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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 30, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 05
SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: City Council member Nick Licata
Section One
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: City Council member Nick Licata

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

For the first time since 1998, when the new Seattle City Council takes office in January 2016 Nick Licata will not be in one of the seats.

The veteran Council member announced January 22 that he will not run for reelection in November.

Not that Licata will spend his new found free time puttering around his garden. He has a new book coming out in January 2016, and plans for organizing projects that will 'promote what we do here [in Seattle] nationally.'

'It seems strange,' Licata tells SGN, 'but progressive networks are not that well developed. How many cities have LGBT Commissions like we do? Nobody knows. How many have Women's Commissions? Nobody knows.

'And we need to know. That's what drives me.'

Licata sees organizing a national network to coordinate what he calls the 'urban progressive renaissance' as his next project.

'My last big adventure,' he says with a grin. 'I hate to make the comparison, but maybe it's like Teddy Roosevelt going to the Amazon jungle. My 'River of Doubt.'

Looking back on 17 years on Seattle's City Council, Licata has plenty of achievements to be proud of.

'Paid sick leave - we set national standards,' he says. 'Minimum wage legislation - most of the 'inside job' was me.

'Getting the Council to take positions on national issues - that was not the obvious thing to do. I remember several years ago, we lost 5 to 4 on Burma. But we passed a resolution opposing the war in Iraq.

'And the Occupy Seattle resolution - we added the requirement for social investing. Now banks must show they do responsible investing if they want to do business with the City.'

Asked what issues still needed to be addressed, Licata replied 'Getting the City to divest from fossil fuel investments - oil and coal - it's challenging, but a worthy project.

'Affordable housing - that's the friendly way to put it, but it's really rent control,' he continues.

'It was taken away from us when the Republicans controlled the governorship and both houses of the legislature for a couple of years,' Licata explains, referring to a bill taking jurisdiction over rents away from cities.

'But something has to happen. It's outrageous! Workers are being pushed out of the city because they can't afford rent.'

'Public transportation,' Licata continues. 'I think you have to be very careful with light rail. It's very expensive and we don't want to rob busses to pay for trains.

'Some of my friends think I'm a troglodyte when I say that,' he adds with a grin.

Licata has served with four mayors, and politely declines to say which one was the most troublesome to work with.

'All had their own quirks,' he says. 'All had confidence. All had their shortfalls. It takes real strength to recognize your shortfalls.

'Paul Schell - say what you will, he had a vision for the City. The library renovations were all him.

'Greg Nickels got things done - maybe heavy-handedly sometimes...

'Mike McGinn always had time to talk to you. He always liked to sit down and have a good talk. I remember sometimes we'd be talking and I'd look at my watch and think 'You're the Mayor, don't you have to be somewhere...'

'I give him credit for defeating the aggressive panhandling ordinance [proposed by Council member Tim Burgess].

'And Murray - the perfect Mayor.'

Asked about his own shortfalls, Licata says quickly 'Without a doubt - and this has been pointed out to me in painful detail - I'm too glib, too filled with hubris in my own humor.

'I once told Sports Illustrated that sports has zero cultural value,' he admits, in the course of his dogged opposition to public funding for sports stadiums.

Long-time Seattle residents remember Nick Licata as the lonely 1 in many 8 to 1 Council votes, but now he is more often leading a 9 to 0 majority.

'I won them over!' Licata laughs. 'The city has changed, Seattle voters have become more progressive. And the politicians - politicians follow, they don't lead - politicians have adapted to the voters. Folks in office may always have had those views, but they were afraid to show them. Now they feel they can.

'And I've learned to frame issues in a way that's not seen as threatening,' Licata adds. 'In the 'inside game' it's important to respect your colleagues.'

Before running for City Council in 1997, Licata published The People's Yellow Pages and an alternative newspaper, The Seattle Sun, a project he remembers fondly.

'I've always been fascinated by alternative newspapers,' he tells SGN. 'When I was in the 5th Grade, I started my own newsletter, so it's been something I've enjoyed for a long time.

'I never fooled myself that I was a good writer. [At The Sun] I ended up writing a column. You don't have to write well to be a columnist,' he laughs.

Licata is also proud of his children's book, Princess Bianca and the Vandals, which he describes as 'an eco-adventure for 8-10 year olds.' The walls of his office are decorated in part with reviews of the book written by 4th graders. His upcoming book, which will be released next year, he calls 'a citizen's guide to changing the world,' based on his 45 years experience as an organizer and politician. 'I never told anyone around here I was writing it,' he chuckles. 'They'd think I was wasting time.'

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