John Creighton didn’t imagine he would someday seek a fourth term on the Seattle Port Commission when he first ran in 2005.

Now, he’s the longest-tenured member, and said he wants to continue providing the institutional memory for his fellow commissioners, something that comes only over time.

“I just feel with my longevity at the Port, with the relationships I’ve built … that I can really be helpful in shaping the future in a good way,” he said.

Ryan Calkins, however, felt the time is right for a change in his decision to seek the seat, and hopes that voters feel the same.

The incumbent and Calkins advanced to the general election, separated by less than 4,000 votes in the August primary in the race for position one.  

“As I was looking just looking at the commission generally and what seats would be up, I felt like this was the seat that where my replacing the incumbent would have the greatest impact for the issues that matter to me,” Calkins said.

Though he said that in Seattle politics, being a businessperson is “sort of wearing a scarlet letter,” he points to his professional resume as one that speaks to his value set at someone who believes deeply in social justice. His first two jobs out of college were in Latin America — one with a disaster-relief organization aiding in the efforts after Hurricane Mitch, and the second in Colombia with the human rights organization Witness for Peace — before returning to the Seattle area to work in the import business.

“Not only did I learn the skills that it takes to run a successful business, how you can hire and retain good talent, how you balance a budget and forecast for the coming years, how you manage a team of dozens of people, but I also learned how to do that in a way that reflected my personal, progressive values around the environment and worker equity,” he said.

He’s focused his campaign on three areas: Transparency and ethics in governance, the environment, and jobs, with an emphasis on how the economy works from the bottom-up rather than the top-down. Those areas are also where he believes he separates himself from his opponent.

“If you think that the best lever for the Port Commission to pull in order to drive economic growth is to support big corporations, then that’s one set of policies,” he said. “If you believe that to drive economic growth you support the lowest economic tier in that pyramid, then it’s a different set of policies that you push.”

And though he doesn’t see much “explicit malfeasance” on the part of the Port, a lack of transparency has allowed people to become accustomed to “not really having much scrutiny, and so they make poor choices.”

To that end, Calkins is also a supporter for restructuring the Port Commission to be district-based — like the Seattle City Council — as opposed to its current make-up of five at-large seats, and wants to limit fundraising for incumbents to only the year of the election.

Creighton, however, said that “despite some issues with our CEO — and the commission was very unified and committed in dealing with that and moving on — there’s been a lot of good changes made at the Port.”

Beyond his longevity, Creighton points to a reorganization of port bureaucracy as one of the positive changes in recent years. He said divisions previously operated in silos, and now the Port is working better across its various subsets. He also noted a restructuring to have both the Port’s labor relations person and chief environmental officer report directly to the executive director.

“I think we’ve shaken up our port bureaucracy to be much more responsive to our stakeholders and to our community, which is a good thing,” he said.

The incumbent also said his role in crafting the Port’s Century Agenda, and the long-discussed formation of the Northwest Seaport Alliance between Seattle and Tacoma as positive outcomes during his term.

“Past commissions have made really good decisions that have kept the port competitive, and so we wanted to do our part,” Creighton said of the Century Agenda.

Calkins also believes the Seaport Alliance has worked well thus far, but noted that the looming global shipping needs will soon make Terminal 46 obsolete as a container cargo terminal, with too small of a footprint. When that cargo traffic moves to Terminal 5, he said, it’s ideally located for redevelopment into a cruise ship terminal.

“They’d be able to come up, stop before downtown, and then be located close enough to downtown when they are embarking and disembarking that they can take advantage of all the retail and entertainment options,” he said. “It just makes a ton of sense to do that.”

Both candidates also have their eyes set on what can be done to keep the seaport competitive moving forward. Creighton said to date cargo volume is up five percent over last year.

“We’re doing all we can to keep our gateway competitive, the challenge is that the global shipping industry is still in turmoil,” he said.

Calkins, meanwhile, said the seaport is nowhere near where it could be in terms of capacity, and that attracting a tenant for Terminal 5, and getting it to a condition where its ready for the next generation of container cargo traffic, should be the “hair on fire” issue for the commission right now.

“If we aren’t investing in Terminal 5 right now, our viability as a global port will diminish,” he said. “The big ships that are coming in that will, from what I’ve heard represent about 80 percent of Trans-Pacific shipping, simply won’t fit at the terminals that we have right now, and we need to get bigger cranes and dredge the waterways and shore up the moorings of the terminals to prepare for all that, and it’s a big investment.”

Also at the center of the position one race is the decision by Port Commissioners — Creighton included — to allow a Shell Oil rig to dock at Terminal 5 in 2015.

Calkins said it was one of the issues that got him thinking about the race, and that “the whole process of the decision-making felt shrouded in secrecy, and I disagreed with the final decision.”

Creighton, however, said that the traditional Democratic stakeholders of labor and the environmental community were split on the issue.

“I think it’s difficult to tell a tenant what legal activity they can and cannot do,” he said.

Despite that controversy, he said he’s worked to try and bring stakeholders together over how the Port can be a catalyst to a cleaner economy. That included the At-Berth Clean (ABC) Fuels program, which subsidized the difference between low-sulfur diesel fuel and bunker fuel for shipping lines, to burn the cleaner fuel while at-berth. Creighton also believes something similar should be done at the airport, to incentivize the use of biofuels by covering the differential between that and Jet A fuel.

Calkins said the Port does have some “outstanding policies,” on becoming one of the greenest airports and seaports in the country, but believes there’s a lot more to be done, particularly with the ever-present threat of climate change.

“It needs to be thinking about how it readies itself for the changes that are going to be brought by climate change to our local ecosystems,” he said. “With global sea level rise, what does that mean for our terminals? Are they going to be able to manage an increase in one-to-three feet over the next 50 years and still be viable?”

Those are the kind of issues he believes he’s ready to help address.

“I felt like I had an opportunity to take on somebody who was out of step with the values of the county, and bring the commission into alignment with values around the environment, family-wage jobs, and in particular transparency in government,” Calkins said.

To learn more about Calkins’ campaign, go to www.ryanforport.com. To learn more about Creighton’s campaign, go to www.johncreighton.org.  To comment on this story, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.