University of Puget Sound hosts election debate


Candidates for mayor, port, and city council address environmental propositions, social issues and more.

By Tami Jackson

Thomas Hall at the University of Puget Sound was filled to the doors and windows on Tuesday while political debates transpired from a table in front of the large brick fireplace there. Deliberations were among Tacoma mayoral candidates, Port of Tacoma Position 2 candidates, Tacoma City Council at large Position 6 candidates and candidates for Tacoma City Council District 2 position.
The night’s moderators, Todd Hay and Michael Artime, asked essential questions on social issues but threw the hardest questions on environmental topics.

Mayoral candidates
Victoria Woodards and Jim Merritt

Tacoma mayoral candidate Jim Merritt spoke on the city’s need to attract more family-wage jobs, but he also felt strongly about the need to improve public safety. His platform is to change the current city culture to one where elected officials actually listen to the collective voice of its citizens. Merritt said he would support Tideflats regulations with an open door policy to keep decisions transparent.
He mentioned unfortunate deals that the City has previously made, including the Walmart lawsuit that happened two years ago. That’s when Tacoma dragged its feet through the permit generating process to delay the retail giant’s settling here and a real estate developer claimed to have lost somewhere around $1.8 million.
On the environmental topic about liquefied natural gas (LNG) at the port, Merritt said he does not see facts in Puget Sound Energy advertisements supporting LNG. “Our future is in renewables. Our future is not in fossil fuels,” he said. Merritt kept repeating how important it will be for the new mayor to look into the future. He spoke of the risks of ignoring environmental issues and said that the City’s putting something untoward in the middle of a million people was just unconscionable.
Mayoral candidate Victoria Woodards deflected environmental questions with the following statement: “Right here in Tacoma, if you live in the 98404 zip code your life expectancy can be a difference of 17 years from living in the 98406 or 407 zip codes. That’s an environmental issue,” she said. Then Woodards elaborated on the large disparity in what various individuals might experience living in this city and her response to environmental questions turned into a lecture on the city’s homelessness and affordability concerns.
On the topic of Totem Ocean Trailer Express (TOTE) and pollution in Port of Tacoma, Woodards said Tote is under a federal mandate to use a cleaner burning fuel. She said she trusts in the regulations, the fire chief and other experts and, since she is not herself an engineer, she must trust what experts are saying and that as technology changes, LNG will go away.

Where the mayoral
candidates both agreed

Both Merritt and Woodards spoke of changing the political culture in Tacoma so there are no more deals made behind closed doors. “LNG is just a symptom of a real challenge we have as a community,” Woodards said before talking about social equity some more.
Both mayoral candidates also agreed that the Northwest Detention Center’s (NDC) alleged mistreatment of detainees is shameful. Woodards and Merritt both said there is a lot the City can do to handle situations like that. Even though NDC is a federal institution, Tacoma can make sure the prison is following city codes and can put the facility under full review. “We can use the voice of the City to stop expansion,” Woodards said and elaborated to say that Tacoma sets the policy by which the prison is governed.

Where the mayoral candidates
had differing viewpoints

Regarding the local economy and the huge disparity between how many Tacoma businesses are run by men versus women, the two candidates could not have voiced opinions further apart.
Merritt spoke as though citizens getting a good education while the city attracts prospective businesses by presenting Tacoma as a friendly city would be what’s needed to fix that disparity.
In contrast, Woodards’ statements went much deeper. She said we need to help Tacomans understand that it’s possible to own their own businesses and make sure, when they walk into the bank, that there’s a certain fairness when it comes to securing loans. Woodards also supports the idea of a federal grant to help women develop a business plan.
The two mayoral candidates somewhat disagreed on what housing should look like in Tacoma as well. Merritt said the city’s focus should be on getting more residents in our city to buy their own homes. He said the city needs to have 60 percent of its housing owned by residents and numbers currently fall too far short of that. Woodards argued that this city desperately needs to focus on providing more affordable housing overall.

Port of Tacoma Pos. 2 candidates
Noah Davis and Dick Marzano

Current Port of Tacoma Commission Chair Dick Marzano was first elected to the commission in November 1995. He is being challenged for port Position 2 by Noah Davis. When asked whether or not he supports LNG, Marzano delivered a hard “yes” and added, “I support the LNG facility.” Marzano said LNG is a cleaner burning fuel than other options. He said new cruise vessels and container ships are being built with LNG capabilities. “If we don’t support LNG, we will see diminished shipping,” he said.
Regarding relationships between the port and local citizens, Marzano claimed that the exchanges are very healthy and said the port has a great relationship with the Puyallup Tribe and others. That statement caused murmuring from the crowd. In fact, during break, Kristin Ang, who is running for Port of Tacoma Commission Position 4, expressed frustration about Marzano saying relationships are good.
A very passionate man who showed deep emotion during the debates, Noah Davis is an attorney with experience in corporate advisory, insurance, real estate, litigation and securities law and he has quite an extensive background in international commercial law. As a Tacoma citizen, Davis is deeply concerned about environmental issues at the port. He said he lives in that vicinity and is intimately aware of the pollution, noise and congested traffic that plagues the area. Davis said the port needs to move toward an electric, a hybrid or other cleaner energy source. He said all ships should be plugging in at the port and not emitting diesel exhaust. He also said that TOTE has been receiving waivers so they don’t have to comply with current regulations and that those waivers should be stopped.

Tacoma City Council at Large
Pos. 6 candidates Lillian Hunter and Meredith Neal

Meredith Neal is a project manager for MRF Construction, a Tacoma-owned small business. She believes in fair and equal access and proposes that the City should streamline its permitting process to encourage investors to build affordable housing. She spoke of attracting new businesses and supporting the businesses that are already here. Her advice on crime is to employ law enforcement officers who live and work in the city and who have children going to local schools so they care more about the work they do. Regarding the environment, Neal said there’s a plan for Tacoma to have a 33 percent tree canopy by 2030 but the city is doing nothing to get there. She also said one of the many reasons folks in lower income neighborhoods live shorter lives than those in wealthier neighborhoods has to do with not removing one’s shoes when entering into a house.
Regarding LNG, Neal said all buses run on natural gas and we need intermediary steps to get off natural gas in 20 to 30 years.
Lillian Hunter is a retired long-time educator who served two terms on the Tacoma Library Board and fought for libraries in the city budget. She said 50 percent of Tacomans rent and expressed concern about the City’s current problem with housing supply and demand. Hunter feels that affordable housing is a big issue in this city. She felt the problems with crime stem from how the police department is staffed. She said the city is short 45 officers for a full staff and that it would behoove us to restore our police force. Hunter also expressed great concern about the fuels stored in Tacoma and said we don’t have the roadway structures to get emergency vehicles in and out quickly. “Safety is huge for me,” said Hunter.

Tacoma City Council District 2
candidates Philip Cowan and
Robert Thoms

Philip Cowan is currently executive director of the non-profit Grand Cinema. He has a master’s degree in international business and said he has the analytical ability to dive into budgets. He spoke about how the port wants to maintain the status quo and how we need leadership that will get the public involved ahead of time. Cowan expressed concern about how LNG is locking into things that the city and port don’t need. “We need to look forward and consider what will come up in the future that we plan for now,” he said.
Robert Thoms, currently a Tacoma City Council member, spoke of Tacoma government needing more transparency and said LNG has been in the making for 10 years. Regarding that issue, Thoms said the public has been speaking loud and clear, especially in regard to air quality, and said folks have been seeing debris on their porches. Thoms spoke about cumulative air quality and said Puget Sound Energy is not doing the level of clean air testing the city needs. He said at least one community has secured air monitoring independently of city government and feedback from such testing is needed for action. Thoms said the city needs to find the people responsible for polluting the air. “Nobody wants to know less. They want to know more,” he said.

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  1. I know that our communities have spoken loud and clear on the culture of our elected /appointed representatives ..
    It is time that we are heard and we can do that at the ballot box .
    End the Status Quo and the business as usual mentality …
    Our voice is our vote .

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