The history of the Port of Tacoma, now 101 years strong, shows how our city transformed into a major gateway of international commerce. What was once a desolate patch of Tideflats is now a sprawling manufacturing center that generates $3 billion in annual activity.
As the Port embarks on the next hundred years, its legacy needs protecting. But a combined 36 years of leadership will soon walk out the door. Clare Petrich and Don Johnson aren’t running for reelection and will retire from the five-member Port Commission at the end of 2019.
Two clear-eyed individuals are needed to help secure the Port’s future, not just as an employer and economic workhorse but as an environmental steward and community partner. That’s why we’re endorsing Deanna Keller and Kristin Ang for Port of Tacoma Commission in the Aug. 6 primary election.
They are two very different candidates — Keller a steady insider, Ang a fiery outsider — but they make for an intriguing combination.
For Position 3, Keller boasts a deep resume of public and private management experience. She’s been president of her family’s industrial-fabrication company on the Tideflats for 11 years. She was a public school principal for a dozen years. She’s also a Marine Corps veteran.
Other candidates talk about expanding living-wage jobs and apprenticeship opportunities; at KelTech Plastics, Keller has done it.
The 62-year-old Gig Harbor resident calls herself a “fiscal conservative who understands public service.” Her involvement with the local Chamber and Economic Development Board aligns her with mainstream business voices already well represented on the Port Commission.
But she also shows flashes of dissent. She questions a decision by the Northwest Seaport Alliance — a joint venture of the ports of Tacoma and Seattle — to support the Terminal 5 project, which skews toward Seattle’s interests.
Opponent Justin Camarata is the strongest dissenter in this race. He wants the Port to be a “social justice innovator.” He chides commissioners for sticking with a controversial liquid natural gas plant and for suing environmental activists.
Camarata, a 34-year-old Tacoma software consultant, is bright and well spoken, a millennial voice carrying a message of disaffection that commissioners would be wise to listen to. But he can’t match Keller’s breadth or depth, and he seems a better fit for Tacoma City Council. We’re surprised he’s not running for a seat at that table, after capably filling a six-month City Council appointment last year.
Also running in this contest is Frank Boykin of University Place. The 58-year-old United Parcel Service executive has relevant experience in shipping and transportation logistics. Electing him would correct a historical disgrace: The commission has had no African American, or any person of color, in 101 years.
But Boykin, while calling for inclusiveness and community engagement, didn’t articulate for us a clear case why he’s the best candidate. For Position 3, Keller strikes us as the most effective champion for creating and protecting jobs.
Our other choice for Port commission, Position 5 candidate Kristin Ang, has potential to be a standout among a new generation of South Sound leaders.
The 40-year-old Gig Harbor attorney promotes similar progressive issues as Camarata — such as meaningful consultation with the Puyallup Tribe, and opposition to the LNG plant and other fossil-fuel projects — but her credentials are more suited for this office.
Ang, a Filipino American, has lived, worked and studied in China and Hong Kong. She’s well versed in Pacific Rim trade. And she survived the proving ground of her first Port election campaign in 2016, when she won more than 48 percent of the vote.
Ang doesn’t dwell on all the ways she would diversify the Port commission. Gender? Check. (Petrich is currently the only woman.) Youth representation? Check. (Anyone under 60 is young in this group). Person of color? Check. (And it’s long overdue.)
“I’m not here just to change the facial makeup at the Port,” she said. “I’m here to bring a data-driven fresh perspective and new voices.”
Both other candidates in this contest are impressive, too.
Shelly Schlumpf of Puyallup is well known in East Pierce County for leading organizations such as the Puyallup-Sumner Chamber. The 58-year-old would have instant credibility as a Port leader through a wide network of labor, business and elected officials.
Nobody we interviewed was as outspoken as Schlumpf about Port infrastructure and transportation concerns. Helping coordinate the successful fight for the State Route 167 expansion project gave her a firm foundation.
Dave Bryant, a 69-year-old Lake Tapps resident, sees the Port through the lens of a man who’s spent much of his life at sea. The former career Navy officer and ship commander now works as a Boeing manager; his knowledge is wide ranging, from shipboard fueling systems to Port competitiveness.
A four-year Pierce County resident, Bryant has the shallowest local roots of anyone running for commissioner. But you wouldn’t know it to hear him talk.
In the end, we give our endorsement to Ang, with fingers crossed that she will force difficult conversations but still find room for compromise. She has a good grasp of shifting public expectations and other challenges facing our working-class Port over the next 100 years.
The Port of Tacoma Commission doesn’t need five firebrands. But it could benefit from having one.