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Originally published Friday, December 2, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Book Review

"Zioncheck for President": Tragicomic tale of Seattle politics

U.S. Rep. Marion Zioncheck was an alcoholic manic-depressive who killed himself in 1936 by jumping out of his office window in downtown...

Special to The Seattle Times

"Zioncheck for President: A True Story of Idealism and Madness in American Politics"
by Phil Campbell
Nation Books, 288 pp., $15.95

U.S. Rep. Marion Zioncheck was an alcoholic manic-depressive who killed himself in 1936 by jumping out of his office window in downtown Seattle, head first. He left behind an unfinished and incoherent suicide note along with his unfinished and incoherent career.

His successor was a young prosecuting attorney named Warren G. Magnuson. Zioncheck became a footnote — and Maggie became a Washington state legend.

The obscure congressman serves as a cautionary tale and parallel story line in "Zioncheck for President," Phil Campell's first book, a fast-paced mix of memoir and gonzo reporting.

In 2001 Campbell is fired from "The Stranger," an alternative Seattle weekly. He then takes another step toward the abyss when he agrees to manage a doomed Seattle City Council campaign.

His candidate, Grant Cogswell, is a failed writer and moody recovering alcoholic with migraine headaches who idolizes Zioncheck, looks like Charlie Brown, and believes the FBI is tapping his phone.

Campbell quickly gains our sympathy.

As newcomers to Seattle, both the candidate and the campaign manager are flummoxed by the local Democratic establishment's interest in civility, unity and sanity.

Adding to Campbell's woes, his piranha-owning roommate buys a gun after 9/11. Three main story lines, each detailing a variation of madness, resonate off of each other artfully.

Campbell is surrounded by the politics of neuroses. Unhappy and unbalanced people act out against the villain du jour, not realizing that living with integrity, kindness and decency is a more powerful and revolutionary act than rioting outside WTO meetings.

Cogswell is not even kind to his unpaid campaign manager. He kicks Campbell's car and dents it during one of his temper tantrums.

"Why do you put up with Grant anyway," a volunteer asks.


Campbell effectively portrays the mania of a campaign. He leaves Seattle after Cogswell's defeat, but he takes some well-earned perspective with him.

"Zioncheck is dead," he writes in defense of his new day job.

Every time someone mentioned revolution in this book I thought of the Beatles song. "You tell me it's the institution, well, you know, you better free your mind instead."

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