Seattle anti-homeless park-exclusion law backers run for Council

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 24 Oct 1999 10:17:12 -0700 (PDT)


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http://www.seattlep-i.com/local/safe191.shtml
FWD  Seattle Post-Intelligencer / Tuesday, October 19, 1999

BACKERS OF ANTI-HOMELESS LAW MAY USE LOOPHOLE TO KEEP LAW IN PLACE

By KERY MURAKAMI
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER

As critics see it, they may finally have a chance to change a law that
allows police to bar the homeless and others from Seattle's parks.

     But supporters of the park-exclusion ordinance, who include Microsoft
Vice President Richard Brass, are doing everything they can to keep it and
City Attorney Mark Sidran's other so-called civility laws in place. And
some say they're even willing to skirt city election laws to do it.

     They have set up a political action committee called Safe Streets and
Parks for All to spend $33,000, or several times what campaign contribution
limits allow, to get civility supporters on the council.

     This election is considered crucial in the debate over the civility
laws, which ban irritants such as loud noise and aggressive panhandling.
Though the laws were passed by overwhelming majorities, two critics,
Councilmen Nick Licata and Peter Steinbrueck, have since been elected to
the council. And the Nov. 2 vote will determine who replaces two of
Sidran's strongest backers -- Sue Donaldson and Martha Choe.

     But nearly as controversial as Safe Streets' goals is how the group
plans to gain friends at City Hall. It would exploit what some consider a
campaign finance loophole, known as independent expenditures, to get their
friends into office.

     The same loophole allows Brass, a prominent advocate of the civility
laws, to spend 15 times what the law would otherwise allow in direct
contributions to candidates.

     Mike McKay, the former U.S. attorney in Seattle and Safe Street's
treasurer, said the group intends to send political mailings on behalf of
Heidi Wills, Jim Compton, Cheryl Chow and incumbent Councilwoman Margaret
Pageler.

     In making independent expenditures, individuals and PACs send mailings
and run ads on behalf of candidates without coordination with the
candidates' own campaigns. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that unlike
campaign contributions, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
allows supporters to spend as much as they want to campaign for their
favorites.

     Seattle law limits direct contributions to $400. In theory, that's so
average citizens can hold as much sway over elections as do wealthy
executives such as Brass.

     Brass can legally contribute just $1,600 in direct donations to the
four candidates. But he's legally spending 15 times that much -- $25,000 --
through independent expenditures. He has also given $200 to Compton's
campaign.

     Jim Hammond, the Safe Streets campaign manager, said the group is only
exercising its right to free speech.

     Brass, who did not return calls for comment, owns a $1.67 million
Madison Park home adjacent to Howell Park and has been an advocate of
Sidran's 1997 parks exclusion law in his role as president of the Three
Parks Foundation.

     When the council was considering weakening the law in 1998, Brass'
group commissioned a poll that showed 65 percent of those surveyed
supported the law. The American Civil Liberties Union, however, said the
poll asked leading questions such as "Do you believe that illegal behavior
should be permitted in Seattle Parks, such as public urinating, drinking
alcohol, using illegal drugs or having sex in public view?"

    Sidran, who could not be reached for comment, last month gave a
presentation about the civility laws to the group but is not otherwise
involved with it.

    Compton, Pageler and Chow support the park-exclusion ordinance, saying
they have helped make parks safer. Wills has taken a middle ground, saying
the city should attack the root problems of homelessness and create a "tent
city'' for the homeless until more shelters are available.

     Their opponents, Dawn Mason, Curt Firestone, Judy Nicastro and Charlie
Chong, oppose the law, citing an ACLU study that said minorities and the
poor were being disproportionately targeted.

     Brass is by far the group's biggest donor. Former King County
Prosecutor Chris Bayley, a neighborhood activist, and three downtown
property management companies have contributed another $3,400 between them.

    The group is the latest to run independent expenditures, which is
playing a greater role in this year's City Council elections than ever
before. The Civic Foundation, a self-described anti-corporate welfare
group, has spent about $3,000 apiece for Mason and Chong. If Safe Streets'
money is spread evenly, Wills, Compton, Choe and Pageler would each get
help valued at about $8,000.

      The roughly $40,000 spent thus far eclipses the $11,000 in
independent expenditures spent in the 1997 City Council elections.

      Apartment owners have created their own group to support Chow's
campaign against renters advocate Judy Nicastro, but haven't spent any
money yet.

      The Safe Streets' entry into the campaign poses an interesting
dilemma for Wills and Compton. They condemned the practice two weeks ago
when it was being done for their opponents. They're less outraged now.

     Compton wouldn't comment on the expenditures, saying he didn't know
anything about the group.

     Wills drew a distinction with the campaign for Chong saying the Civic
Foundation really wasn't independent because it used Chong's name to raise
money.

     ACLU lobbyist Jerry Sheahan, however, said, "It sounds like the
privatizing of the campaign against the poor that the city has been
achieving through the city attorney's initiatives with the City Council's
acquiescence."


ON THE BALLOT

Seattle City Council

POSITION 1: Cheryl Chow, Judy Nicastro

POSITION 3: Lenora Jones, Peter Steinbrueck

POSITION 5: Curt Firestone, Margaret Pageler

POSITION 7: Charlie Chong, Heidi Wills

POSITION 9: Jim Compton, Dawn Mason.

WHO VOTES: Seattle residents choose one candidate for each council seat.

DETAILS: All are four-year terms paying $84,813 next year. Council members
have access to the city's motor pool, but only for city business.

MORE INFORMATION:

King County Election Office, 206-296-8683, <http://www.metrokc.gov/elections>

Seattle Ethics and Elections, 206-684-8500,
<http://www.pan.ci.seattle.wa.us/ethics/ethics.htm>


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