In the mid-late 1990s, Mount Baker ruled the city: Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, King County Executive Ron Sims, County Councilmember Dwight Pelz, and a disproportionate number of city council members all lived in that neighborhood. West Seattle had a county councilmember, Greg Nickels, but no representation in City Hall. Some West Seattleites felt so ’buked, scorned, and unrepresented they tried to secede from the city. In 1995 the state legislature passed a bill allowing them to do just that, but the secession drive petered out.
What a difference a decade makes. Political power still clusters in certain neighborhoods, but not the same ones. Last winter’s most sensational political scandal was over the special treatment city snowplow crews seemed to give West Seattle, where Nickels, now mayor, and his transportation director live. (A subsequent inquiry cleared them of wrongdoing.) West Seattle’s stature may rise further in November. Under the likeliest (though far from certain) election scenario, Nickels will continue as mayor and fellow West Seattleite Dow Constantine will become county executive—the first time since January 1998 that one neighborhood would fill both top slots.
In the 1990s civic activists agitated for Seattle to follow the examples of King County and large cities nationwide and switch to district elections—electing council members by district rather than citywide. That’s one way to counter disparities in neighborhood influence. If West Seattle achieves dominance, the idea might start to look better in Mount Baker.