NO MATTER THAT ONE of the mayor's private business partners holds millions of dollars in Amazon.com stock and sits on the company's corporate board: There are "no records" that he played a role in Wright Runstad & Co.'s multimillion-dollar leasing of Pacific Medical Center for the Internet bookseller, says Mayor Paul Schell's office. The deal was shaped up in January when the business partner, Tom A. Alberg—a Schell friend for more than 20 years—was on the new mayor's transition team.
"The mayor does not see any conflict of interest resulting from the fact that a friend of his sits on Amazon.com's board," says mayoral aide Victoria Schoenburg. "This deal was not a transaction with the city of Seattle. The mayor simply expressed his support for it."
Indeed he did, urging the US Department of Health and Human Services to commercialize the historic medical facility in what some see as a sweetheart deal for some of the mayor's friends. DHHS approval of a non-medical lease was crucial to the deal, and, in turn, City Hall's approval was critical to DHHS's imprimatur. Documents and interviews show the mayor's associates and campaign donors came out in quiet force to lobby and even orchestrate Schell's backing ("Hill of a Deal," SW, 9/3).
At the time the lease was first discussed—PacMed administrator Jim Gore says he had his initial talks with Wright Runstad property executive Joel Horn in "mid-January"—Schell had just taken office. Horn had been Schell's volunteer campaign treasurer and, Gore said in a recent interview, was instrumental in negotiating the PacMed pact. Horn, like Alberg, was also part of Schell's transition team and currently co-chairs a mayoral housing committee.
Alberg, a principal in the Madrona Investment Group, which helps finance new companies, is a board member on a number of top corporations, including Amazon.com, in which he also holds 195,000 shares of stock worth more than $5 million. Formerly a partner at Perkins Coie when Schell was also associated with the law firm, Alberg was co-chair of the Discovery Institute think tank with Schell, and both are owners and investment partners in the Heron Bay Inn, formerly the Port Ludlow Inn, one of three hotel operations run by the mayor. While Schell was a Port of Seattle commissioner, his pet project, the taxpayer-financed World Trade Center (also being developed by his friend and campaign backer Jon Runstad of Wright Runstad) snared a top tenant: Seattle software-maker Visio. Tom Alberg also sits on that company's board. (Visio's tenancy, by the way, was secured in January by Wright Runstad's Joel Horn, erstwhile promoter of the Seattle Commons.)
In other words, the mayor and Alberg are close. So did they ever talk over the PacMed-to-Wright-Runstad-to-Amazon.com lease that could directly benefit, among others, the company Alberg represents?
"We have no records of any discussions," says Schoenburg. Alberg did not respond to a reporter's inquiry but, says Schoenburg, she talked with Alberg "and he said he doesn't remember whether or not they [he and Schell] mentioned the PacMed deal to each other, but he does know that he never made any requests of the mayor regarding the deal."
If it all seems a bit too cozy, it doesn't to the mayor's office. Schell, says Schoenburg, backs the project "because he feels the deal is very much in PacMed's best interest in sustaining their community health-care mission." Simple as that.