Making a run for a City Council seat: Business owner Robert Sondheim tosses his hat into the ring

When former Seattle City Councilmember Jim Compton abruptly resigned his seat last month two years into his second four-year term, the way was paved for a large number council hopefuls to toss their hat in the ring.

Among the first 10 applicants was Robert Sondeim. While perhaps not a household name across the city, Sondeim has owned and operated the Rosebud restaurant on East Pike Street since 1993. As the former president of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, he's well versed in issues of importance to the Hill and the city.

"I'd like to think I'm a strong contender," Sondheim said. "I'm a fourth-generation Seattleite, a two-term president of the Capitol Hill chamber, a longtime owner of a small business. I think my application should be taken seriously."

As to why he applied, Sondheim points to his lifelong Seattle residency, his strong advocacy of arts organizations and the business perspective he has gained from running his own business for more than a decade.

"I've always enjoyed being involved with community issues, with arts and gay issues, and working on the City Council feels pretty logical," he said. "I start from having always been active in the community, and I'm not sure many other candidates are as tied to their neighborhoods as I am."

At first, it appeared that the field would be less crowded than expected. But 98 people submitted applications for the seat by the Friday, Jan. 6, deadline, similar to the number who applied in 1996 when then councilmember John Manning resigned after being charged with domestic violence. Included on the list are former councilmembers Sue Donaldson and Delores Sibonga (as well as Manning). Several recent council candidates have also applied, including Robert Rosencrantz, Angel Bolanos and Darryl Smith.

Sondheim acknowledges that a crowded field reduces everyone's chances, especially for a candidate who does not have the name recognition gained by having run for office. But his is not a vanity application. He has a degree in economics and political science, is a former legislative aide, ran political campaigns in the '70s and was seriously considering running for a council seat in 2007 prior to Compton's sudden announcement.

"I have been thinking about running for a while. In general, I'd say I'm socially liberal and fiscally conservative," he said. "Those traits describe how I would approach issues on the council."

If he makes it to the City Council, Sondheim said his priorities will include public-safety issues as well as promoting Seattle's arts scene. Park issues also would be of prime importance. In addition, Sondheim wants to become a highly visible councilmember.

"The average person probably doesn't know who all their councilmembers are. I think it's important for councilmembers to be out in the city, to be visible. I am a people person, and I think that element is very important," he said.

It's something of a mad dash, but supporters are sending letters to current councilmembers encouraging them to select Sondheim.

The applicants won't have much time to sell themselves to the City Council. Starting on Thursday, Jan. 12, the council will listen to each applicant give a three-minute presentation describing why he or she should be appointed to fill the vacancy. By Monday, Jan. 16, the field should be reduced to roughly 12 candidates. On Jan. 19, those semifinalists will be interviewed, with the list whittled down to approximately six by Jan. 20.

More interviews will take place the following week. By Jan. 27, the council will vote daily until one candidate has garnered the necessary five votes. A press release from councilmember Jan Drago stated that the goal is to swear in the new councilmember on Feb. 6.

Beyond the challenges of joining the City Council, the lucky winner faces two elections in short order. A special election for the seat will take place this November, along with the position's regularly scheduled election in 2007. If selected, Sondheim is prepared to run in November and, if successful, the following year.

While not discouraged by the large number of applicants, Sondheim is realistic about the odds.

"I like to think I have a chance," he said. Let's say I'm guardedly optimistic. I know I'm a good candidate, but we'll just have to see."

Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at editor@capitolhilltimes or 461-1308.

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