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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

September 6, 2012 at 7:00 AM

For arena supporters, conflict over Port CEO’s board position is nothing but net

Updated with a comment from Heather Weiner.

A letter last week from 13 state Legislators questioning Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani’s new board position at Expeditors International was drafted by Heather Weiner, the state political director for the Teamsters.

A forwarded e-mail to a state legislator shows the Teamsters were shopping around a draft on Aug. 23, looking for lawmakers who might sign it and add pressure to the Port Commission to publicly question Yoshitani about the board position. The letter says there could be, maybe, a possible appearance of conflict-of-interest. It stopped short of taking sides, but it definitely kept the issue in the news.

Weiner said state Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, asked her to shop around the letter because he didn’t have time. The Teamsters’ interest in Yoshitani’s board position, she said in an e-mailed statement, “is about a long list of incidents where the weak Port of Seattle Commission failed to hold its CEO accountable and allowed corporate interests to take over our public port. Whether under Mic Dinsmore or Tay Yoshitani, a weak port commission means the port ends up in chaos and strife.”

There are two other reasons the Teamsters may have been interested in getting that letter out.

First, keeping the controversy in the news could hurt Commission President Gael Tarleton, who is running for state representative in the 36th District. The Teamsters have opposed Tarleton since a dispute earlier this year about short-haul truckers.

And second, raising questions about the Yoshitani’s ethics and the Port Commission’s ability to oversee his contract makes the Port look bad just when it’s trying to make its case against a proposed basketball and hockey arena in Sodo. And the Teamsters, generally, support the arena because it would create jobs.

Arena proponents, with nothing much to do other than wait for a City Council vote expected later this month, are delightedly watching the drama. Public pressure is mounting, the CEO is defying the governing board, and members of the divided commission are sending out individual statements about the situation.

Politically, the timing of the Yoshitani controversy could hardly have been worse.

“We have a situation where by far the largest opposition of our political goals is using our public’s money in a way that we think might be unethical,” said Brian Robinson, president of the pro-arena group Arenasolution.org.

That’s a drum they will keep beating until Tuesday, when the Port Commission meets to discuss Yoshitani’s contract. That discussion has nothing to do with the arena, technically. The City Council is expected to take action on that at the end of September.

Tarleton said all the noise is interfering with the Port’s ongoing negotiations with the city to make a deal about the arena.

“When there is a perception that the commission is in a state of disarray, it makes it very hard to talk about steps we can take going forward,” she said.

Comments | More in Basketball arena, homepage | Topics: arena, Gael Tarleton, Tay Yoshitani

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