http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/399760_kerlikowske12.html?source=mypi Kerlikowske seen as a progressive Advocates of reforms are 'cautiously optimistic' about him as 'drug czar' By VANESSA HO AND SCOTT GUTIERREZ P-I REPORTERS Gil Kerlikowske remained silent for a second day on his appointment as the nation's drug czar, but his track record in Seattle -- a city known for its progressive drug stances -- offered a hint at how the Obama administration might wage the drug war. Â· Jamieson: How will we look back on Kerlikowske? No official word came from the White House on Wednesday on Kerlikowske, who, if confirmed by the Senate, could become the new director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. A source in Washington, D.C., confirmed that Kerlikowske had been chosen for the post, but that paperwork making the nomination official had not yet been filed. Many people, including those traditionally at odds with government policies, were "cautiously optimistic" about Kerlikowske, who became police chief in 2000. "He's likely to be the best drug czar we've seen, but that's not saying much," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a national nonprofit group focused on changing drug policies. Nadelmann called Kerlikowske, 59, a "blank slate" because of his notable absence in drug-policy debates. But he was encouraged by the chief's ability to thrive in a city famous for its drug courts, needle exchanges, methadone vans and annual Hempfest celebration. "At least we know that when we talk about needle exchanges and decriminalizing marijuana arrests, it's not going to be the first time he's heard about them," he said. Many local people expected that Kerlikowske would be chosen for a federal post, but were surprised by this appointment, saying he rarely speaks on drug enforcement, unlike his platforms on gun control and community policing. But last fall, they said, Kerlikowske began working on drug-policy reforms for street users in certain neighborhoods. He recently gave his blessing to a pilot program in drug-plagued Belltown for officers to send drug users to treatment or job centers instead of jail. He gave his support to similar programs already operating in Rainier Beach and Madison Valley. "I would imagine that being a chief law-enforcement officer makes it very difficult for someone to speak out in favor of more-progressive drug laws and drug policies," Alison Holcomb, the drug policy director for the ACLU of Washington, said. "I also think his actions speak louder than words." One of those actions is Kerlikowske's participation on an executive committee that oversees King County Drug Court, which dismisses charges against a defendant who completes treatment. The chief has also dedicated an officer full time to work on drug court cases. A 1998 state law allows debilitated and terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana, but gives police departments wide latitude in whether to make an arrest. Despite that, Holcomb said Kerlikowske's officers have "demonstrated compassion" in not arresting known growers and users in medical marijuana cases. She also said his officers are respectful and tolerant when they patrol Hempfest, the city's annual celebration of drug-law reforms. Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata, a former chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said Kerlikowske would be an ideal drug czar. "He is sort of a logical choice because he's someone who has been a police chief in a very progressive city, and he has seen how these approaches worked, and he's allowed them to mature," Licata said. He added: "He's not on a platform arguing for decriminalization of drugs or radical drug reform measures." Treatment advocates praised Kerlikowske for setting a respectful tone emulated by the rank and file toward the city's many innovative services for addicts, from needle exchanges to methadone vans to the 1811 Eastlake project, a home for chronic alcoholics that allows drinking in rooms. In 2003, the chief had initially opposed Initiative 75, a measure approved by Seattle voters that made enforcement of marijuana for adult personal use the lowest priority for police and city attorneys. But activists say he has since ordered his officers to implement the law. "If it's all accurate ... he will bring a reasoned, rational and very articulate voice to our nation's drug policy debate," said City Councilman Tim Burgess, chairman of the Public Safety Committee. "I think this is a good fit for him. It puts him squarely in the center of policy development and the analytics of law enforcement." Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, now an ardent advocate of drug-law reforms, said Kerlikowske was likely picked less for his record on drug enforcement than for his intellect and national reputation. "He's more inclined to support research-driven and evidence-based conclusions about public policy," Stamper said. A 36-year police veteran, Kerlikowske had previously served as a deputy director of the Justice Department in the Clinton administration. He has worked with two other Obama Cabinet picks, Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Kerlikowske would assume a post held by John Walters in the Bush administration.