Enthusiasm meets obscurity: Colorful supporting cast fills out ballot in mayor's race
Seattle Times staff reporter
They are the Mystery Men in the 12-man race for Seattle mayor, a group with names certain to draw blanks in the minds of many voters: Scott Kennedy, Caleb Schaber, Bob Hegamin, Max Englerius, Richard Lee, Piero Bugoni, Scott Whittemore and Omari Tahir-Garrett.
One is a bartender, another a retired engineer. One has previously run for president, governor and mayor. One hosts the public-access television show "Kurt Cobain was Murdered," and brags that Eddie Vedder once flipped him off. (He's got proof on video.)
They are the supporting cast in what is sure to be a dramatic runoff in the Sept. 18 primary, a cast of characters with passion equaling their obscurity. Barring a miracle, none will be the next mayor. The overwhelming favorites are well-worn names in Seattle politics: Mayor Paul Schell, Metropolitan King County Council member Greg Nickels, Seattle City Attorney Mark Sidran and former City Councilman Charlie Chong.
But for the most part, the Mystery Men — including Garrett, who made headlines after allegedly hitting Schell with a bullhorn — want to be taken seriously. They each paid the $1,266 filing fee or gathered the required signatures to be on the ballot, and they each bring their own causes to the race. Each has his own ideas of how this city should be run, and each wants to be heard.
The Mystery Men breathe vitality and freshness — and fun — into a local political scene packed with established politicians. The big guys can't say six lesbians bared their chests at the Gay Pride Parade to promote them for mayor. Scott Kennedy can.
On top of obscurity, they share another trait: They feel neglected by the media. They want press.
Here it is.
"It's so weird how many people running for mayor are nuts," Scott Kennedy says. "I have to tell people I'm not the type of guy hitting the mayor in the face. Those people are the ones that take away my votes because other people think I'm crazy, too.
"I'm sick of being King of the Dipshits," Kennedy jokes, riding in the back of his 1987 Isuzu Trooper headed to a mayoral endorsement meeting. "I want to be the longshot in the big pool."
Kennedy, 34, sees himself as the best of the rest — the most worthy candidate of those who will probably garner few votes. He hopes other fringe candidates will realize his legitimacy and support him.
Kennedy owns Bit Star Café, an espresso-Internet bungalow on Capitol Hill. He hopes his "Joe-Underdog-Coffee-Guy" schtick will win him the No. 2 spot in the primary (the top two vote-getters in the nonpartisan race advance to the Nov. 6 general election).
Kennedy moved to Seattle a decade ago. He sold Axcelis, his software company, for $200,000 and opened the coffee shop. He still runs a another small software company from the back of his shop. At the neighborhood shop, Kennedy says, he interacts frequently with the real and downtrodden people of Seattle, having housed homeless people and helped heroin addicts.
His father, mother and a half-dozen friends have given $3,300 to his campaign. The rest of his contributions — nearly $18,000 — come from his own wallet, leftovers from the sale of his software company. He's way behind the Big Three in money raised, but ahead of Chong.
The gist of his campaign is simple: Improve quality of life through better transportation, housing and government accountability. He wants vibrant small businesses, good schools, nice parks, help to the homeless and affordable housing.
Kennedy's political inexperience has hurt him. At an endorsement meeting for the Municipal League of Greater Seattle, Kennedy drew a blank on a question about Initiative 747, a state proposal to limit taxes on real estate. But Kennedy says he would choose inexperienced management over the poor management he says Seattle's current officeholders have displayed.
"What you want from a politician is someone who'd happily throw away their political career for something they stand for. But career politicians can't do that."
Caleb Schaber is another political outsider who feels more qualified than the career politicians.
"Unlike the other candidates, I actually serve people," Schaber says with a grin. Aside from being an artist, Schaber serves as a bartender at the Blue Moon Tavern in the University District.
Schaber embodies the alternative, free-thinking character that made Seattle a countercultural mecca in the early 1990s: glasses bound together with masking tape, a Fu Manchu-style moustache, straggly brown hair and a snake tattoo.
Of all the candidates, Schaber best symbolizes the discontented, protesting mindset that has lingered in Seattle in the aftermath of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Mardi Gras and race problems.
Schaber said that from WTO to transportation, Schell has failed miserably as mayor.
"He has failed to listen to democracy on the Monolith — er, Monorail," Schaber says.
His Monolith slip is forgivable. Schaber probably would not be running for mayor if not for the notoriety surrounding his Monolith, a 9-foot-tall, dark-gray steel rectangular structure — reminiscent of the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey" — that roved city parks in January.
As mayor, Schaber says he would increase the number of city buses, build more downtown parking, hire more traffic police and offer incentives for officers to live where their beats are. He refers to police as the "community army" and a "group of riot cops" and says they need a major review of procedures.
Schaber, 28, is one math class away from graduating with an anthropology degree from UW.
"I was going to take the class now, but I'm running for mayor instead."
If he loses, Schaber says he will run again for city council or mayor. But he doesn't want to be typecast like Bob Hegamin.
Hegamin, who has run for mayor and city council four times apiece since 1981, hates being called a perennial candidate — yet the word precedes his name in nearly every newspaper reference.
Though he hates how the media have pigeon-holed him, Hegamin says he's fighting for goals bigger than winning — principles in government.
Hegamin, 74, wants better control of city spending. He points to his engineering background as good experience managing infrastructure. Hegamin doesn't take campaign donations, and spends little on the election because all the money is his. He recognizes he has little chance of winning but thinks he's a better choice than many of the big-name candidates.
Hegamin served in the Air Force after World War II and has served on numerous community boards. The retired Seattle City Light engineer estimates he has spent between $1,500 and $2,000 on each of his campaigns.
"What's the point of any campaign?" Hegamin says. "To let people know what you stand for. To get the word out. Why do you think all the big candidates need so much money?"
You may have heard of Richard Lee. He gives all sorts of conspiracy theories, mostly about local law enforcement, on his cable-access television show, "Now See It Person to Person: Kurt Cobain was Murdered," on Saturday nights at 10 p.m.
Yes, he believes Seattle police intentionally botched the Cobain investigation. He also suspects Woody Harrelson's father killed JFK, Seattle police wanted the Mardi Gras riot to happen and the 1997 City Council race he ran in was damaged by the vote-counting system.
Lee, 37, is often seen at local news events videotaping himself — "I'm talking to the world here," he says — as he presses local politicians for answers to his conspiracy hypotheses. He compares his work as a journalist to Michelangelo's work on the Sistine Chapel.
Lee is angry about the Schell's handling of the WTO protests — a "mass assault on his own constituent" — and believes local police are corrupt. He was the only candidate who, instead of paying the filing fee, gathered double the required amount of signatures needed to forgo the $1,266 fee. That's more democratic, he says.
Lee's platform includes campaign-finance reform, police reform and obtaining a new elections system in the city. He thinks neighborhoods should get more recognition from the city. If not, neighborhoods should secede to get leverage against city hall.
Max Englerius ran for president last year, mayor in 1997 and governor in 1996, and he identifies himself as a security consultant.
He canceled two scheduled interviews with The Times while demanding a separate article be written on his candidacy. He blames the media for his not being recognized as a legitimate candidate and hates that the so-called major candidates have monopolies over debates.
Englerius, who says he was a combat paratrooper in Vietnam, promises that as mayor he would attack crime, help race relations and bring integrity to the office. He'd also push for a "Liquor Consumption License," requiring people to take a class in the effects of booze before being allowed to drink.
Little is known about Bugoni or Whittemore.
Bugoni paid the filing fee in cash, wanted to have "Mr." before his name on the ballot and asked to be listed as a member of the "Responsible" Party.
And Whittemore said in July he was headed to a psychiatric ward — and hasn't returned telephone messages since.