New Port tack?

Challenger Lawrence Molloy mounts a vigorous challenge to incumbent Port Commissioner Jack Block.

LAWRENCE MOLLOY doesn't scare Jack Block—even though Molloy, who's never run for political office, has raised more money in his bid for Port of Seattle Commissioner than the incumbent Block and won endorsements from the King County Labor Council and Washington Conservation Voters.

Block, a longshoreman by trade, has endorsements from the SeaTac Firefighters' Union and the International Longshoreman Workers' Union Local 98, not to mention a 27-year incumbency record. "I've taken on tougher opponents [than Molloy]," says Block, who was first elected to the Port of Seattle Commission in 1973.

All the same, Molloy is going after Block on two issues that normally don't go together: the environment and labor. Molloy, a technology officer for an environmental technology company, says Block has not represented his labor constituents and calls the incumbent's environmental record "nonexistent."

Block, naturally, defends his record on the environment. Just look at the squid in Elliott Bay, he points out: For the first time in 40 years, he says, squid are spawning off the docks along the waterfront. They don't swim in polluted water, according to Block. "This bay is cleaner than it's ever been," he claims. Additionally, Block says the Port of Seattle cleaned up two Superfund sites during his tenure and rehabilitated Hamm's Creek. Molloy says this is hogwash. "In no way has he been a champion for the environment," he insists.

Karen Deal at the Conservation Voters says her organization also was not impressed by Block's environmental record. "The fact of the matter is," she says, "this is not his priority." Molloy's endorsement by the Conservation Voters comes as no surprise, because he spent four years on the board of one of the group's affiliates. The group made an early endorsement of Molloy without even interviewing Block. Deal called Molloy one of the Conservation Voter's "top stars."

A much greater upset was the decision by the King County Labor Council to endorse Molloy over Block. This marked the first time in Block's long tenure on the Port Commission that the Labor Council endorsed his opponent. Labor Council board member and Inland Boatman's Union president David Freiboth says the decision was not a personal dismissal of Block as much as a rebuke of the entire Port Commission. The Port needs to do some fence mending in its relationship with the labor community, asserts Freiboth. The Port's recent attempts to privatize the crane-maintenance operations at the waterfront, he adds, raised eyebrows in the labor community. In addition, according to Freiboth, Molloy did his homework on the needs of the labor community. "Molloy did a heck of a job addressing our issues," he says.

Traditionally, labor and environmental groups get along about as well as sea lions and salmon. But Molloy sees the two as strongly linked. "The best way to protect the environment is to train your workforce," he says.

Molloy also makes it clear that he is strongly pro-union. This is important when your opponent is a lifelong union member. "People have the right to organize," says Molloy. "That's a guarantee under my watch."

Block points to a surprising endorsement of his own. He has backed the Port's apprenticeship programs for women and minorities that offer training for waterfront jobs. His work with this program helped earn him the support of the Washington State Women's Political Caucus. The caucus' Carol Burton says Block had a good record of promoting equal rights for women. His job enthusiasm was also a big plus: "He was so excited about the Port and what the Port was doing," she says. "After all these years, to still be enthusiastic—you don't see that often."

THE TWO CANDIDATES do share some, though not very much, common ground. Both oppose bringing pleasure boats into Fishermen's Terminal. Block thinks the Port has an obligation to the North Pacific fishing fleet to keep Fishermen's Terminal a working facility. And Molloy says the Port of Seattle has "a trust responsibility to the fishing fleet."

Both men also like the new cruise ship dock, although Molloy wants to see the Port install a sewage-discharge hookup. But he thinks the ships could provide a strong marine-conservation incentive. "Cruise ships are a great future for us because it gives us a great incentive to preserve the Puget Sound," he says.

Naturally, endorsements don't win an election by themselves. If Block has been able to win the Port Commissioner's race six times since 1973, he must know something about running a successful campaign. He says he's running again this year because he wants to finish what he started—and perhaps help fix the region's transportation mess. "This isn't the time to change horses now," he says.

Molloy clearly feels right now is the perfect time to change horses. And even though he lost the endorsement of the Women's Political Caucus, Burton says Molloy did impress the group. "I'd like to see him run again," she says, "perhaps for some other office." Come November, Block may find himself wishing the same thing.

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