Tuesday evening I was the moderator at a forum of finalists for the Port of Seattle Commission. The five-member commission sets port policy and selects the CEO. Here there were four members — Tom Albro, Bill Bryant, John Creighton and Courtney Gregoire — sitting to select a fifth to fill the seat vacated by Rob Holland, who resigned.
It is an elected post in King County, so that whoever is appointed will be expected to raise money and campaign for the nonpartisan office when the term expires.
My task was to fill an hour and a half by tossing questions to six finalists: Stephanie Bowman of Seattle, executive director of the Washington Asset Building Coalition; Darrell Bryan of Seattle, CEO of Clipper Navigation; former state Sen. Claudia Kauffman of Kent, intergovernmental affairs liaison for the Muckleshoot Tribe; Randy Loomans of Seattle, director of government relations for the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302; Vicki Orrico of Bellevue, attorney and member of the Bellevue College Board of Trustees; and Keith Scully of Shoreline, an attorney and member of the Shoreline Planning Commission. A seventh, Nancy Wyatt, CEO of the Auburn Area Chamber of Commerce, was traveling in China.
I was expecting some differences of opinion. The trouble was, these were finalists — and what’s more, they were angling for the votes of only four persons, all of them in the room. And that meant they all tended to have the same answers.
An example is the Port property tax. Ask any ordinary group of challengers in port commission races and at least half the group will say the tax should be phased out. Not this group. Money from the tax is needed to raise the Port’s share of money for the downtown tunnel, said Orrico. And to clean the Duwamish, said Loomans. And for freight mobility, said Scully. For debt service on bonds, said Bowman. On that question the outlier was Bryan, who said he had “insufficient information to make a comment.”
I asked about the Port’s opposition to the proposed arena. Any of them disagree with that? Nope. The way the city adopted the arena proposal, said Loomans, shows that “When people have enough money, they can pretty much get what they want in this state.” Scully said the problem was that the Port and other opponents made a great case, but “nobody listened.” Port commissioners, he said, should make a point to be at every Seattle City Council meeting at which the arena could come up, and hammer home the effect on the Port.
Several people told me before the meeting to ask the candidates about Alaska and how important it is to Seattle. I tried it. The first two, Scully and Orrico, knew the answers so well (fishing industry, cargo on barges) that I changed the subject.
One contentious issue is whether the Port should set a minimum wage and benefit package for employees of tenants and concessionaires at Sea-Tac Airport. Kauffmann thought so. So did Loomans, “because we are a government entity.” Scully agreed that the Port “is a government, not a business,” and that minimums for some jobs (but not all of them) might be acceptable. Bowman, who once worked for the Port of Tacoma, said she “wouldn’t be comfortable” setting wages for workers in a retail store or a restaurant at the airport, but that she was concerned about low wages. Orrico said the Port could give points for good wages and benefits in awarding contracts, but that “I don’t believe the Port has the hard power to mandate that.” Bryan said he hadn’t talked to the unions at the airport yet, and hadn’t decided.
In a quest for some disagreement, I asked each candidate to give me an example of a good decision the port commission had made, and a bad decision. I wasn’t interested in the good decision so much as the bad one. Two answers stood out. In Scully’s view the bad decision was the one “to allow the CEO to sit on the Expeditors [International] board.” There was no real conflict of interest for CEO Tay Yoshitani to sit on the Expeditors’ board, he said, but it “did not sit well with the electorate.” The other answer was from Bowman, who said the bad decision was the Port’s handling of the flap several years ago over Christmas trees at the airport. “It made the Port look ridiculous,” she said.
To sum up, if I had to put each candidate’s case in bullet points, it would be this:
- Bowman: has done the most homework on the Port of any of the group; worked for the Port of Tacoma.
- Bryan: business owner, the Victoria Clipper; the oldest and most cautious of the group.
- Kauffman: diversity (tribal member); had the most prominent political career of the group.
- Loomans: labor representative, which the Port commission once had and now lacks.
- Orrico: would represent King County’s Eastside.
- Scully: had the sharpest answers; a “smart growth” environmentalist.
- Wyatt: In China, too busy to be at meetings like this.
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