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SGN exclusive interview: Mayoral candidate Jan Drago
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SGN exclusive interview: Mayoral candidate Jan Drago

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

'At the end of the day - let's put it this way - people want a tested and trusted leader, 'trust' being the operative word,' Jan Drago told SGN, explaining why she decided to run for mayor against incumbent Greg Nickels.

As a City Council member since 1993, Drago built a reputation as a pragmatist. While she was one of Mayor Greg Nickels' most reliable friends on the Council - lining up with him on a range of issues from viaduct replacement to South Lake Union development - she is now working to distance herself from her former ally and current rival.

'We've worked together on a number of issues,' she said. 'But it's a question of how you get things done. It's a style issue.'

'The Council, the citizens, the neighborhoods are very alienated,' she continued. 'Our federal and state partners are alienated. I can't remember when Seattle has been less respected.'

Drago told SGN she decided to run for mayor only recently, after a careful evaluation of Nickels' weaknesses.

'I reviewed the mayor's polling,' she said. 'I knew it was bad, but I didn't know how bad. Only 15% said they'd definitely vote to reelect the mayor. Only 23% gave him a good job performance rating. 69% had an unfavorable opinion of him - and 49% very unfavorable.'

'In head to heads, it was 24% Nickels and 45% Drago,' she continued. 'Am I viable? I think the answer is yes.'

'The next question is, could I raise money? We raised $10,000 in three days. That's 5% on my way to a $200,000 goal. I think that's a realistic goal,' Drago said.

Drago shrugged off Nickels' early endorsement by six major union locals and the Building Trades Council of construction unions.

'I've won elections with labor and I've won elections without labor,' she told SGN. 'I have a very, very strong labor background. Very strong relations with the firefighters and police, because of my strong record on public safety issues.'

While the Firefighters Union and the Police Guild have not yet endorsed candidates, the firefighters have said they are 'disappointed' with Nickels because he crossed a picket line of Providence RI firefighters to attend the US Conference of Mayors event earlier this month. Vice President Joe Biden and several other Obama administration officials cancelled their scheduled appearances rather than cross the picket line.

Of the other candidates in the race, Drago mentions T-Mobile executive Joe Mallahan as a contender. 'The T-Mobile millionaire could be the wildcard,' she says. 'It seems the mayor is ignoring Mallahan. That will unfold as we get closer to the primary.'

In a surprising development, the 37th District Democrats snubbed both Drago and Nickels, awarding a dual endorsement to Mallahan and Sierra Club activist Mike McGinn. Drago's campaign declined to comment on the 37th District endorsement. The 37th legislative district includes the Central Area, Rainier Valley, and Rainier Beach.

Responding to the perception she is a 'downtown candidate' out of touch with voters in Seattle's neighborhoods, Drago said, 'Downtown is my neighborhood. I've lived downtown. In the late '80s, I lived in the Pike Market. The Downtown District Council used to meet at my Haagen Dazs [ice cream shop]. I also sat on the Denny Regrade Business Council.'

'The neighborhoods are alienated,' Drago claims. 'The mayor decimated the Department of Neighborhoods. I will restore the Department. I will increase the matching fund. I will listen to the neighborhoods, give them a seat at the table in the budget preparation process.'

The City's Neighborhood Matching Fund provides money to neighborhood groups or organizations for locally initiated projects or improvements, including special funding for tree-planting.

'Here's where we get to the style issue,' Drago says. 'Norm Rice [Seattle Mayor 1989-1997] had a collaborative style. He'd call in staff, he'd call in the stake-holders, he'd always try for a broader partnership.'

Reminded that Rice was criticized at the time for what observers characterized as process-laden decision making, Drago replies, 'Well, Norm was risk-averse. It took a lot to get him to make a decision. Now with Greg Nickels, I respect his ability to make a decision and use his political capital.'

Not that Drago gives Nickels too much credit. She quickly ticks off issues where she opposes the mayor.

'On the bag tax. I voted against it. It's a style issue. & Dismantling the gang squad. I fought against it. & On human services. I was the 2002 Budget Chair. The mayor wanted to cut the budget but he wouldn't meet with the organizations. The mayor cut it and the council restored it. & Annexation. I disagree with annexing White Center and Highline. The mayor never explained why he wanted to do it, except that it was his old [County Council] district&.'

Asked how she envisions her own term as mayor if she is elected, Drago says, 'It's particularly about building relationships. The first thing I would do is convene a King County legislative summit. Set the legislative agenda for the 2010 session, even if it's just two or three items. The following year, expand that to the four-county region. Build coalitions with other cities around the state.'

'It all goes back to 'a tested and trusted leader,' she says.

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