These are heady times in Seattle politics. Our city is at a historic turning point. It's blossoming with possibilities, yet vexed by chronic...

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These are heady times in Seattle politics.

Our city is at a historic turning point. It’s blossoming with possibilities, yet vexed by chronic problems with transportation and schools. Fortunately, into the breach has stepped a crop of seasoned, energetic leaders.

Check out this year’s race for mayor. Running are a 21-year veteran of the City Council; a former state legislator; a businessman who’s been elected to city, county and state offices; and a young populist city councilman. Between them they have 50-plus years’ experience in elected office.

Oh, wait. My mistake. Those people are running for mayor of Kent — one of those butt-of-jokes suburbs down in South King County.

In Seattle, which we like to remind ourselves is the economic and cultural axis on which the Northwest spins, only one of five candidates for mayor has ever served a day in public office. That’s the current first-term mayor, Greg Nickels.

His challengers? A Socialist who won’t name his supporters for fear they’ll be attacked. An earnest activist who insists she’s not crazy. The cross-dressing host of a public-access cable TV show titled “Kurt Cobain Was Murdered.”

Yesterday, I became briefly hopeful someone had come along to relieve us from this theater of the absurd. A former University of Washington professor named Alfred Runte stood in City Hall to announce he’s the one to stop the Nickels coronation.

“We need a real debate about the future of this city, and we need decisive leadership for a change,” said Runte, 58, an expert on national parks who taught history at the UW in the 1980s.

Runte has zero political experience. He’s engaging enough, though. He hit some clear notes, blasting Nickels for catering to downtown developers and for vanishing just as the monorail collapsed.

Nickels ought to at least be forced to debate, and Runte seems like an able debater.

He gave Nickels a grade of “D” for his first term, for glossing over the “little things” such as parks and street paving.

That’s a bit harsh. I’d give Nickels about a “B,” and think he probably deserves re-election. But I’m no professor.

Of course neither is Runte, anymore. That’s because the UW refused to grant him tenure, which in academia is akin to saying, “get lost.” Later he sued the school for age discrimination. He lost — the judge said Runte’s problem wasn’t his age, but his arrogance.

Runte sued again and lost again. His appeal still is pending, 18 years after he taught his last UW class.

Good grief. I’m thrilled someone coherent finally is taking on Nickels. But is this the best we can come up with in this city?

It’s not just the mayor’s race. There’s some talent running for City Council, but a Seattle Times headline this week pleaded, desperately, “Will anyone run for School Board?”

It wasn’t long ago we were all puffed up that Seattle was a city of the “creative class” that was sure to dazzle the world in the new millennium.

Forget the world. When it comes to political leadership, it’d be nice if we could just keep up with Kent.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or