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Friday, November 16, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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It's Mayor Nickels: Sidran concedes after new count of absentees ends catch-up hopes

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The wait is over. Greg Nickels will be the next mayor of Seattle.

City Attorney Mark Sidran conceded the race yesterday evening, shortly after new absentee-ballot totals dashed any hopes of a comeback.

"I feel very good; it's been a long, long campaign, and I think one that was very good for the city," said a jubilant Nickels between handshakes and hugs from well-wishers at an Irish pub in Pike Place Market, next door to Sidran's dark and empty campaign headquarters.

"We had a good debate over how the city ought to move forward, and the people have made their decision — now it's time for us to unite and move forward," Nickels said.

Nickels said Sidran conceded to him in a "gracious" phone call, pledging his support and offering any assistance he might need as Seattle's 51st mayor.

Sidran, as in the past several days, did not grant interviews. His campaign manager, Karen Besserman, offered no immediate comment on the result. "This is Greg's deal," she said.

The concession came after the second-to-last count of absentee ballots in which Nickels widened his lead to 2,726 votes.

To overcome that margin, Sidran would have to get 64 percent of the estimated 9,500 Seattle votes yet to be tallied — a feat the pragmatic attorney recognized would be virtually impossible.

With 162,507 ballots counted, Nickels had just over 50.1 percent to Sidran's 48.4 percent. The remainder went to write-in candidates.

The remaining votes will be counted Tuesday, when the election results will be certified.

The concession ended more than a week of seesaw ballot results that left the final outcome in doubt long after Election Night and elections officials predicting a recount.

At 8 p.m. the night of the election, Sidran jumped to an early lead, buoyed by early absentee voters who traditionally favor more conservative candidates.

But that quickly evaporated as poll votes were counted, and by the end of the night Nickels had a 7,200-vote lead.

Sidran closed the gap as more absentees were tallied, coming within 1,640 votes of Nickels on Tuesday. He never got any closer.

A day later, the momentum shifted again as Nickels widened his margin in a count of later absentee voters.

Sidran admitted defeat yesterday after a count of 6,400 absentee votes showed Nickels widening his margin.

Despite having a chance to weigh in on one of the closest mayoral elections in Seattle history, only about 45 percent of registered voters turned out.

That was down from 50 percent in 1997, when Paul Schell easily defeated former City Councilman Charlie Chong.

Sound Transit key issue

Sidran, 50, ran a spirited campaign, seizing the high ground early by turning the race into a referendum on Sound Transit's troubled light-rail project.

Nickels vowed to build a light-rail line despite its problems, while Sidran said he would kill it.

Nickels maintained a nice-guy image, campaigning on what he called "the Seattle Way." He touted the politics of "inclusion" as a way to bring people together to solve problems such as traffic gridlock.

By contrast, Sidran derided Seattle's passion for consensus as a "prescription for paralysis." He called for "decisiveness" and vowed to make tough decisions even if it meant making some people unhappy.

In the end, voters went for Nickels' more familiar touch.

At the crowded pub last night, political watchers had gathered to celebrate state Rep. Dow Constantine's 40th birthday, but it was Nickels who was clearly the man of the hour.

City Councilman Richard Conlin approached the mayor-elect, now tailed by a plainclothes mayoral bodyguard, and told him, "I'm happy to be working with you for the next four years."

Schell, ousted by voters in the primary, also pledged to work with Nickels to ensure a smooth transition, said spokesman Roger Nyhus. "The mayor wishes both Greg and Mark great success," Nyhus said.

Politics in his blood

For Nickels, yesterday's phone call from Sidran was the crowning moment of a political career that started when he was a teenager. He dropped out of college to get involved in politics and has remained there ever since, most recently as a 14-year veteran of the Metropolitan King County Council.

Nickels' unexpired term on the council will be filled by appointment; the council will choose his replacement from a list submitted by the county Democratic Party.

To win the mayoral race, Nickels, 46, overcame Sidran's nearly 2-to-1 fund-raising advantage, which paid for a barrage of TV ads pummeling Nickels' role in the troubled light-rail project.

He also endured the vocal opposition of both daily newspapers' editorial boards, as well as the endorsements of Sidran by Gov. Gary Locke and three former governors. Sidran also received a late plug from Schell.

However, Nickels also enjoyed tremendous advantages.

He started running for the job a year and a half ago, winning the backing of local Democratic Party activists and labor groups.

Those organizations provided volunteers for a textbook turn-out-the-vote effort that Sidran didn't even try to match. Nickels also got the endorsement of popular former Mayor Norm Rice, a friend and mentor.

While the mayor's race is ostensibly nonpartisan, the bulk of the Democratic Party establishment was clearly behind Nickels. The state party even sent a late mailer urging party loyalists to "Vote Democratic" by supporting Nickels in the Seattle mayor's race — even though Sidran, too, is a Democrat.

Port of Seattle In the tight race for Position 1 on the Port of Seattle Commission, Lawrence Molloy yesterday slightly widened his lead over incumbent Jack Block. Molloy is now ahead by 2,502 votes. He had been trailing by 76 votes on Tuesday, but by Wednesday's vote count, had pulled ahead of Block by 2,455 votes. Molloy's campaign specifically targeted absentee voters and environmentally oriented voters who had low turnout in previous Port elections. Block was no conceding the race though, saying he would wait until Tuesday to see the final vote count.

Jim Brunner can be reached at 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com

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