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PubliCola Candidate Ratings: Port Commissioner Position 5

By PublicolaPicks October 26, 2011

Sticking with our commitment to be a more objective and balanced source of news, we’re doing things differently this year than we have in the past.

Inspired by the even-keeled Seattle/King County Municipal League’s approach to candidates (rather than endorsing, the Muni League rates based on skill, experience, and policy acumen as opposed to ideology), we’ve been talking to candidates and interviewing folks on both sides of the ballot measures and coming up with our own ratings.

(Here’s our take on I-1125, the tolling initiative, our take on I-1183, the liquor privatization measure, and I-1163, the health care worker training initiative. And our candidate ratings of King County Council incumbent Jane Hague and her challenger Richard Mitchell; and the candidates for Seattle City Council Position 1.)

Looking at resumes, knowledge of the issues, and  to-do lists (and ability to get it done), we came up we scored candidates on a six-tiered scale: Exceptional; Above Average; Acceptable; So-so; Unimpressive; Unacceptable.

Here's our assessment of the two candidates running for Seattle Port Commission, Position No. 5—incumbent Bill Bryant and challenger Dean Willard.

First, though, a quick primer on the five-member Port Commission, a part time gig that pays $6,000 a year. The Port runs Sea-Tac Airport and the cargo terminals—those cool-looking red cranes—at Elliott Bay. It has property taxing authority in King County—$73.5 million—to cover debt service, environmental projects, freight access roads, and real estate. And it has a $268 million operating budget, employs 1,600 people, and according to its most recent economic impact study, creates 20,000 jobs associated with port activity,  generates nearly a $1 billion in state and local tax revenue and nearly $20 billion in local business revenue.

Bill Bryant: Above Average


Bryant, a moderate Republican (and longtime Republican donor who occasionally gives to Democrats) was first elected in November 2007 with the backing of the conservative builders' PAC and the status quo then-CEO, Mic Dinsmore. This time he's being backed by big donors—he's raised a record $340,000 to his opponent's $35,000—who have business at the Port, such as Holland America and Alaska Airlines.

He's been elected commission president three times by his colleagues and brings a moderate, pro-business POV to the job with an eye on environmental issues. (Bryant is one of the few Republicans to get a Washington Conservation Voters endorsement). Bryant also founded and heads up a successful food trade consulting company, Bryant Christie Inc.—which frankly, we see as a demerit because it gives him a personal business interest in the Port.

Bryant's biggest success as a commissioner so far has been heading up the reform committee, which brought increased bring public accountability to the scandal-ridden agency; in 2007, the agency was rocked by its closed-door decision to give a $340,000 retiring bonus to then Port CEO Mic Dinsmore). Under Bryant's lead, the Port implemented  a slew of reforms, instituting more transparency and giving the commission a more aggressive role overseeing port operations. The commission has taken on oversight roles formerly reserved exclusively for the Port CEO, including overseeing the internal auditor; streamlined (and gotten involved in) the contracting process; added a public member to the audit committee; scaled back executive  commission sessions while expanding public meetings; brought in a policy analyst to act as a check on the CEO; and brought in respected former federal prosecutor Mike McKay to suss out corruption.

However, despite the WCV endorsement, we had trouble finding much green on his resume. He did institute a plan to have parked jet planes plug in to the airport heating system rather than using their own, and he's leading a transition to all-electric transportation at the airport, but he also balked at a specific commission proposal to lower emissions from trucks and killed a proposal to abide by the Federal Clean Ports Act.

Bryant has disappointed his Democratic colleagues—going against a labor-backed bill to upgrade employment standards for airport workers and voting against an immigration reform bill. And he has won applause from conservatives for standing up to the Teamsters by rejecting union demands on the port to use unionized truckers rather than contractors.

Of course, the big ding against Bryant is that he backed a major pay raise for Port CEO Tay Yoshitani—a 9 percent bump to nearly $370,000. Critics say it's no time to give a big raise to the port boss when blue-collar port workers are seeing wages stagnate. (Bryant says Yoshitani has revived the port and was being courted by DC's Dulles Airport.)

The other "of course" on Bryant is that he's seeking higher office–governor, lieutenant governor, US Sen. Maria Cantwell's seat? That's not a demerit per se, but it doesn't inspire confidence that he's focused on the business at the Port.

Some top donors: Holland America Line, Alaska Airlines, Conagra, Coast Hospitality, Martin Selig, John Stanton, and ILWU Local 19. Bryant has raised $340,000.

Dean Willard: Acceptable

Willard, an IT consultant and former T-Mobile VP, is a more of a Democratic Party activist than a Port candidate. (Our read is that the Democrats—and unions—who are all gung-ho for Willard are simply trying to knock off a moderate GOP candidate with grander ambitions; a union-backed political committee has raised $99,000 and done independent expenditures against Bryant.)

That's not a demerit on Willard per se—PubliCola enthusiastically endorsed him when he ran for the state legislature last year (he lost). And Willard's priorities—raising wages for the blue collar work force at the port, changing the role of commissioner to watchdog board member rather than globe-trotting deal maker, and cleaning up the Duwamish—are certainly on point. Indeed, he's racked up some impressive endorsements, including nods, tellingly, from environmental all-stars such as state Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-34) and state Rep. Dave Upthegrove (D-33), as well as current green Port Commissioner Rob Holland, Teamsters Locals 174 and 117, and UFCW Local 21.

However, beyond being a well-respected Democratic Party activist—he's served on the King County Democrats' Executive Board and the Washington State Democrats Central Committee—Willard's resume and good government and environmental raps (he supports the Federal Clean Ports Act) are "good"—as the non-partisan Municipal League rated him---but not "outstanding."

Some top donors: Amalgamated Transit Union, SEIU 775, Teamsters Locals 117 and 174. Willard has raised $35,000.
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