This offbeat true story is a comedy and a tragedy about politics, from anti-globalist protest to domestic turmoil. It's about idealism, obsession and failure in Seattle, a progressive city on the fringe of America's continent and consciousness. Grant Cogswell is a poet, a punk rock-fan, an anarchist, a grassroots activist, and one very temperamental character. He loves Seattle so much he has the city logo tattooed on his arm. In the summer of 2001 he decides to run for city council. He's so determined to win that he'll even wear a polar-bear suit to a city hall meeting. Phil Campbell, the author, is a burnt-out recently fired alt-weekly reporter, a manic depressive who sees few reasons to live. Inspired by his friend Grant's passion, and without anything better to do, he agrees to manage Grant's campaign. For eighteen weeks, Phil devotes himself to Grant's grassroots challenge -- all the while fending an overzealous roommate challenging him for his position as manager of their shared house. Overshadowing the story is the tale of U.S. Rep. Marion Anthony Zioncheck, a legendary boozer and forgotten lefty radical from the 1930s. As Grant's campaign unfolds, so does the story of Zioncheck's tragedy -- his rise and fall from an energetic young politico to a madman who is sent to the insane asylum. The question: Is Zioncheck's tale a lesson already learned, or a prophecy waiting to be repeated?
A city council race, even when it involves an impassioned punk rock activist, isn't exactly the stuff of legend. But Campbell, who also served as the campaign manager for Grant Cogswell's bid for a seat on the Seattle City Council, injects humor and tension into his account of the race. Inspired in part by a radical congressman named Marion Zioncheck who had grand ideas but failed spectacularly, Cogswell embarks on a quest to make a difference in local government, building his platform around public transportation issues. The two have a steep learning curve ahead of them, and things like securing campaign donors, recruiting campaign volunteers, dealing with the media and creating campaign propaganda quickly prove to be multiple sources of stress. To compound matters, Campbell wrestles with a houseful of quirky roommates, one of whom is an off-center alcoholic with a new handgun he can't stop playing with. Campbell skillfully captures the tension, frustrations and small victories that serve as emotional mileposts on a campaign, and his running commentary on the city of Seattle and its neighborhoods and citizens give depth to the narrative. The book picks up as it nears its conclusion, although an unwisely placed interlude about Marion Zioncheck hampers the momentum. Campbell's conclusion is tight and highly satisfying, although his closing commentary feels as if it has been cut short. Still, Campbell's ability to capture the enthusiasm as well as the exhaustion involved in a losing municipal campaign is a true feat.