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Wednesday, September 19, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Schell ousted; Sidran to face Nickels in November

Seattle Times staff reporters

Paul Schell became the first Seattle mayor in 45 years to lose a re-election bid, as he finished third in yesterday's mayoral primary behind City Attorney Mark Sidran and Metropolitan King County Councilman Greg Nickels.

Schell formally conceded defeat today, making personal phone calls to Sidran and Nickels, who will advance to the Nov. 6 general election.

Schell promised he would work closely with the next mayor-elect to ensure an orderly transition. Schell also said he would make no endorsement in the mayoral race.

"I pledge my full support to the next mayor of our great city," Schell said in a statement. "There are many challenges ahead, and we must work together as a community to solve them. I hope everyone in our city will support the next mayor so he can be as successful as possible."

Nickels and Sidran, the top two of 12 mayoral candidates, were in a close race.

After a quick kiss with wife Anais Winant and accepting cheers of supporters at his Pike Place headquarters, Sidran assessed a general-election campaign against Nickels, saying it "would look a lot like the last round."

Sidran hammered Nickels during the primary on his stewardship of the troubled Sound Transit project. Nickels wants to build the light-rail system; Sidran does not.

Sidran said he would also draw a distinction between him and Nickels on experience. "Greg hasn't managed anything with the possible exception of the Sound Transit finance committee," Sidran said.

For his part, Nickels made it clear he would not shy away from his support of Sound Transit.

"We're in a transportation crisis in the city," he said. "If I'm elected I'll build light rail because it's the only solution we have."

Nickels told his supporters that the election, not just his success, was important for more than Seattle.

"It has been a remarkable and tragic week for our country," he said. "It is a testament to to our democracy that people have gone to the polls."

Cliff Traisman, director of the city's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and a political adviser to the mayor, said Nickels and Sidran worked hard for their place on the November ballot.

"Greg was dogged and ran a determined, two-year campaign to be mayor," Traisman said. "Mark's a three-time citywide winner and he has a lot of integrity and a lot of smarts and probably ran the most aggressive campaign."

But he said Schell ran a good campaign, too, "and that's the sad part because Schell had the record of results."

The terrorist attacks on the East Coast wrenched attention from the campaign in the critical week leading up to the primary. What some election officials had hoped would be a patriotism-fueled surge in voter turnout was not apparent last night. Turnout in King County could be less than the expected 30 percent — the normal turnout for a primary election in a nonpresidential year, said Julie Anne Kempf, the county's superintendent of elections.

In Seattle, all three City Council incumbents — Jan Drago, Richard Conlin and Richard McIver — jumped to early, comfortable leads, in the preliminary count of mail-in ballots.

In the Metropolitan King County Council races, state Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, defeated County Councilman Les Thomas, R-Auburn, in the GOP primary for the 13th District council seat Thomas was appointed to in March.

Councilman Dwight Pelz, D-Seattle, was comfortably leading Seattle attorney Mark Wheeler in the 5th District, where the winner will face no general-election contest.

In a key state House race in southwest Snohomish County, former Mukilteo Mayor Brian Sullivan and first-time candidate D.J. Wilson were running neck and neck in the Democratic nomination for the 21st District seat. The winner will face recently appointed Republican Rep. Joe Marine in a race that will determine partisan control of the now-deadlocked state House.

In the mayor's race, the terrorist attacks forced debates and advertisements to be canceled, while overshadowing what would have been the high-profile finish to the campaign.

Sidran may have been helped by being the first to air television ads. He made aggressive, early stands against the troubled Sound Transit project, which both Nickels and Schell had championed.

"By the time last Tuesday came around, the debate had been effectively defined for this electorate," said Michael Grossman, Sidran's media consultant.

Sidran said people uneasy about the world may also have seen him as a calming force.

"I think people are going to be looking for strong leadership and a sense of confidence for these uncertain times," Sidran said. "We are much more unsettled about our future today than we were a week ago."

Nickels saw his campaign more severely curtailed by last week's events. His ads started a week ago Monday and were bumped off the air the next day by reports of planes striking the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

"A week ago a lot of the plans of everyone in the country and our campaign plans got disrupted," Nickels said. "But we got the word out."

In recent weeks, Nickels seemed supremely confident, even talking at campaign appearances of being mayor for "four, eight, maybe even 12 years."

Nickels, 46, has represented West Seattle on the King County Council for the past 14 years. But he has had trouble garnering wider support, losing bids for county executive in 1993 and Seattle mayor in 1997.

Schell had also thought he could attract voters shaken by last week's events.

"I have this sense people want to have calm, experienced leadership," he said while waving campaign signs at Westlake Park at lunchtime yesterday.

But instead, voters wanted a change.

In November they will get the choice of Nickels, who talks of a return to the days of old Seattle, and Sidran, who doesn't shy away from comparisons to New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a tough, law-and-order former prosecutor.

Nickels spent the lunch hour yesterday waving signs downtown, where he and the mayor paused briefly to shake hands and wish one another luck. Sidran, observing the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah, remained at home during the day.

The fact that Schell was in such a vulnerable position is extraordinary. Incumbent mayors, with the name recognition and political clout that goes with the office, have an enormous advantage. An incumbent mayor hasn't lost a re-election bid in Seattle since 1956 and Schell is the first since 1936 to lose in a primary.

This year's race has largely been a referendum on Schell's leadership, with his opponents capitalizing on events such as the street turmoil at the 1999 WTO meetings, the Mardi Gras melee earlier this year that claimed one life and the departure of Boeing's corporate headquarters to Chicago. Schell's administration, critics claimed, lurched aimlessly from crisis to crisis. Recognizing that Schell already had name recognition, his campaign gambled and decided not to air any television ads. Instead, he concentrated on direct mail and other means of contacting the voters most likely to support him.

Convinced throughout the campaign that he had gotten a bum deal from the media, Schell left his election-night party and asked a reporter, "Happy?"

But by today he was in a more conciliatory mood.

"I've been honored to serve this great city as mayor. Pam and I gave everything we had. We have no regrets, only positive memories of the people we met and what we've been able to accomplish together. I want to express my deep heartfelt thanks to all those who supported me and Pam during my term and during this campaign. I wouldn't trade the past four years for anything."

During his 11 years as city attorney, Sidran was known mainly for pushing so-called "civility laws" that cracked down on aggressive panhandlers, unlicensed drivers and street drunks.

But in his run for mayor, Sidran, who started campaigning later than his rivals, focused his campaign almost exclusively on Sound Transit's troubled light-rail project. He vowed to scrap light rail as mayor and push for more buses and commuter rail instead, even if that means giving up federal money or seeking a new public vote.

And he used the transit issue to distinguish himself from Schell and Nickels, who both sit on the Sound Transit board and support going forward with light rail.

Sidran also got late boosts to his campaign, with the endorsements of both daily newspapers and a blitz of television ads just before the virtual media blackout last week.

Seattle Times staff reporters Alex Fryer and Stuart Eskenazi contributed to this report.

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