Election 2007 | Port challengers point fingers
The last time Seattle Port Commissioner Bob Edwards ran for re-election he faced token opposition. But this year five challengers have lined...
Seattle Times staff reporter
The last time Seattle Port Commissioner Bob Edwards ran for re-election he faced token opposition. But this year five challengers have lined up to try to take Edwards' seat -- all blaming him for problems at the Port when they're not taking shots at each other.
Gael Tarleton, the best-financed challenger to Edwards in the Aug. 21 primary, criticizes Edwards for "lackadaisical leadership" and promoting a "culture of secrecy" at the Port.
Tarleton, who works at the University of Washington's Office of Global Affairs, says the Port has lost public trust because of recent controversies over a proposed $340,000 severance package for former Port CEO Mic Dinsmore, and over Port police sending sexually explicit e-mails.
"My number one goal is to reform the Port so voters regain trust," said Tarleton, who also has worked as a Pentagon intelligence expert on Russia and a vice president for SAIC, a federal contractor specializing in national security.
She's been endorsed by King County Democrats, the political arm of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, and Washington Conservation Voters. She's also far ahead of other candidates in fundraising, with $99,000 in contributions, according to the most recent campaign-finance reports -- double what two-term incumbent Edwards had raised.
But two of her rivals, Jack Block Jr. and Thom McCann, say Tarleton's credentials compromise her ability to act as a reformer.
SAIC has a troubling record as one of the federal government's largest contractors, Block and McCann contend, and the company had $7 million in security contracts with the Port of Seattle between 2002 and 2004.
Tarleton has received at least 32 campaign contributions from current or former SAIC employees and their relatives, totaling $16,650. She also owns stock in SAIC; she won't say exactly how much.
Pointing to a recent Vanity Fair article by Pulitzer Prize-winners Donald Barlett and James Steele, Block and McCann note that SAIC has pleaded guilty to making false statements to the federal government, paid settlements for overcharging the government, and SAIC personnel played an important part in making the pre-war case that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Tarleton said she'll recuse herself from any decisions regarding SAIC contracts with the Port.
She also said the Vanity Fair story doesn't reflect her experience at SAIC, which she left in 2002, after focusing on Russian trade and disaster preparedness. "Nothing ever made me think I was part of a company not doing business properly."
Block is a third-generation Seattle longshoreman and has worked at the Port 28 years. A crane operator, he is the son of a former longtime Port commissioner. He's running on his expertise in seaport operations, and he maintains the Port's main focus should be on providing jobs and economic growth through transportation.
"I'm the only candidate with actual experience in the transportation industry," he said.
Block said he would not have a conflict of interest because he doesn't work directly for the Port or its tenants. But if elected, he said, he would transfer to Tacoma to eliminate any ethics questions.
McCann, an investor, is the former owner of a restaurant, Charlie's at Shilshole, displaced by the Port's renovations at its Shilshole Bay Marina. He said that gave him firsthand insights about questionable business practices at the Port and has driven him to run for office for the first time. Edwards, a former Renton City Council member, is campaigning on his record of expanding cargo- and cruise-ship business at the Port and supporting the Port's efforts to clean up Elliott Bay.
Two other candidates are running: Wen Wu Lee, a flight attendant who also ran for a Port seat in 2005, and The-Anh Nguyen, a city recreation attendant. Neither one is raising campaign contributions. The Municipal League of King County rated Lee and Nguyen "not qualified" for the commission.
The league rated Block and Tarleton "outstanding," and Edwards and McCann "good."
The Port of Seattle is a countywide agency that runs Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and owns the cargo terminals on Elliott Bay. The five Port commissioners serve four-year terms and are paid $6,000 a year to oversee policy and hire a chief executive. Two seats are up for election this year, and the top two finishers in each primary contest move on to the Nov. 6 general election.
The candidates seeking commission Position 2 differ on some key issues.
McCann says the Port should eliminate its property-tax levy, which costs the average King County homeowner roughly $100 a year. Most ports don't receive such a subsidy and the Port of Seattle wouldn't need one if it did a better job negotiating contracts with its cargo- and cruise-ship tenants, McCann said.
Edwards disagrees, saying the levy is crucial for financing debt on construction projects and paying for environmental cleanup efforts. Block and Tarleton hold similar views on the levy.
Unlike other candidates, Edwards supports a proposal by Dinsmore to have the Port take ownership of Boeing Field from King County.
Edwards is also the only one who backs a plan to move cruise ships from Terminal 30, south of Safeco Field, to the North Bay area between Magnolia and Queen Anne. The Port also would develop 57 acres of vacant land in North Bay, mostly for office and research buildings. Block, McCann and Tarleton all say North Bay should be reserved for industrial use.
On ethics, Edwards' challengers say the Port Commission needs to meet less often in closed "executive" sessions, which are routinely scheduled for the beginning and end of the twice-monthly commission meetings.
Edwards defends the closed meetings. For example, he said, the commission was in the process of replacing the retiring Dinsmore last year and is allowed to conduct personnel matters, such as evaluating Dinsmore and potential successors, in private.
As for recent controversies, Edwards blames Port staff members, saying "some people working for us have not been as careful as they should have been."
Edwards said last October that Dinsmore had done a "tremendous" job and voted to give him a 6 percent raise. Now, in the aftermath of the flap over Dinsmore's severance pay -- which Dinsmore and Commissioner Pat Davis pushed for -- Edwards says the former CEO owes the commission a public apology.
Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information in this article, originally published August 6, 2007, was corrected August 6, 2007. A story Monday about a primary election for Seattle Port Commission gave the wrong age for candidate Thom McCann. He is 41.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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