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Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - Page updated at 07:30 p.m.

Businessman Staadecker sells his love of the city in race for mayor

Editor’s note: One in a series of profiles of candidates in Seattle’s mayoral primary By Brian M. Rosenthal
Seattle Times staff reporter

A little more than an hour into a group-endorsement interview with The Seattle Times editorial board, Charlie Staadecker stood up, grabbed his empty glass of water and headed for the pitcher across the room.

But before refilling his own cup, the 70-year-old commercial real-estate broker checked the ones sitting in front of each of his fellow Seattle mayoral hopefuls and, if needed, filled them.

This is the candidate Staadecker is selling to voters: a bespectacled, bowtie-wearing, fourth-generation Seattle businessman, arts patron and all-around gentleman who loves his city and is eager to improve it through collaboration, authenticity and respect.

“I believe in Seattle,” declares his campaign slogan.

Seattle does not appear to believe in him.

Staadecker has raised a lot of money, but attracted few supporters. His only major endorsement is from state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn. A recent poll put his support at 3 percent.

In a race packed with experienced politicians, it’s unlikely he has much chance of advancing past the Aug. 6 primary.

Yet friends and colleagues say the first-time candidate is nonetheless happy for the opportunity to air his ideas and participate in the debate about the city’s future.

“Charlie simply loves Seattle,” said Gerard Schwarz, conductor emeritus of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, one of many local arts organizations that have benefited from Staadecker’s generosity. “He wants more than anything for our elected leaders to live up to the great city that we are.”

On the campaign trail, Staadecker, despite the happy-go-lucky style, has been among the fiercest critics of Mayor Mike McGinn, calling the incumbent “duplicitous,” “disrespectful” and “Machiavellian.”

Staadecker is framing himself as the pro-business candidate, although he has not gotten much support from business groups.

He wants to invest more in early education, a larger police force and programs aimed at promoting job growth.

He also makes it clear he is open to suggestions from others.

“Improving the city is something we all have to do together,” he says.

Longtime presence

The offices of Staadecker Real Estate appear in some ways like a museum of modern downtown history, dotted with photos of old-time shops and plazas.

The small firm will turn 30 next year, but the Staadeckers have been here much longer.

On a recent morning, he proudly held up a 1909 photo of Staadecker and Company, a hat-making shop once at Western Avenue and Spring Street.

Staadecker grew up in Beacon Hill and graduated from Franklin High School before going to the University of Pennsylvania, the U.S. Army and Cornell University.

He spent nearly a decade in the hotel industry before returning to form his own real-estate enterprise mostly aimed at drawing businesses to the region.

Outside of work, he has commissioned works for the symphony and theater — a hobby he says is not limited to the wealthy — and gotten involved in many civic organizations.

He moved for a while to Vashon Island, saying he wanted a better education for his children, and he served two terms on the school board there.

Back in Seattle since 2004, he is the chairman of the Puget Sound Education Service District, which works with 35 area school districts on tasks such as collecting and sharing data about best practices and administering grants and programs.

Staadecker decided to run for mayor, he said, after McGinn shifted positions on the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel and alienated the City Council, port and business community.

“I felt that the leadership was the antithesis of what our city is about,” he said, sitting in his downtown office. “I thought, who’s going to stand up to talk about this city with a fresh perspective from the private sector?”

Staadecker’s platform is focused on helping business to create jobs, from creating a city tourism office to eliminating parking fees after 6 p.m. to conducting exit interviews with departing companies.

More broadly, he says his experience of recruiting firms to the region will make him an effective advocate for the city.

He wants to hire more police officers and put them on the street, assigning some to go door to door, introducing themselves.

He is pushing a “back to the basics” approach to infrastructure. He says Seattle’s sidewalks make it appear “third-world,” and he wants to fix them before investing in new projects.

He thinks drastic change is needed in Seattle’s education system, an issue he cited to explain why he moved to Vashon for 12 years.

“We wanted our kids to have a public education that was consistent,” he said.

As mayor, Staadecker says he would refocus the city’s Families and Education Levy on early-education programs and tie it to specific results, including third-grade reading and fourth-grade math test scores.

Hurdles ahead

Staadecker’s supporters said they are disappointed he has not gotten more attention.

Jerry Anches, a friend and owner of the downtown Sheraton Hotel, blamed the media.

But others said Staadecker’s problem is that the leading contenders have experience in either the City Council or Legislature.

Scott Forbes, the chairman of the 43rd District Democrats, which endorsed state Sen. Ed Murray, said Staadecker has not proved himself.

Plus, local political consultants note, the race already has a prominent candidate who is not a “career politician” — McGinn himself, who often notes that mayor is his first elected office.

“Normally, in a race with this many entrants with political experience, you could run as the quintessential outsider and become the alternative,” said consultant Michael Grossman. “But how do you run as an outsider against a guy who branded himself as the ultimate outsider?”

Another hurdle is that Staadecker has not gotten the backing of the business community.

The political arm of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce also endorsed Murray because, as spokesman George Allen said, he “has shown in Olympia that he has the ability to bring people together.”

Those who believe in Staadecker’s chances point to his fundraising. He has raised some $195,000.

But Staadecker has directed 70 percent of his campaign spending toward consulting fees and fundraising efforts, far higher than the other candidates. His top consultant, who is responsible for that fundraising, has pocketed $66,000 for his own firm so far.

The money spent on actual campaigning has gone toward producing a campaign newsletter, hiring dozens of paid doorbellers and making a series of Web videos parodying the Dos Equis’ “most interesting man in the world” commercials.

The consultant, Colby Underwood, said those moves may translate into surprising support at the polls.

Underwood added that Staadecker may benefit from a primary electorate that’s expected to be older.

“There’s a chance he can make it through,” Underwood said. “We’re crossing our fingers.”

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or On Twitter @brianmrosenthal

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