Incumbents John Creighton and Stephanie Bowman are looking to retain their seats, while an open spot on the commission has attracted eight candidates.
King County voters will choose whether to shake up the board overseeing the Port of Seattle, or keep it largely intact, as the Port seeks to navigate past a year plagued by public-trust issues.
Three slots for the five-member Port Commission will be on the Aug. 1 primary ballot. All the positions are nonpartisan and at-large, meaning all voters in King County can cast a ballot in each race.
One open seat, Position 4, has attracted eight candidates. Incumbents John Creighton and Stephanie Bowman each have drawn multiple challengers as well.
The top two vote-getters in each race will advance to a runoff in the November election. The winners will get four-year terms starting in January on the commission, which has monthly meetings and carries a salary of about $45,000 a year plus benefits.
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The commission oversees operations at the Port, which uses a mix of property taxes and revenues from business operations to operate Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, local port and cruise-ship terminals, and other properties like conference centers and marinas. It manages $1.3 billion in operating and capital funds per year, and about 2,000 employees.
Most recently, the Port and its commissioners have come under fire for a series of high-profile issues that again raised questions of ethics and adequate oversight at the agency.
The commissioners approved, with little questioning, $4.8 million in pay bonuses for hundreds of nonunion employees that the state auditor later found to be illegal. It later turned out the CEO and other executives who crafted the plan received the biggest bonuses, which at least some commissioners didn’t realize.
At the same time, the Port CEO selected by the commission, Ted Fick, resigned amid a scathing performance review, that said Fick had taken gifts from Port customers, helped steer business toward his father’s company and quietly gave himself a $24,500 payout — part of the bonuses deemed illegal by the state auditor — among other issues.
The commission is tasked with finding a new leader, though the job title of CEO is likely to be changed to executive director.
Here’s a summary of the candidates in each race. Each was asked how they are different and what they would do to deal with the public trust issues at the Port.
Longtime commissioner John Creighton is defending his Position 1 seat against small business owner Ryan Calkins, former state legislator Claudia Kauffman and engineer Bea Querido-Rico.
Calkins says he’s different because he has experience running an import business that relied on the Port. To help with public trust, he wants to push for campaign finance reforms to limit how much money commissioners can get from individual donors, and hold fewer closed-door commission meetings. Calkins is endorsed by Democratic groups from 10 legislative districts, Local 6 of the Service Employees International Union, and the local urban policy website The Urbanist; he’s raised $33,000.
Creighton, the incumbent, says his accomplishments include several environmental initiatives, closer collaboration with the Port of Tacoma, and the formation of a 25-year plan to grow jobs by expanding operations at the airport and cruise terminals. He says he helped form an audit committee years ago that has recovered $6 million in underpaid funds to the Port and moved quickly to put the former CEO on leave when the commission received his performance review. But he’s also been the subject of lawsuits brought by two former employees who claim that the commissioner ousted them to help his political donors (which he denies). He’s backed by the Washington Conservation Voters, King County Democrats and the M.L. King County Labor Council; he’s raised $91,000, the most of any candidate in any Port race.
Kauffman says she can provide a fresh perspective to the port but also has the legislative experience to work with local government agencies. She thinks the scandals would continue without changes at the commission. She also thinks the Port should try to reduce its legal fees. She has endorsements from the Metropolitan Democratic Club of Seattle, King County Young Democrats and former King County Executive Ron Sims; she’s raised $8,000
Querido-Rico worked as a staffer at the Port before taking a leave to run her campaign. She also stands out by backing the Sodo NBA arena proposed by Chris Hansen, which the Port opposes. She wants to establish an open data policy that opens up the Port’s operational data to the public. She’s backed by Brandon Peterson, founder of the political activism app Capitol Call, tech leader H.B. Siegel and Position 4 candidate Brooks Salazar; she’s raised $10,000
Commissioner Stephanie Bowman, the Position 3 incumbent, is competing against Ahmed Abdi, an outreach manager for the Fair Work Center, and Lisa Espinosa, who works in customer service at Puget Sound Energy.
Abdi says he will fight for underserved communities, and isn’t taking money from special interests that work with the Port. He calls himself an expert in worker rights and believes in fair wages for workers. His endorsements include state Senators Rebecca Saldana and Bob Hasegawa, and unions like Teamsters 117; he’s raised $7,000.
Bowman, the incumbent, points to her experience: she used to work at the Port of Tacoma, and has 18 years working in transportation and economic development. She says she helped lead the formation of the seaport alliance, which was formed during her tenure on the board to merge the ports of Seattle and Tacoma. She says the commission quickly moved to address issues with the CEO by placing him on leave, and believes changing the job’s title to executive director will help set a tone that the Port is a public agency, not a company. But former CEO Fick said Bowman originally came up with the employee bonus plan that was later deemed illegal (she says it was the Port staff’s job to vet the idea for legality). She’s backed by the Washington Conservation Voters, M.L. King County Labor Council and former governors Chris Gregoire and Gary Locke; she’s raised $42,000, easily the most in the Position 3 contest.
Espinosa, who hasn’t raised any money and doesn’t yet have endorsements, says she wants to protect family-wage jobs with full benefits, especially for minority- and women-owned businesses, and will increase training for Port employees to help them combat potential job losses from automation. She also wants to clean up the Duwamish River, and hold cruise ship companies accountable for environmental impacts on Puget Sound. She says she’ll be a whistleblower when she sees wrongdoing at the Port.
The last contest is the open Position 4 seat vacated after Commission President Tom Albro announced in March he would not seek re-election. The candidates are retired master mariner Ray Armitstead; Fernando Martinez, CEO of the Northwest Mountain Minority Supplier Development Council; labor leader John Persak; attorney Richard Pope; small business owner Ken Rogers; Preeti Shridhar, a public affairs official for the city of Renton; state worker Brooks Salazar; and former Seattle councilman Peter Steinbrueck.
Armitstead hasn’t raised any money and doesn’t have any formal endorsements. He responded to questions by recalling stories from when he ran a hotel decades ago.
Martinez says he’s spent 38 years leading small and large organizations in the private sector, with a focus on mentoring and coaching, which he says is lacking at the Port today. He wants to order a report, within six months of taking office, that calls out specific actions to improve public trust, and increase oversight audits. His backers include state Reps Lillian Ortiz-Self and Javier Valdez, and former state Rep. Brady Piñero Walkinshaw; he’s raised $18,000.
Persak points to his experience working with the Port, having spent nearly 20 years in the maritime industry, where he says he’s built the relationships necessary to drive job creation at the Port. He’d prioritize meeting with the public proactively, including reaching out to residents before big decisions are made, as a way of winning back public trust. He has the sole endorsement of King County Democrats and several labor organizations; he’s raised $38,000, the most in the Position 4 contest.
Pope didn’t respond to questions and hasn’t raised any money or reported endorsements. His voter material indicates his campaign is based on abolishing the property tax used to help fund the Port.
Rogers, a former board member for Delta Air Lines, stands out for his 30 years of experience in aviation, which makes up the majority of the Port’s business. He wants to take public input in the hiring of a new executive director, and calls transparency and accountability the key to securing public trust. His endorsements include former U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater and Paula and Steve Reynolds, former CEOs at Safeco and Puget Energy; he’s raised $2,000.
Salazar, who has 10 years of public service, supports the proposed NBA arena in Sodo, which the Port opposes, and says he will be an independent voice because he has no ties to the Port. He wants to move some commission meetings (currently on weekdays) to evening hours to allow for more public participation. He’s backed by King County Council President Joe McDermott and a few local unions; he’s raised $4,000.
Shridhar highlights her independence, saying she’s the only candidate not driven by special interests, while still banking 25 years of public policy experience (as a communications official for the cities of Renton and Seattle), during which she helped draft local policies on manufacturing apprenticeships and inclusive economies. She says she’ll have an open-door policy and meet with residents during regular coffee chats, and promises to get back to all public inquiries within 24 hours. She’s endorsed by The Stranger, the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington, and the mayors of Renton, Redmond and Kent; she’s raised $9,000.
Steinbrueck notes he’s the only candidate to have held public office, with 10 years on the Seattle City Council, and is also a Harvard Loeb Fellow for advanced research in urban environmental policy. He wants to prioritize an ethically minded executive director and enact a cultural change to put an end to the ethical lapses at the Port. He’s backed by Earth Day “father” Denis Hayes, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray; he’s raised $35,000.