The Port of Tacoma, often touted as Pierce County’s $3 billion-a-year economic engine, revs at high speed seven days a week, from the loading docks and container yards to the manufacturing floors.
Port commissioners, meantime, operate in their own pressure cooker. They’ve felt a steady barrage of energy — much of it heat, but also some needed light — since the last commission election in 2015.
First there was the debacle over plans for the world’s largest methanol plant, which died stillborn last year. Then came an ongoing backlash over a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility.
The community is right to expect Port leaders to attend to safety, environmental and other quality-of-life concerns. Activists can march, speak out and pack public meetings all they want.
But elections are the quintessential tool to hold the Port accountable — not just to the loudest factions but to voters all across Pierce County.
Thus, we’re pleased to see vigorous races for all three seats on the Nov. 7 ballot.
The only open seat is Position 1. Commission veteran Connie Bacon is stepping down. Vying to replace her are longtime local judge John McCarthy of Northeast Tacoma and emergency management consultant Eric Holdeman of Puyallup. Each makes a persuasive case, and the Editorial Board seesawed between them.
Before his 22 years on the District and Superior Court benches, McCarthy, 68, served as a port commissioner from 1983-92. He helped clean up the Tideflats, build wetlands, negotiate the historic Puyallup Tribe land settlement.
He made a mark then, and is capable of making another now with his open-door approach and commitment to the rule of law.
Holdeman, 68, excels at articulating his vision. He calls “lack of public trust” the biggest problem facing the Port, and doesn’t lack for ideas to address it — from holding evening meetings so more citizens can attend, to using social media to both talk and listen.
As the Port’s former security director, he would bring expertise on everything from rail safety to terror threats.
But those who’ve seen McCarthy run a courtroom can testify he’s fair-minded, thoughtful and a good communicator. He wins our endorsement, by an eyelash.
For Position 2, incumbent Dick Marzano faces an aggressive challenge from newcomer Noah Davis. Marzano, 70, worked the docks as a teenager, like McCarthy did, then made longshoring his career; Marzano was the local union president before being elected Port commissioner in 1995.
Marzano’s labor ties give him an uncommon appreciation for the thousands of family-wage jobs the Port is responsible for preserving. But the University Place resident isn’t wedded to long rivalries and old technologies; he recognized joining Seattle in the Northwest Seaport Alliance in 2015 would make them a force in the international shipping game, and that LNG is a necessary step to wean Port clients off dirty diesel fuel.
Davis, a 46-year-old attorney and Northeast Tacoma resident, is intelligent, earnest and charming. But he can be uncompromising on some issues, and that gives us pause.
He comes across as someone disinclined to trust staff or accept the give-and-take necessary to succeed on a team of five commissioners.
And while we admire his passion for giving voice to disenfranchised neighbors and for green energy sources such as biofuels, his job-creation ideas are more idealistic than pragmatic.
Davis also has lived in Tacoma only two years.
Marzano is our choice this time, though Davis definitely rates as a promising maverick and one to watch.
Finally, the Position 4 contest pits incumbent Don Meyer against Kristin Ang. In his bid for a third term, Meyer, 73, shows a command of the myriad aspects of the Tacoma waterfront — no surprise, given his 15 years as a Port financial executive and 10 years leading the Foss Waterway Authority.
But the Spanaway resident is open to new ideas, agrees the Port must be more up-front with residents and acknowledges legitimate concerns about LNG plant safety. Meyer, the Port’s least-tenured commissioner, exemplifies how culture can be changed from within.
Ang, 38, believes Port culture can only be changed by outsiders. The Gig Harbor attorney has an intriguing resume: a Filipino American who grew up in Pierce County but has lived and worked in China.
One imagines she could be an effective intermediary for Pacific Rim trade.
But Ang, like Davis, espouses the extreme views of the anti-fossil fuel group Redefine Tacoma (formerly RedLine Tacoma), and her notions for alternate uses of Port property (tourism, anyone?) are even less fleshed out and more fanciful than what Davis proposes.
Trying to cast doubt on the incumbent’s environmental credentials is also a losing cause, considering Meyer’s Foss cleanup record and Sierra Club endorsement.
Both Ang and Davis base their campaigns on the idea that commissioners are out of touch with neighbors and must end fossil fuel dependence. Neither has a background in maritime industries, transportation, land management or cargo logistics.
They’re not our choices to lead the Port of Tacoma, an institution with multifaceted demands and interest groups.
But they’ve forced county voters to lift the hood and take a serious look at the South Sound’s economic engine. And for that, we’re grateful.
Checking their records
The TNT Editorial Board is partnering with CandidateVerification as part of our endorsement process this year. The Bellevue-based nonprofit watchdog coordinates background and resume screenings with the candidates’ consent.
For Port of Tacoma Commission, all six candidates signed up for a background check and no red flags came up. To see the full database, go online to CandidateVerification.org.