While incumbents are defending their seats in a pair of Port of Seattle Commission races, the five-person board is guaranteed at least one new member this fall.
Longtime Seattle City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck and Preeti Shridhar, Renton’s deputy public affairs director, were the top-two vote getters in the August primary to fill the opening left by Tom Albro, who decided not to seek a second-term in Position 4.
Steinbrueck, who served a decade on the city council and ran for mayor in 2013, insists he is not a career politician, but felt the position was a “good opportunity at the right time,” to bring his experience and knowledge to the challenges the Port faces.
“I’m not madly driven to be in politics,” he said. “It hasn’t been my life’s pursuit.”
For the past decade, Shridhar has worked for the City of Renton, and before that spent 15 years split between Seattle Public Utilities and in the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability & Environment. She saw the commission opening as an opportunity to take the next step of leadership in her community.
“To me it was kind of a perfect fit,” she said.
Both candidates had strong words for the recent missteps of the Port, with Steinbrueck calling the hiring of now ex-CEO Ted Fick, “an error in judgment and lack of understanding about the role of that important position.” Fick resigned in February in the midst of questions regarding nearly $5 million in worker bonuses paid out to more than 600 workers.
“I knew that it’s a gift of public funds to be giving pay raises without stipulating some commensurate justification,” Steinbrueck said.
Shridhar said one of the biggest decisions in the coming months will be the selection of a new executive director, “because that appointment is going to really set the stage for the future of the port, for the current culture, management, decision making, [and] ability to implement these very, very important policies.”
The two candidates also questioned the decision-making behind leasing space to Shell Oil to dock a drilling rig at Terminal 5 in 2015.
While the former councilmember acknowledged the “slippery slope,” of selectively disallowing legal cargo, he believes the Port should have seen from the outset that it was a symbolic issue of enormous importance. Had it done so, he believes the situation may have been handled differently.
Shridhar said the issue comes up everywhere she goes, and that it created concern because it spoke against the region’s environmental values.
“If you’re going to take something like that make sure you do your homework, get the community involved, provide the facts openly, make those decisions in transparency, or really evaluate options, because you want to preserve the core values of our community,” she said. “That’s what the commission is there for.”
Along with accountability, the environment is one of the race’s major issues, with Shridhar saying one of the biggest challenges is balancing those potential impacts, and the effects on surrounding communities that come with the growth for the Port and Sea-Tac. She wants to make the airport the first in the nation to offer biofuels for airplanes, but acknowledged that such an effort would take time.
Encouraging and potentially incentivizing the use of biofuels also has a proponent in Steinbrueck, who said, “it is definitely the future as we transition away from fossil fuels.”
On the topic of growth itself, Steinbrueck said the relationships between the Port and other local entities could stand to be much stronger and more aligned, at a time when there are global shipping challenges, competition, congestion and freight mobility, and gentrification all affecting the Port in various ways.
“I just think that there ought to be intergovernmental alignment around important issues like job creation and high-paying living wage jobs,” he said.
Shridhar pointed to her efforts to secure funding for the Washington Manufacturing Advanced Training Institute, as an example of the type of effort needed to replace retiring workers in the maritime industry. She said the upgrades at Terminal 5 will make it one of the best, most state-of-the-art terminals in the Northwest, and that keeping the Northwest Seaport Alliance strong going forward will be critical to presenting formidable competition against other ports.
When asked what set them apart in the race, both cited their divergent professional experience. Shridhar noted her M.B.A. and postgraduate degree in international trade, along with bachelor’s degrees in economics and management, but also mentioned her personal perspective.
“I stand on my qualifications and my ability and my passion,” she said. “But, there is the fact that I bring in a diverse viewpoint, that I’m able to be approached by different members of the community, I also have a very clear, strong understanding of immigrant issues, being an immigrant myself, and that faces us today whether we like it or not.”
Steinbrueck cited his time at City Hall, drafting and passing what he called, “important cutting-edge innovative policies,” in housing, transportation, urban forest management and the environment, among other topics, and working on the city budget. He also touched on his civic activism and professional experience. His architecture practice is integrated with urban design, community planning, land use, and strategies for advancing greener cities.
“I do have a wealth of experience, civic activism, and broad public knowledge of public policy,” he said.
Shridhar also stated her vision as part of what makes her a good fit.
“We need someone who’s going to be looking to the future, who’s got the vision, who’s got the passion,” she said. “Seattle is not the Seattle of 20 years ago, Seattle is the gateway to the future, and that’s what I bring.”
Ballots for the general election will be mailed on Oct. 18, and must by postmarked by Election Day (Nov. 7) or returned to a drop box by 8 p.m. that night.
To learn more about Steinbrueck’s campaign, go to www.peterforport.com. For more information on Shridhar’s campaign, visit www.preetiforport.com. To comment on this story, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.