Seattle Port Commissioner Alec Fisken is sounding the alarm about Citizens for a Healthy Economy, a new political action committee (PAC) that has raised more than $100,000 for voter "education" in this year's Port races. "It's the status quo versus reform," claims Fisken, who does not face re-election this year. The PAC's co-founder, Bob Wallace, CEO of Bellevue-based Wallace Properties and an Eastside power broker, says Fisken is misrepresenting the group. "It's about keeping the Port true to its mission" of economic development, says Wallace.
Wallace says Citizens for a Healthy Economy was founded to raise the level of awareness of the public about the quality of candidates for Port Commission. Reports filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission show that the PAC has raised money at a torrid rate since April, mostly tapping companies that do business with the Port, including $10,000 from SSA Terminals, which operates shipping container terminals, and $10,000 from Holland America, whose cruise ships dock in Seattle.
To date, the PAC's only political expenditure is a $10,000 donation to Port Commissioner Pat Davis, a 20-year incumbent who is facing a strong challenge from high-tech executive Jack Jolley, among others. Davis dismisses the notion that Fisken is part of a reform movement and accuses him of being against new investment in Port facilities, such as terminals for cruise ships. "I don't call reform doing nothing," she says.
Fisken says the motives of Wallace and Frank Stagen, the CEO of real-estate development firm Nitze-Stagen who is the other co-founder of Citizens for a Healthy Economy, are transparent. Wallace led an unsuccessful effort to have the Port of Seattle invest in Bellevue's troubled convention center, while Stagen lost his battle to have the Port convert Terminal 46 on Seattle's waterfront into a neighborhood of condos, parks, offices, and even a basketball arena (see "So Long SoDo," April 28, 2004). Fisken says the two developers are enlisting the support of other businesses that depend on Port pork to make sure status-quo candidates like Davis win and reform-minded candidates like incumbent Port Commissioner Lawrence Molloy lose. "It's bizarre," says Fisken.
Wallace insists that the group has no direct financial motive. He points out that he has never done business with the Port and agreed with the decision not to invest in Bellevue's convention center. Wallace also notes that Davis voted against Stagen's proposal for redevelopment of Terminal 46.
Fisken isn't backing off. In his blog (seattleportwatch.blogspot.com), Fisken writes: "For decades cynics have suggested that a few people or companies do very well off Port dollars, while commissioners, who don't have time to keep track, preside at cocktail parties. If there's truth in that perspective, then some of this year's commission candidates must be threatening it."