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Progressive Favorite On Seattle City Council Will Not Seek Re-Election

Ashley Gross
Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata is seen talking to the media on Wednesday, April 16, 2014.

Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata, a favorite of many of the city's progressives during his 17 years on the council, announced Wednesday that he will not seek re-election this year.

Licata, who has been on the council since 1998, cited a desire to tackle "one major challenge ahead of me" as his reason for leaving. He doesn't know where that will land him yet, but he says he has a book coming out and wants to spread his vision of Seattle as a model for urban governance.

"I want to promote Seattle in a way of not just getting people to visit as tourists, but a way to promote Seattle as a model for what you can do to involve citizens in having more control over their lives and their urban environment," Licata said in an interview.

New Election Scheme 'Not A Determining Factor'

Licata's departure comes ahead of the city's first election under the new council district map, though he says this was a "background concern" in his decision.

This November, instead of a city-wide election for nine at-large seats on the council, a newly-drawn map divides the city into seven districts. Voters will then vote for two city-wide, at-large positions and choose one council member from their district.

Licata lives in District Six, which covers the Ballard, Phinney Ridge, Fremont and Greenwood neighborhoods. Councilmember Mike O'Brien also lives in District Six.

"I would not relish running against my colleagues on the city council, if nothing else, because it would make it difficult to get some things accomplished this year ... But that wasn't a determining factor," Licata said.

Licata's Legacy

Licata says he wants Seattle to remember him for his role in passing both an increase in Seattle's minimum wage and requiring businesses with more than four full-time workers to offer paid sick leave. He also supported opening a new city office to enforce labor laws, and wants to see the start-up process through before stepping down.

As he departs the council, Licata says he hopes the city remains an affordable place to live. 

"We need a much more active public sector in creating more affordable housing in Seattle and retaining affordable housing in Seattle," he said.

Though initially opposed to building a tunnel for State Route 99, he became a tunnel supporter after "everyone else basically dropped the idea" of re-building the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Even with the Bertha tunneling machine currently stalled under downtown, he says the costs of abandoning the project would be too high.

"We literally are dug in so deep that the only way out now is to finish the tunnel," Licata said.

Licata will also likely be remembered for his opposition to public financing for a new basketball arena, a stance that was key to the Seattle SuperSonics' departure to Oklahoma City in 2008. As Seattle considers another arena proposal in the SoDo neighborhood, Licata says he hopes public officials ensure the city gets a "fair rate of return" from the arrival of a new NBA or NHL franchise.

But the first thing Licata hopes to be remembered for?

"Getting along with people," he said with a laugh.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.