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Originally published January 21, 2015 at 7:56 PM | Page modified January 22, 2015 at 10:45 AM

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Nick Licata won’t run again after 16 years on Seattle City Council

Longtime Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata, for years the city’s most liberal politician, won’t run for re-election, he announced Wednesday.

Seattle Times staff reporter


Longtime Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata, an ardent progressive who operated on the council’s leftmost wing for many years, is bowing out.

In office since 1998, Licata won’t seek re-election this year, he announced Wednesday, saying he wants to work against inequality not only in Seattle, but in other cities as well.

“Perhaps the greatest challenge we all face is the need to improve the lives of Americans who are seeing their future increasingly impeded by the outrageous growing concentration of wealth and, I would add, power,” he said.

“No one city can resolve this problem. But Seattle has done much in attempting to do so. I would like to play more of an active role in that effort. And see what I can do to have Seattle’s accomplishments duplicated elsewhere.”

Licata spent the past several months mulling yet another run, and his decision to pack it in raises new questions about the council’s future composition.

The Greenwood resident could have campaigned to represent much of Northwest Seattle in the new 6th District as the council moves to geographic representation for seven of its nine seats. The district, also home to Councilmember Mike O’Brien, also includes Fremont, Ballard and Loyal Heights.

Licata also could have declared his candidacy for one of the council’s two citywide positions. But that likely would have meant squaring off against either Council President Tim Burgess or Councilmember Sally Clark.

O’Brien has yet to register a campaign, but the odds of his seeking the 6th District seat increased Wednesday. He’s still mulling a citywide bid.

He and Licata didn’t want to run against each other.

“Nick has been a mentor, an ally and a friend,” O’Brien said. “I heard the news today at the same time as everyone else. I need a few days to think about what this means for me. It certainly adds some clarity.”

Licata grew up in blue-collar Cleveland. He moved to Seattle to pursue a master’s degree, then wound up living in a commune on Capitol Hill and founding the Seattle Sun, an alternative weekly newspaper.

Since winning a council seat, Licata has championed funding for human services while opposing taxpayer money for professional sports stadiums.

He raised eyebrows early on when he started reading poetry before committee meetings and polished his liberal bonafides in 2011 when he sponsored a council resolution supporting the Occupy movement.

Licata was supplanted as the council’s most left-leaning member with the 2012 election of socialist Kshama Sawant.

“Nick is kind of an old-school progressive, and the pendulum finally swung back to him,” said admiring former Mayor Mike McGinn.

Tim Ceis, a former deputy mayor, also noted Licata’s changing role.

“When he came in, the view of him was the one vote on an 8-1 vote,” Ceis said. “Now he’s more mainstream. Maybe that’s Nick maturing. Maybe it’s the council becoming more progressive.”

Ron Smith, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, said Licata has paid scant attention to public-safety issues, while Martin Kaplan, an architect who attempted to unseat Licata in 2009, said the longtime politician has been wrong on some issues.

“Nick has served us for a very long time and we all owe him a huge debt of gratitude,” Kaplan said. “But he bragged about turning his back on the (NBA’s) Sonics. He felt that supporting a sports team was less valuable than supporting the symphony. There are a lot of people in the city who enjoy them both.”

John Fox, activist with the Seattle Displacement Coalition, praised Licata for standing up for neighborhoods and low-income tenants against real-estate developers.

“The first time I sat down with Nick was in the ’70s when he was the head of an anti-redlining coalition,” Fox said. “This is just a tremendous loss.”

Licata traveled to New York City last month to lead the annual meeting of Local Progress, a nationwide network of elected officials that he created in 2012.

That work will be a focus after Licata leaves City Hall, and he’ll publish a book next year on his life of activism in Seattle.

“We have been in the national forefront in passing paid sick leave, increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, beginning a preschool care program for all children, banning plastic bags, providing public space for homeless encampments, requiring police surveillance protocols, enforcing wage-theft protections, protecting immigrant rights and requiring safer renters’ housing conditions,” he said.

Daniel Beekman: 206-464-2164 or

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