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Friday, October 28, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Election 2005

McIver-Pelz race pitting the calm against the fury

Seattle Times staff reporter

Richard McIver, 64


Residence: Lakewood

Occupation: Seattle City Council member

Personal: Married, one grown daughter

Background:Executive with community- development coalition and Tacoma Housing Authority

Top three endorsements: Northwest Women's Political Caucus, King County Democrats (endorsed McIver and Pelz), Alki Foundation (political arm of Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce)

Campaign Web site: www.richardmciver.com

Dwight Pelz, 54


Residence: Mount Baker

Occupation: Metropolitan King County Council member

Personal: Married, two grown children

Background:Community activist on social issues, union organizer

Top three endorsements: Sierra Club, King County Democrats (endorsed Pelz and McIver), Seattle Firefighters Local 27

Campaign Web site: www.dwightpelz.com

For months Dwight Pelz hadn't seemed himself.

His campaign for Seattle City Council lacked the feistiness that drove him to call Tim Eyman a "self-aggrandizing punk" and tell his opponents on the Metropolitan King County Council to "go to hell."

"It's been frustrating," Pelz says of his mostly collegial campaign against incumbent Richard McIver, "because I think there are real differences here."

That's what running against McIver will do to you. With his quiet gentlemanly style, McIver has a way of disarming critics. Besides saying McIver, 64, lacks energy, Pelz has not attacked the council's budget chairman.

But that's recently changed in a race that's shaping up as a choice between a fighter and a mediator — and who would be more effective on the council.

With less than two weeks until the Nov. 8 election, Pelz — who lagged six points behind McIver in the primary — has charged McIver with ducking tough issues, neglecting schools and bowing to Mayor Greg Nickels.

"Richard McIver is business-as-usual. He's not going to change the City Council, and Dwight Pelz is," Pelz says.

McIver, in turn, has accused Pelz of being ineffective, hypocritical and too combative to work with the council. "I'm not loud. I'm not as active as he is. But it seems to me, based on my record and his in the last eight years, I get more done than he does," McIver says.

Taking on tough issues

Steeped in Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals," Pelz, 54, started his career in politics by leading a 1977 initiative campaign that repealed a state sales tax on food. He then headed the Light Brigade, a South Seattle group that agitated for lower electricity rates using sarcastic stunts such as a bake sale for Boeing.

He was elected to the state Legislature in 1990, where he pushed for increased school funding, and was appointed to the County Council in 1997, where he became the council's leading advocate for light rail.

He points to the monorail as a reason why the City Council needs his pugnacity. Pelz was one of two elected officials, along with former Councilwoman Margaret Pageler, to take a public stand against the monorail in a 2002 election that gave the project taxing authority to develop a 14-mile line.

He says that if McIver, a monorail skeptic, and other council members had demonstrated his kind of courage they would've helped defeat the project. "It won by 800 votes, and if Richard McIver had challenged the project on its merits it wouldn't have passed," Pelz says. "But he didn't want to take on a tough issue because that's not his style."

When it comes to Seattle schools, Pelz says McIver should be more generous with a $55 million city surplus estimated for 2005 and 2006.

The council should give $10 million to the school district, which faces projected deficits in coming years, Pelz says. Although city government and the school district are separate governments with their own needs and revenue sources, Pelz says the city has a duty to help Seattle parents.

Pelz also contends he would be more independent from Nickels than McIver. That — and the fact McIver is the council's only African American — explain why the city's daily newspapers endorsed McIver, he says.

"He's the establishment candidate and I think there's some guilt over race that's going on."

Pelz dismisses the suggestion he's running for City Council because he was squeezed out of his county job by a citizen initiative that is shrinking the County Council to nine members. Pelz says he was tired of his county job.

City government is "where the action is," he says, particularly with its focus on developing compact neighborhoods linked to mass transit. "I really am fascinated by what we're doing in Seattle now."

Known for low-key style

Friendly and modest, McIver was first elected in 1997 after a career in community development and affordable housing.

His low-key style makes some think he's disengaged. But he points out he was an architect of a $50 million Rainier Valley development fund. He needled Nickels to focus city planning on Southeast Seattle as well as South Lake Union. And McIver has long advocated for cameras in police cars.

Now he's trading jabs with Pelz.

On the monorail, McIver says it was not his job to act as "thought police" in 2002 and pre-empt the project before its proponents had a chance to come up with a viable plan.

The council did require a strict review of the monorail's finished financial plan before it would permit the project's construction, McIver stresses. And he sponsored legislation last month that effectively scrapped City Hall support for the project.

"If Dwight is so good and powerful," he adds with a smile, "why didn't he stop the monorail?"

On schools, McIver notes the council did help parents by putting before voters last year a $117 million property-tax levy that pays for a variety of preschool and after-school programs. "The only thing we're not doing is teaching classes," he says.

The city can't afford to send its surplus to schools, he says, because the money is needed to restore services and jobs trimmed during recent austerity budgets. "If Dwight is so concerned about schools," he asks, "why doesn't he give [King County Metro] bus passes to students to offset the school district's deficit?"

McIver says Pelz's brashness would strain relations with other council members and the mayor.

That's very different than his style, which McIver sees as a mediating influence in City Hall.

He cites his role as budget chairman the last two years. Instead of the rancor and threats that laced the council's earlier budget-writing sessions with Nickels, the process under McIver was smooth and peaceful.

He told the mayor what the council wanted and Nickels agreed for the most part, he says. Citizens protested the mayor's few cuts. And McIver reached consensus with his colleagues on a remedy. Utility taxes were raised $6 million and funding for social services, libraries, the opera hall, roads, archivists and arborists was restored and, in some cases, increased.

In the end, McIver says, voters have a clear choice. They can have Pelz's bare knuckles or his steady handshake.

"Which of us is more emotionally against the monorail seems immaterial," McIver says. "The question is who did something?"

Bob Young: 206-464-2174

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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