youths - some barely into adolescence - got the urge Feb. 27 to randomly beat strangers in a crowd.

"Who are these kids, and what have we done to fail them and fail us?" Schell asked at the meeting of the Pioneer Square Community Council - a session called to discuss the fallout from Mardi Gras and the damage from last Wednesday's earthquake.

While Schell and Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske might have expected to have been on the hot seat, the Mardi Gras discussion mainly focused inward.

A decades-long debate over what Pioneer Square wants to be may be reaching its most critical moment in the aftermath of Mardi Gras and the killing of a 20-year-old Kristopher Kime, who was beaten on the street as he tried to help an injured woman.

No arrests have been made in his death.

Michael Fajans, a 20-year resident of Pioneer Square, told the standing-room crowd at the Klondike Gold Rush Museum that for too long the city has cracked down on chronic drunks and not focused on the behavior of bar-hoppers.

"The taverns seem to think they identify the neighborhood," he said. "There is some institutional desire for there to be a neighborhood like this."

"We feel bad, too," said Steve Crozier, a manager and owner of sponsoring clubs, "and we apologize in some way for what happened."

Among the criticisms directed at the bars is a year-round policy of joint cover charges that allow patrons to pay at one bar and move onto the next at no extra cost. That shifts partying onto the street, many complained.

Catherine Vanderbrink asked if anyone had thought about discontinuing that policy so "others don't pay the price of your party."

One woman in the audience sharply criticized Kerlikowske's decision to keep police on the edge of the crowd for much of the night despite the violence. But many were supportive.

Rita Sjolin, a gallery owner who watched the violence unfold, said, "It was too much for anybody. I appreciate you guys."

Madlyne Scott, owner of Habana's, a South Washington Street bar, and other bar owners told the gathering that they do not serve drunken customers and that many of the assaults were committed by teenagers who were never in their bars.

Kerlikowske and other police officers agreed with the bar owners that much of the violence was driven by minors.

Schell, who has called for the cancellation of Mardi Gras next year, said it will be up to the community - and a task force that will look into the melee - to examine what behavior is acceptable at large public events.

City Councilwoman Jan Drago, a Pioneer Square resident who will help lead the task force, said the discussion needs to take place before summer events such as Seafair and Bumbershoot.

"If, in fact, we have seen a pattern developing in this city, we are going to end it now," she said.

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