Jean Godden

View from the other side of the notebook

Editor’s note: She’s back in print! Jean Godden is a new columnist for the West Seattle Herald and Westside Weekly. Godden is a veteran newspaperwoman (Seattle P.I. and Seattle Times) and public servant (Seattle City Council). Her column will give us an insider’s view of city politics. Let us know what you think about her new column. Send your thoughts to KenR@robinsonnews.com

By Jean Godden

First I wrote 5,000 columns -- give or take 40 million words -- for Seattle's daily newspapers. Then, on the final day of filing in 2003 -- I quit my job, best in the city, and paid a $850 filing fee to run for a Seattle City Council seat with no guarantee of winning.

Why would any sane person do that?

The short answer is: I was deeply offended by the behavior of an incumbent councilmember. Judy Nicastro, someone I had initially admired, sent me an email boasting about the scads of money she had raised for her re-election. Curious about her fat campaign chest, I looked up the donor records. What I found left me slack jawed.

Nicastro had taken maximum contributions -- $650 per person -- from the Colacurcio family and their associates. They owned a string of string of nude strip clubs including Rick's, an infamous dive in Lake City. Not only had Nicastro taken Colacurcio money, but she had accepted contributions from nude dance club owners as far afield as Texas.

How could Nicastro take money -- much less brag about it -- from the Colacurcios? Frank Colacurcio and his son Frank Jr., were well known locally. Frank Sr. had been accused of profit skimming, tax fraud and fostering prostitution; and he had served prison terms for racketeering and tax fraud in 1981.

After reading about Nicastro's donors, I pointed out the names to Seattle Times police reporter Steve Milletich. He reported on the curious strip club contributions as did other members of the media.

Their stories confirmed that Nicastro, the city council's land use chair, had led fellow councilmembers in approving a rezone that Rick's had long been seeking. Contributions amounting to $36,000 went to three councilmembers, but Nicastro collected the lion's share, around $20,000. News media began using the term "Strippergate," suggesting a connection between contributions and the rezone. When asked about ethical concerns, Nicastro said, "Seattle's nothing but Mayberry with high rises."

Nicastro's response left me kicking myself. Why had I never run for office? Like many a reporter who covered City Hall, I had sometimes thought, "Gee, I could do better." But probably I had waited too long. I mentioned my quandary to a friend, Cathy Allen, a political consultant. She persuaded me to pay for an overnight survey.

The night before the filing deadline, Cathy called with results -- I had four times the positives of the incumbent. I was time to decide. I slept uneasily, but woke at 6 a.m. and wrote the necessary resignation letter. My editor, Dave Boardman, said goodbye, wished me well, and warned that I would get zero favors from my former employer. I went off to county election offices and filed.

Afterwards I felt strangely disoriented. For the first time in 29 years, I was on the other side of the notebook. Even though I had covered elections and candidates, I had no real idea what it took to manage a campaign or how to raise money or even what to say when asked about my late-to-the-party decision.

Fortunately, I had help from professionals, starting with my friend Cathy. I had to learn how to give a two-minute speech. I had to chain myself to a phone, asking for support from friends and acquaintances. And I had to submit to a closet cleanout -- no more reporter's trench coat and comfortable loafers, instead I had a chaperoned trip to Nordstrom and a dented credit card. And, like most candidates, I had to face honest and not so valid criticisms.

It was a difficult campaign. I ran against a sitting councilmember -- never a good idea -- and five worthy male contenders. But with a lot of dumb luck and generous supporters, I won 53 percent of the vote and was elected to office 100 days later, something that would have been impossible with today's August primaries.

I had promised voters a return to ethics and Seattle values and I was off on my own to find a way to keep faith with loyal supporters and constituents. It was my proudest and most humbling moment facing the hardest and most rewarding job I had ever tackled.

You can also visit Jean's website here:
http://jeangodden.com

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