Port of Tacoma

Port commissioners from Tacoma, Seattle taking Cuban trade trip

Connie Bacon is planning a trip to Cuba on behalf of the Port of Tacoma Commission.
Connie Bacon is planning a trip to Cuba on behalf of the Port of Tacoma Commission. Courtesy

Leadership changes and an upcoming trip to Cuba were among the highlights of Thursday’s Port of Tacoma Commission meeting.

At the meeting, the group approved the appointment of Commissioner Dick Marzano as its new president. He takes the post from outgoing president Connie Bacon.

The leadership shift was a routine one, said port spokeswoman Tara Mattina.

Marzano was first elected to the port commission in 1995. He was a Tacoma International Longshore and Warehouse Union worker for more than 36 years. Bacon, who will become the second assistant secretary for the commission, was first elected in 1997 and is a former executive director of World Trade Center Tacoma. Both of their elected terms expire next year.

Port commissioners also discussed an upcoming three-day trip to Havana, Cuba. Bacon said she was invited to attend Alaska Airlines’ inaugural flight to Havana, departing Jan. 5. Commissioners are asked to regularly approve international travel, and Bacon’s trip to Cuba is expected to cost an estimated $3,000, according to a memo to port commissioners.

That includes airfare, hotel and meals, Bacon said.

The Seattle-based airline is touting the trip as a “business and trade delegation” to Cuba.

Though the federal government’s stance on Cuba has softened in recent months — Americans are now allowed to travel to Cuba for business, cultural or educational purposes — the trade embargo remains in place.

Commissioner Don Johnson called the venture “an absolute boondoggle,” saying the trip has no value to the Port of Tacoma.

“If you look at the agenda, it’s just a tour. It’s not business related at all,” Johnson said during the Thursday commission meeting. “The last time I looked we didn’t have any customers there at all.”

Bacon said the trip will provide valuable business contacts that might not be immediately obvious. She took Johnson’s criticism in stride.

“Don is a very strict fiscal guy, thank goodness,” she said Friday. “He looks at it as a cost benefit. Sometimes it’s difficult to put that kind of a number on this.”

The commission voted 4-1 to approve her trip, with Johnson voting no.

Bacon and other guests will stay at the Hotel Parque Central, where a standard room is listed at $472 U.S. dollars a night in mid-December. Hotel nights during the trip appear to be sold out.

The trip’s itinerary includes a bus tour through the Plaza de la Revolución, a two-hour guided tour of Old Havana, a visit to the Presidential Palace and one to Ernest Hemingway’s home, about 20 minutes southeast of Havana’s city center.

But the parts of the trip Bacon looks forward to most include more than two hours with local elected officials in Cuba. She wants to know the locals’ views of warming relationships between Cuba and the U.S.

She also lauded the opportunity to mingle with other government officials who are taking the Alaska Air trip to and from Cuba.

“I wouldn’t be sitting in an airplane for 20 hours over three days if I didn’t think it was worth it,” Bacon said.

All five Port of Seattle commissioners and its CEO, Ted Fick, are also taking the trip, said Port of Seattle spokesman Peter McGraw in an email. Their travel was approved at a meeting earlier this week. The Port of Seattle also operates Sea-Tac Airport.

“We’re pleased to participate in this historic inaugural flight for our hometown airline, which presents an exciting economic development opportunity for our state,” McGraw wrote.

What will the trip cost the Port of Seattle, if anything? McGraw said he didn’t have that information because “there are a number of travel arrangements being discussed.”

King County Executive Dow Constantine is also attending, said Alaska spokeswoman Bobbie Egan. All elected officials are paying for the cost of their trips, she said.

In 2015, Washington state exported nearly $4 million worth of medical, surgical, dental or veterinary supplies to Cuba, said Ashley Dutta, vice president for policy and communications at the Washington Council on International Trade.

Kate Martin: 253-597-8542, @KateReports