Monday, December 3, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Constantine ready for County Council

Seattle Times staff reporter

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If things go right, this job can be a steppingstone.

Besides, it will pay $100,884 next year.

And, for an aspiring political leader, a spot on the Metropolitan King County Council represents a great opportunity to shape policies for the second-biggest government in the state (the county has 13,000 employees; the state has 127,000).

Those are among the reasons state Sen. Dow Constantine, D-Seattle, is excited about what's expected in January: He's a virtual lock for an appointment to the County Council, moving into the seat held by Greg Nickels, who made his own political leap to become Seattle's mayor-elect.

To get to this point, Constantine, 40, has compiled a record that seems virtually flawless.

He was class president at West Seattle High School. He was an Eagle Scout. He has bachelor's, master's and law degrees, all from the University of Washington. He scored in the top 1 percent of applicants on his law-school admissions test, and he's a lawyer who has never been sued. And he has dinner every Sunday night with his parents, John and Lois Constantine, who live in the same house where he grew up in West Seattle.

Nickels recalls that he met Constantine while working on plans to save woods in a ravine near Constantine's childhood home, a place where Constantine used to build tree forts.

"We ended up working together," Nickels said. "He had a real passion for that work. His passion is for the environment, his love of the community."

Phil Brockman, West Seattle High principal, notes Constantine became president of the school's 17,000-member alumni association.

"He's a well-liked guy around here," Brockman said. "I've never heard anyone say anything bad about him."

Even his most recent political opponent, Frank Bradley, who ran against him in a 2000 legislative race, has nothing bad to say.

"I don't agree with him philosophically, but he's a nice guy," Bradley said.

Wendy Ceccherelli, a friend of Constantine's from arts groups, says the worst thing she can say about him is that he's sometimes slow to return phone calls. Constantine acknowledges he can be tardy in thanking people, resulting in bruised feelings.

One measure of his broad appeal is found in contributions for that 2000 campaign. Constantine managed to get money both from Nirvana's Krist Novoselic and Mark Sidran, who as Seattle city attorney tried to crack down on nightclubs by requiring them to get special licenses to host live music. Nickels defeated Sidran in this year's mayor's race.

"I tend to get along pretty well with a lot of folks," Constantine said. "I'm sure I must have some enemies. I don't think I have any blood enemies."

Leaving the Legislature

James Dow Constantine — his given name, with Dow being an old family name — was born in Seattle. His father was from the East Coast, his mother from Everett. His dad is a professional artist, his mother a teacher.

Constantine says they raised him and a brother, Blair, the right way, allowing them to avoid such pitfalls as drugs while growing up in the 1970s.

"Kids with good parents, they know they have a future," he said.

After graduating from high school in 1980, Constantine got his bachelor's degree in 1985, his law degree in 1989 and a master's in 1992.

He's restoring a 1926 house above Alki Beach with his longtime girlfriend, Shirley Carlson, whom he has known since they both worked at a UW radio station.

Constantine got interested in politics and worked as a legislative intern 17 years ago, then went on to work with Nickels on open-space issues. He became active in Democratic politics in West Seattle, was an aide to Nickels from 1994 to 1996, was elected as a state representative in 1996, then became a state senator, a position he'll resign.

His appointment to the council will come after council members confirm his nomination by the Democratic Party.

Constantine says he's wistful about leaving the Legislature but notes the tripling of his $32,600-a-year legislative pay and the lure of a 10-minute commute were too much to resist.

He says he's excited about working on such issues as growth management, clean water and salmon preservation in King County, which he notes "is bigger than many states."

He adds it's "belt-tightening time" as falling county revenues fail to keep up with costs. And he's dismayed by bickering among council members and King County Executive Ron Sims.

Constantine says he's particularly intrigued about how issues at the county level often involve outright change in contrast to the sometimes-obscure concepts of state matters.

An example, he said, is found right where he grew up, where he helped keep the ravine a tangle of woods.

"Kids will be able to ride their bikes through there and build rope swings," he said.

Peyton Whitely can be reached at 206-464-2259 or at


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