Renton may be making a new regional name for itself these days, from the courting of the Sonics to the opening of a sprawling new shopping...

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Renton may be making a new regional name for itself these days, from the courting of the Sonics to the opening of a sprawling new shopping complex, The Landing.

But at home, in the city’s mayoral campaign, old-fashioned mudslinging is ruling the day.

The race between Mayor Kathy Keolker and her challenger, City Councilman Denis Law, has escalated from personal insults to lawsuits, often overshadowing the candidates’ issues.

From the Keolker camp came the allegation last month that Law had violated the Open Public Meetings Act, colluding with other council members to support developers. And from Law’s supporters, the continued speculation that the mayor staged a threat to herself last spring, just to get public sympathy.

Each candidate blames the other for the negativity of the campaign, but in recent interviews, neither held back.

“I have not heard him come up with a new idea or thought as a council member. I have not seen him do anything,” Keolker said of Law.

For his part, Law described the mayor as a divisive figure who would rather pursue her own vision than collaborate for the common good.

“She’s created this adversarial relationship from day one,” he said.

After several years of struggling, Renton is enjoying an economic boom, with Seattle Seahawks headquarters under construction and the Federal Reserve Bank moving in. Both candidates said that, if elected, they would continue on course, while adding priorities of their own — affordable housing and environmental practices for Keolker; public safety and controlled growth for Law.

But overall, the race has focused less on policy and more on personal style. Keolker served two decades on the council before becoming mayor; her supporters say she’s a savvy, committed leader who can turn Renton into a regional player. Law spent his career as a publisher; backers say he has the managerial experience and the people skills to move the city forward.

“They’re both good people,” said Ted Rodriguez, owner of Torero’s Mexican Restaurant. “But the bottom line is, why change the mayor when everything is working OK?”

Dolores Gibbons, a former Keolker supporter, gave her reason: The mayor, she said, has strained critical relationships between City Hall and community leaders. After four years of watching, Gibbons said she admires the way Law reaches out to people who don’t agree with his point of view.

“It’s what you do when you’re trying to build partnerships,” said Gibbons, former superintendent of Renton schools.

“He said, she said”

From the start, the mayoral race has been a heated game of “he said, she said.” He says some residents feel unsafe; she says the statistics show no serious threat of crime. He says a controversy over redevelopment in the Renton Highlands reflected a lack of leadership; she says the council approved her approach, then backed down in the face of resident protest.

Both claim to have made Renton a better place to live. Keolker called The Landing a major achievement, along with the revitalization of downtown. Law said he focused attention on fighting crime, and pushed for reduced utility rates for seniors and other vulnerable residents.

Both campaigns have raised significant funds. Contributors to Keolker’s campaign range from Sonics and Storm owner Clay Bennett to the National Women’s Political Caucus to local car dealerships. Top donors to Law’s campaign include the Renton Police Officers Guild, the Renton Firefighters Local and several developers.

As of this week, Law had raised $112,000 to Keolker’s $71,000.

This is the first time Judith White, a resident of Leisure Estates, a mobile-home park for seniors, has gotten involved in a mayoral campaign. She was impressed with the way Keolker fixed problems at her park.

“She just sat and engaged every single one of the citizens, and the next day some things started to happen,” White said.

But Mike Weisz, president of the Renton Police Officers Guild, said he has seen mostly inaction from the mayor. The guild supported Keolker in 2003 but unanimously endorsed Law this time, donating its highest sum ever, $10,000, to his campaign.

“That speaks volumes, as far as how our membership feels about the current administration of the city as compared to how it could be run,” Weisz said.

He said Law, chair of the council’s public-safety committee, has clearly proven himself the better leader, walking the beat with police officers and pushing for an effort to reduce crime around the Transit Center.

Twists and turns

Inevitably, the so-called “lipstickgate” of spring 2006 has come up, dividing the community into people who believe a political enemy of the mayor wrote a derogatory word in lipstick on her bathroom mirror at City Hall; and those who believe Keolker did it herself, to shift focus away from a particularly contentious council meeting.

Nearly every month has brought a new twist in the campaign.

In August, several community leaders wrote a letter to local media, saying they were former Keolker supporters now strongly behind Law. Keolker dismissed the letter; none of the people who signed it lived in Renton, she said, and only one worked actively on her last campaign.

In September, a Keolker ally, Councilman Dan Clawson, filed the lawsuit against Law and three other council members, accusing them of violating the Open Public Meetings Act. The council members vigorously denied the charges.

Then this month, Law supporter and Councilman Randy Corman published copies of a 22-year-old lawsuit against Keolker on his Web site. The lawsuit, which accused Keolker’s then-husband of abusing a minor, and Keolker of knowing about it, was dismissed a few months later.

Keolker said the allegations, and the lawsuit, were clearly bogus, and that bringing the case forward during campaign season was mean-spirited politicking.

Law said much the same thing about the lawsuit filed last month against himself and his colleagues, all of them vocal Keolker critics.

Cara Solomon: 206-464-2024 or csolomon@seattletimes.com