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Thursday, October 23, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Past mistakes mark contest between Compton, Manning

Seattle Times staff reporter

At his campaign kickoff this spring, John Manning distilled his reasons for seeking a seat on the Seattle City Council to a single thought: "We need to get back to where we were."

Manning was referring to the city, which he says has slipped from its former glory. He might as well have been talking about himself.

In 1995, Manning parlayed his reputation as a popular Seattle police sergeant into a seat on City Council. But his budding political career disintegrated a year later after two arrests for domestic violence. Manning resigned from the council, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and spent time in jail.

Since then, he has quietly mended his personal life and says he's ready to return to public office and finish the job he started. He finished second in the September primary and faces incumbent Jim Compton in the Nov. 4 general election.

By all the usual measurements, Manning's campaign is a longshot: He's raised little money and garnered few major endorsements.

But Compton has had his own troubles. In recent months, he was implicated in controversies over campaign donations from a strip-club owner and his acceptance of a free plane ride on a jet owned by billionaire Paul Allen, whose South Lake Union development plans are coming before the council.

Both candidates say their missteps were out of character and prefer to focus on their accomplishments and their visions for the city.

Manning, 48, points to his 16 years as a police officer, saying he'd fight to reverse recent budget cuts to community-service officers and the dismantling of the department's gang unit. To jump-start the economy, the city should offer a tax break to new small businesses, he says.

Compton, 62, was a respected television journalist and host of KING-TV's "Compton Report" before being elected to the council four years ago. He describes his council record in journalism terms, saying he's "still taking on the tough assignments," such as leading the city review of the World Trade Organization meetings of 1999 and calling for an audit that led to the council's ouster of City Light Superintendent Gary Zarker.

Manning's story

For Manning, this election is a shot at public redemption.

As a police officer, he won awards and was profiled in newspapers as a national spokesman for "community-policing" methods, in which police work closely with neighborhoods to solve problems.

Riding a wave of positive publicity, he ran for City Council in 1995, beating one-term incumbent Sherry Harris. But his political career swiftly unraveled after an incident on Oct. 23, 1996, when he came home to find his wife of 20 years moving out.

Manning admits he grabbed her and "sat her down hard" against the tailgate of a truck.

Police were called, and they found Juana Manning "limping and bent at the waist," according to a police report. The councilman was jailed and later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of domestic violence, agreeing to undergo counseling and surrender his right to carry a firearm.

He apologized, but insisted there was no pattern of abuse in his family.

Within two months, Manning was arrested again for breaking into his estranged wife's apartment — ripping a sliding door off its frame and allegedly punching a 27-year-old friend of his stepdaughter and threatening him with a butcher knife.

Manning denied threatening anyone with a knife. But he resigned from the council and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors: violating a no-contact order and criminal trespass.

Manning was sentenced to 30 days in jail, most served in home detention, and two years' probation and domestic-violence counseling.

Until he decided to run for public office again, Manning had stayed mostly out of the public eye. He divorced and declared personal bankruptcy. He remarried four years ago and has two children from that marriage. He sells real estate and is a consultant to some small businesses affected by Sound Transit's light-rail plans in Rainier Valley.

Today, he describes his arrests as "an anomaly in my life," the result of a 20-year marriage that ended acrimoniously.

Manning admits his decision to enter and remain in the race went against the counsel of some friends and advisers.

"Several people told me to quit, said, 'You're going to get embarrassed.' " Manning said. "In my gut I knew it was time to run again. I think the city of Seattle deserves what I have to bring in terms of leadership."

At campaign forums, Manning has focused on public-safety issues, saying he'd fight recent budget cuts to community-service officers who respond to nonemergency calls, such as neighborhood disputes, freeing up police for more serious crimes. Manning also is proposing that the city waive its business-and-occupation tax for the first three years for small businesses.

In person, Manning is charismatic and friendly, with a warm smile that betrays no hint of bitterness over the path his life has taken. He has become more deeply involved with his church and has volunteered to mentor youths.

His supporters say he's a good man who has paid his dues.

"Each one of us has something in our pasts that we probably don't want to talk about, but hopefully we've grown and we're doing positive things with our lives. Everybody can't say that, but John can," says Connie Bown, a community activist who worked on crime prevention with Manning when he was a police officer.

But Manning's campaign this year is a faint flicker of the one he ran in 1995. That year, he raised $92,000 and defeated a well-financed incumbent. This year, he has raised $16,000.

Local domestic-violence experts say it's a good sign that Manning completed certified treatment courses and has not reoffended. But they argue that his past is relevant and that voters should carefully consider what kind of person they want to represent them.

"What's important to me is that they ask themselves the question. It needs to be seriously considered, not dismissed," says Merril Cousin, executive director of the King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Compton's story

Compton, by choice and by accident, during his first term has been at the center of many of City Hall's biggest scraps.

As chairman of the public-safety committee, he has presided over debates on police discipline, racial profiling and treatment of protesters.

Compton, who considered running for mayor two years ago, also has clashed with Mayor Greg Nickels, leading the charge to block the reconfirmation of Zarker, the City Light superintendent and longtime friend of the mayor.

On another occasion, Compton got politically steamrolled by the mayor. He reversed a vote to cut the mayor's office budget last year after receiving a note from Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis threatening to cut a Green Lake fire engine Compton had been trying to save from the budget ax.

More recently, Compton was one of three council members who accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions tied to strip-club owner Frank Colacurcio Jr. before a vote on a rezone beneficial to the club. All three returned the money.

Then Compton admitted he'd committed an ethical lapse by accepting a plane ride on a jet owned by Allen and tickets to a Portland Trail Blazers game. He apologized and agreed to a $3,000 settlement with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.

"I learned a tremendous lesson. I'm a much better public official because of the stuff I went through," he says.

Compton says he's upset that his long-standing interest in South Lake Union development has been tarnished by recent events.

A staunch supporter of plans to create a biotech hub in the neighborhood, Compton says the area is "a huge opportunity for this city" that could create 10,000 jobs.

But critics say he is too chummy with downtown and big-business interests and unresponsive to neighborhoods and activists.

John Fox, coordinator of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, says Compton has constantly "echoed the position of the corporate establishment."

Compton was also part of the majority of council members that voted last year to grant developer Richard Hedreen an exemption so he could cash in housing credits allowing him to exceed normal building-height rules.

Criticized by organized-labor groups, the deal was vetoed by Nickels, who called it a giveaway to a single businessman.

Compton has garnered major endorsements and raised more than $100,000, including about $9,000 at a July 29 fund-raiser sponsored by Vulcan, Allen's development company, and other companies with an interest in the South Lake Union neighborhood.

Looking toward a second term, Compton predicts the council will have to cope with declining tax revenues. Unlike some colleagues, Compton says he doubts the city's economy will recover soon .

"There is no city service that is not going to come under the microscope," he says.

Like Manning, Compton says past mistakes have only served to make him a better candidate for public office.

One of them will get the chance to prove it.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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