Seattle City Council candidate Jon Grant says a developer tried to engage him in an unethical deal. The developer calls that a mischaracterization.
Seattle City Council candidate Jon Grant claims the developer of a project across from City Hall tried to shake him down, and a text message sent to former Mayor Mike McGinn reveals some of what went on.
Grant says Brett Allen, a senior vice president at Triad Capital Partners, approached him at a Saturday campaign event and asked for help settling a lawsuit brought by Grant’s former employer.
Grant says he was told the payoff could be that a new political committee gearing up to spend heavily against him would go away.
Then Allen sought to have McGinn broker a meeting with Grant, sending the former mayor a text message Sunday that spelled out the proposed quid-pro-quo. McGinn endorsed Grant last week.
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“Hey Mike, it’s Brett. Any luck in getting Grant to a sit down? I realize 100% of his focus is on election — but nothing else he does today could translate into as many votes. Definitely worth an hour of his time,” the text message sent Sunday began.
The suit in question, filed with support from the Tenants Union of Washington State when Grant was executive director, challenged a Triad land-use permit for the Civic Square project, saying the permit had been illegally renewed and objecting to the project in general because it won’t include affordable housing.
Grant left the Tenants Union this spring to run for Position 8 against Council President Tim Burgess.
An independent-expenditure committee called Seattle Needs Ethical Leaders registered with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission last week.
Its spokesman, Jason Bennett, described it as a pro-Burgess/anti-Grant committee and said it would raise about $200,000 before the Nov. 3 general election.
The Sunday text message to McGinn continued: “Just in case I wasn’t clear yesterday: any deal would be contingent on the 200k IE going away. Please tell him that we’re sincere in our desire to get this resolved before any major damage done. We need him to show leadership. As an alternative, Grant could simply instruct his attorney … to accept our offer on the table (or make a counter offer). Deadline is Monday @ noon — after which certain bad things can’t be undone. Thanks again for your efforts to try to help us both! And Go Hawks!”
In an interview Monday, Allen said his weekend activities were innocent. He said he ran into Grant at a Beacon Hill coffee shop where Grant was meeting campaign volunteers and didn’t know about the independent-expenditure committee until Grant mentioned it.
“I said, ‘Gee, I’d love to sit down with you, tell you the truth about this project and get this thing worked out,’ ” Allen said. “He told me (Triad co-founder John) Goodman had opened up a $200,000 thing against him. I said, ‘If that’s true, I could help that go away.’ I said, ‘Let’s sit down and talk about it. My recommendation was we get a neutral third party there to help us. I said, ‘Let’s sit down with Mike McGinn.’ ”
Goodman, in an email Monday, denied involvement.
“(Triad Chairman) Fred Grimm informs me that Jon Grant has alleged that I’ve funded $200,000 into a committee of some kind to be used in a campaign against him,” Goodman wrote. “This is not true … There must be some kind of public record of donations that you can look into.”
No contributions to Seattle Needs Ethical Leaders have as yet been reported to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.
Grant’s campaign manager, John Wyble, says Allen’s conversations with Grant and McGinn echoed a phone call he had Friday with Tim Ceis, a lobbyist for Triad and former deputy mayor under Greg Nickels.
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Ceis suggested Grant call Knoll Lowney, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, if he wanted the independent-expenditure committee to “go away,” according to Wyble.
“I called Wyble and McGinn, and we put this together,” Grant said in an interview with The Seattle Times. “Like wow, they’re trying to blackmail me.”
In an interview Monday, Ceis said he recalls speaking with Wyble but not the conversation in question.
“I don’t remember that,” Ceis said.
McGinn confirmed Monday that he had spoken with Allen on Saturday and received the text message Sunday.
“We’d been talking about the settlement of the lawsuit and why that mattered and then at the end he basically raised the prospect that he could talk to Goodman and make (the independent-expenditure committee) go away,” McGinn said.
“I couldn’t participate in trying to arrange a meeting once I understood the scope of this, because I think it’s wrong. … The threat and the quid pro quo. I can’t tell you whether it violates the law, but I know what it feels like, and it feels wrong to me.”
Grant says he turned Allen down. Grant and the Tenants Union have been at odds for years with Goodman, who is now a passive investor in Triad, according to Allen.
While at the Tenants Union, Grant helped organize against takeovers by Goodman of low-rent apartment buildings in the Ballard and Wedgwood neighborhoods.
“This is indicative of how money is corrupting our democracy,” Grant said Monday. “They’re using their wealth to intimidate a political candidate. They assumed their money would intimidate me. They really thought I would see that $200,000 and be fretting about it.”
Grant contacted the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. But Wayne Barnett, executive director, said the matter isn’t under the commission’s jurisdiction because it doesn’t involve campaign-finance reporting.
Grant says he may at some point “pursue legal remedies” but wants to first “shine some light” on Triad.
“This is about exposing this,” he said. “They started a group to smear me to get me to buckle. They really thought I’d have lunch with them and we’d come to an accord.”
The Civic Square suit was dismissed by a King County Superior Court judge this year and is being appealed. Lowney said he doesn’t expect an appellate ruling for several more months.
In the meantime, Triad has until Dec. 31 to close on the sale of the city-owned property between Third and Fourth avenues and James and Cherry streets.
A deal reached in 2007 calls for the city to give part of the block to Triad in exchange for Triad’s designing and building a public plaza at a cost of $25 million.
The project languished in the ensuing years as Triad blamed the economic downturn for trouble with financing. The city has extended the closing deadline twice already.
“Anyone who looks closely at this lawsuit has to see there’s a real good chance that, at the end of the day, we will prevail,” Lowney said. “Anyone considering putting money into this project has to know that the odds of the project going forward are up in the air.”
Allen says Triad has made four offers to settle the lawsuit, the most recent last Thursday with a Monday deadline. He says he hasn’t talked to Goodman and doesn’t know whether Goodman is indeed behind the independent-expenditure committee.
“For (Grant) to try to spin this into something it’s not, at least it’s consistent,” Allen said. “The misinformation, the outright fabrications and lies he’s told … to the media. This is consistent with that.”
Wyble, Grant’s campaign manager who has worked in Seattle politics for more than 20 years, says he’s never seen “this kind of blatant intimidation before.”
“I think there’s some desperation with this development company and they’ve lost sight of their ethics,” he said.