Campaigns 2009

Licata Lite

The world may be going digital, but this incumbent decided to publish his own newspaper. instead

By Eric Scigliano July 17, 2009

In 1996, soon-to-be Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata became an early adopter when he launched Urban Politics, an email newsletter combining policy positions, political skinny, and general musings. Now, just as everyone else is closing newspapers, Licata has printed one to tout his bid for a fourth term: “We’re sort of ahead of the retro curve,” he explains. The result is a four-page broadsheet, The Seattle Planet, packed with endorsements, Urban Politics-type type, and fun stuff like a 1912 photo of grandfather Nicola Licata in front of his Cleveland barber shop and a shaggy tale about how Licata (the grandson) got busted for being a clothed bicyclist at the Fremont Solstice Parade. “A Tale of Two Trees,” a story that runs in the Planet and also in Urban Politics, is a real-life fable of Licata’s happy-warrior approach to civic thrift and citizen service, on the micro as well macro scale.

One hundred thousand copies are to start hitting doorsteps tomorrow, coffee shops to follow. You might wonder why Licata bothers after trouncing token opponents four or five-to-one in his last two races. But pride goeth before, and this year he has two more-than-token challengers, architect Marty Kaplan, who paints him as insufficiently pro-development, and county parks official Jessie Israel, who attacks him for being insufficiently pro-rail (and by implication pro-Nickels). Exchanges between Israel’s and Licata’s supporters have gotten especially nasty.

This is a tumultuous political year, with a bumper crop of open slots—county executive. two city council seats—and Mayor Nickels running despite poll numbers in the cellar. When angst and ire rise, unlikely victims get caught in the electoral crossfire: Two years ago voters steamed at Port profligacy and cozy dealing bounced out Alec Fisken, the port commissioner who’d most staunchly opposed such practices. It would be equally ironic if the throw-the-bums-out sentiment that’s stirred against Nickels spilled over onto Licata, the council’s lonely and sometimes only dissenter from the Nickels agenda.

For now, a chatty broadsheet offers relief from the usual slick, bludgeoning campaign mailings. Licata seems to revel in trying to put the lit back in “campaign literature” (“I know that’s an oxymoron”), though he admits it’s “risky—how many times do you see pictures of politicians wearing funny hats? I should be kissing babies.”

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