Candidates face off in the races for commissioner positions at the Port of Seattle.

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Bill Bryant knows he’s got some explaining to do about that 9 percent raise for Port of Seattle CEO Tay Yoshitani.

President of the Port of Seattle Commission, Bryant voted this year, in a 3-2 decision, to bring Yoshitani’s base pay to $367,000 — more than twice the governor’s.

Bryant’s opponent in the Port race, Dean Willard, an information-technology consultant and Democratic Party activist, calls the raise a symbol of “poor leadership.” Labor unions are running an independent campaign, sending out mailers chiding Bryant to “manage our tax dollars the way families do.”

Bryant said his decision came down to this: Since arriving four years ago, Yoshitani has guided the Port through several scandals, rooted in the administration of his predecessor Mic Dinsmore, with “real dignity and grace.”

Yoshitani also had met all goals the commission set for him every year, revamped the Port’s maligned contracting processes, increased the number of cargo and cruise ships coming to Seattle, and turned down raises the previous two years.

On top of that, Yoshitani was being recruited, Bryant said, by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which runs Dulles International and Reagan National airports, just outside the nation’s capital.

“This was not a time we needed to be shifting CEOs,” Bryant said. “The commission gave him a raise more or less equal to what he passed up.”

Ballots in the all-mail election must be postmarked by Nov. 8.

Willard faces a steep challenge in unseating Bryant. The one-term incumbent has raised a record amount of campaign contributions for a Port of Seattle race — $341,000 and counting — and can claim that he’s led a turnaround at the scandal-scarred Port. Willard has collected less than $34,000 in contributions.

Bryant, a Republican, has also declared his interest in one day seeking higher office.

Willard and Democratic activists say they’re not going after Bryant just to bruise an up-and-coming GOP candidate.

State Democratic Party Chairman Dwight Pelz said the party steered $3,000 to Willard’s campaign — even though the commission post is nonpartisan — because he’s a party loyalist endorsed by virtually every Democratic organization in King County.

John Wyble, spokesman for the union-funded independent attacks on Bryant, said his clients (led by Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union) are motivated by a desire to elect a “more progressive candidate” not to tarnish the incumbent.

Bryant founded a company, now based in Seattle and Sacramento, that helps food growers with export barriers, such as guiding the Washington Hop Commission through international crop regulations. Many of his biggest contributions come from executives and companies that do business with the Port such as Alaska Airlines and Trident Seafood.

Besides Yoshitani’s raise, Willard has focused on the plight of the Port’s short-haul truckers, who work as contractors and tend to drive older, soot-spewing rigs. Many truckers are immigrants and some days make close to minimum wage.

Teamsters want the drivers to be employees of the trucking companies that serve the Port, so they can be unionized, better-paid and afford less-polluting trucks.

Willard says the issue is an example of the Port not living up to its rhetoric about creating good-paying jobs.

“The benefits of the Port’s economic rewards are concentrated in the hands of too few,” he said.

Bryant counters that the Teamsters’ plan, adopted by the Port of Los Angeles, has sparked a lawsuit by a national trucking association that’s mired in federal court.

Bryant and the commission instead approved a program which offers grants, up to $5,000, to encourage drivers to scrap old trucks and buy newer ones. That has gotten about 300 older trucks off the roads, he said.

In defending his record, Bryant notes he has been elected commission president three years in a row at a time when the Port was reeling, then recovering from a scathing state audit. Bryant maintains the Port’s culture has changed for the better.

He hired former federal prosecutor Mike McKay to investigate possible wrongdoing. McKay found 10 instances of apparent fraud, which led to the resignations of two Port managers and the disciplining of seven others.

The Municipal League of King County rated Bryant “outstanding” and Willard “good.”

If re-elected, Bryant said he would largely focus on increasing the Port’s market share. Seattle has lost cargo to aggressive ports in British Columbia. When the Panama Canal is widened in 2014 for a new generation of behemoth freighters, competition with Gulf of Mexico ports will dramatically increase, he says.

Improving our regional truck and train routes will be critical, he says, and he’ll advocate for the Port as a member of a statewide panel, appointed by Gov. Chris Gregoire, to study ways to finance future transportation projects.

Willard says he is committed to serving a four-year term as Port commissioner, which Bryant may not be because of his political ambitions.

Bryant won’t pledge to serve all of a new term. “The reason I don’t make a pledge is that I don’t know what’s going to happen four years from now,” he said. “But I’m very committed to this.”

Pope challenges

incumbent Tarleton

In the other Port race on the ballot, one-term incumbent Gael Tarleton faces frequent candidate Richard L. Pope Jr.

Pope, who last ran in 2007 for Metropolitan King County Council, has not been allowed to practice law in Washington state since 2008 because his license has been suspended — though it’s an interim suspension, according to the Washington State Bar Association.

In response to complaints, Pope has claimed incapacity and disciplinary proceedings are deferred, pending the outcome of his disability matter, according to bar spokeswoman Judy Berrett.

Pope has received no campaign contributions, according to state Public Disclosure Commission. Tarleton has collected a little over $210,000.

The Municipal League rated Pope “unqualified” and Tarleton “outstanding.”

She is endorsed by unions, Democratic Party organizations and the Cascade Bicycle Club.

She voted this year against a pay raise for Yoshitani, has chaired the commission’s Audit Committee and urged more public access to Port contracts.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com