Seattle Port Vote of Conscience: JACK BLOCK, JR. YES! (Tarleton, please no!)

Thanks to Jeffuppy for previous Washblog story ( Port of Seattle Candidate has ties to Ports contractor) and additional links to sources that I use in this story.

Jack Block, Jr., is a highly-qualified, well-endorsed, and well-spoken candidate for Seattle Port Commission.  The Municipal League gave him their highest rating for the position:   OUTSTANDING. Gael Tarleton, another candidate for the same position, told me in a phone conversation last week that he's not an appropriate or qualified choice for the position.  With all due respect, she's mistaken.

Like Jack Block, Jr., Ms. Tarleton is also well-spoken, endorsed, and qualified, with an OUTSTANDING rating from the Municipal League.  Unlike Block, who is a Burien City Councilmember and was the Deputy Mayor for that city in 2006, Tarleton hasn't served in elected office.  So we can't see behind the curtain of public decisions she's made to reassure ourselves if we have doubts about her progressive bona fides.  And there are some pretty profound conflict-of-interest questions to be asked here, as I discuss below.  There's no way to answer these questions but to take the word of Tarleton and her friends (she offered to give me contact information for colleagues and friends who can vouch for her) that there really are no real questions to be asked here.  But Ms. Tarleton is drastically better-funded than Mr. Block.  So it's quite likely that she'll win this race.  She has the time and money to advertise her considerable qualifications -- and to downplay Mr. Block's considerable qualifications.  I believe that we've got race here that's a poster child for campaign finance reform.

Block's raised a total of $23,445, including 117 contributions from Washington State.  Tarleton's received more that 4 times that amount, including more contributions from out of Washington state -- 122 of them -- than Block has received from in-state.  Nearly $19,000 of Tarleton's contributions, about 80% of Block's total, are from people associated with one company, Science Applications International Corporation.  (1)  Ms. Tarleton told me that she left SAIC because she did not approve of the direction it was going in.  She is running as a reform candidate.  We have seen supposed reform candidates for the Port before who turned out to be the greatest supporters of special interests.  Ms. Tarleton had no need to accept these donations from a company that has a direction she did not approve of, that she has personal investment in, that has substantial financial interest in the port, and that is, by many accounts, a major war-profiteeer.  I believe this disqualifies her as a reform candidate.

SAIC is an $8 billion company accused -- with good reason -- of war profiteering, which has $7 million worth of contracts with the Seattle Port (2) and interest in gaining much more.  Ms. Tarleton, who was an SAIC Vice President and has "somewhat less than $50,000 of personal investments in the company, (3) told me in a phone conversation that she left the company well before 9/11 because she did not approve of the direction in which it was going.  Yet, she has made the decision to accept a very large amount of money from people connected with SAIC.  In our phone conversation she told me it was really more like $5,000 she had received from SAIC-related contributors -- she wasn't counting any of the people who had retired, including the company's founder and his wife.

Vanity Fair's March 2007 article, Washington's $8 billion Shadow, tells us that SAIC is larger than the departments of Labor, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development combined, and that it helped pressure US Congress to enter the Iraq war - and that has profited tremendously from that war with massive documented waste.  

A 2006 New York Times article, Conflict of Interest entangles US Port security, tells us that SAIC has spent multiple millions on lobbyists and that one of its main business products is radiation detection equipment for Ports that could be a $2.5 billion to $5 billion market in the US.  The article goes on to point out that, while SAIC is not the only manufacturer of such machines, "it was the first to integrate the technologies and it had the only device, one company official said, that could efficiently scan a container as it passed through a major port on a truck at a speed fast enough to avoid bottlenecks."   Evidently, we've already reached $2 billion in this market.  I don't know what percentage of that is SAIC, but I can guess that it's a goodly portion.  According to the U.S. Government Accounting office, the US has spent $2 on these devices for our ports, which are only 17% to 45% effective. (4)  

Jack Block Jr.'s qualifications
From his biography for the Burien City Council

A long-time area resident Jack Block Jr. was elected to his first term on the Burien City Council in November 2003.  He was elected by his fellow Councilmembers to a one-year as Deputy Mayor in 2006. Jack is a third generation longshoreman and a member of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 19 where he serves on its executive board. He is also a former teamster (Consolidated Freightways) shop steward. In 1998, Jack was a founding member of, and past chair of, the Burien Parks and Recreation Board. Jack's diverse interests include aviation, motorcycling, United States history and public service. Block serves on the National League of Cites Hispanic Elected Officials Committee and the Association of Washington Cities Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Block's votes -- from 2005 through the present (Block took office in 04) can be found in the Minutes that are available here: Council Agendas and Minutes. I asked him to summarize for me some of what he considers his major contributions and he sent me the following list.  I spent about an hour perusing the public documents available on the list above and, in the limited time I had, this statement seemed to check out.

  • Increased transparency in 2004-05 by insisting that all meetings be televised, including study sessions, enhanced web access to materials, Spanish language inserts in our newletters
  • Pushed for quarterly community meetings in 2006, dropped this year due to transition workload for staff.
  • Got the first version of our apprenticeship set-aside bill (a voluntary program) passed in 2004.  Our mandatory program passed in 2007.  (Apprenticeship set-asides require a certain minimum percentage of employees for work conducted through city contracts.  Rick Bender, President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, has a description here: The "Other" 4-year degree.)
  • The anti-discrimination ordinance was passed in 04.
  • Got the anti-slumlord bill on our legislative priorities in 2004 and 2005 and testified on its behalf in 2005.
  • Added emphasis to early childhood education in 2006. We implemented a program called "Ready! For Kindergarten in 2007 to address Burien's low rate of pre-kindergarten preparedness.
  • Began pressing on emergency preparedness in 2005, and in 2006 we began talks with other cities to work together to hire a dedicated emergency preparedness coordinator. (In 2007, Karen Ferreira, the city's new Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, was hired jointly by the cities of Burien, Normandy Park, SeaTac and Des Moines, with her base office at Burien City Hall.)
  • In 2005 we began a program in coordination with Tukwilla of "capacity building" of non-profits to allow them to better provide services.
  • Have pushed for higher emergency operations awareness throughout term.
  • We began quarterly council process meetings in 05 which helped iron out differences and helped build working relationships.
  • Have worked and advocated throughout council term to work with other cities and agencies to provide more cost effective services.


  1. Washington Public Disclosure Commission Database, accessed 8/4/07.
  2. Aimee Curl, "Port Commission Candidate Gael Tarleton's SAIC Backers Could Soon Be Asking Her For Business" Seattle Weekly. July 18, 2007.
  3. Jeff Upthegrove, "Ports candidate ties to port contractor raises concerns," www.portobserver.com. July 12, 2007.
  4. Brian Ross, The Nuclear Loophole: US Still at Risk, Blotter. July 20, 2007.
  5. "Washington's $8 Billion Shadow", 3/07, Vanity Fair (http://www.vanityfair.com)
  6. Port Commission Candidate Gael Tarleton's SAIC Backers Could Soon Be Asking Her For Business , 7/18/07, Seattle Weekly. (www.seattleweekly.com)
  7. Conflict of Interest entangles US Port security, Eric Lipton, The New York Times, June 19, 2006

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...that the SAIC employees -- not the company, a distinction you conveniently fail to make -- are also disgruntled with the corporate direction?  It's a very big corporation, with thousands of employees; surely there are some who are of-a-mind with Gael Tarleton about it.

Would you object to a federal employee contributing to a political campaign?  Would you assume that, say, a GS-13 career employee at CMS or EPA is shilling for or exerting influence in support of the Bush malAdministration if they send $500 to a campaign?  

I know quite a few high-level CMS personnel (not too far below the political-appointee level), all of whom are distressed and disgusted by the direction of their agency.  They stay because they're still trying to maintain whatever they can of the agency's original mission.  And yes, they stay because they can draw superb retirement benefits if they put in enough years.  Would you have all the good people leave CMS (or leave SAIC) and let the baddies have free rein without constraints?

I don't know whether every single Tarleton contributor at SAIC fits the profile I've described.  But, having seen her campaign positions and having talked to her about this issue several times, I bet that the majority of them do.  I'm still supporting her, and will fill in the oval next to her name on my ballot.

Jack Block's a good guy.  I hope he joins Gael in the top two in the primary; that would assure a reform Commissioner in position #2.  However, this anti-Tarleton jihad on his behalf doesn't help his campaign IMHO.

You're only young once, but you can be immature forever -- Larry Andersen
Blogging at Peace Tree Farm

by N in Seattle on Sat Aug 04, 2007 at 12:20:53 PM PST

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Noemie-you usually do great stuff. what's up with this? you are waaaaaay off the mark. and conjecture is the perfect term for this. so she raised money from co-workers from a company she worked at over 5 years ago. big deal. plus, seems to me she was in RUSSIA post cold-war for the entire time you are blasting her. and her reasons for leaving SAIC endear me to her MORE. leaving a company that pays well because you don't like the rightwing direction its taking? RIGHT ON!

and if it's fair to say that gael is like the company she worked for, isn't it fair to say that jack jr will be like his dad?  i mean, similar logic applies. talk about reform candidates turning into the side of special interests! daddy block was the WORST! and jack jr's complete flip flop on lora lake is an indicator of that behavior if ever there was an indicator.

jack seems nice and all, but maybe the reason gael has 4 times the money is because she WORKED hard. jack has BARELY attended a 34th district meeting - Gael has been here 4 times.  how can you turn around a port if you don't even care to show up to the district meeting in your own backyard.

VOTE GAEL. (although I already did too.)

by 34 PCO on Sat Aug 04, 2007 at 01:18:28 PM PST

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Jack Block is a nice guy, but I have to wonder about his letting his campaign use this eleventh hour smear campaign against Tarleton.

Gael Tarleton is committed to transparency and effective governance and has experience in building transparency in political culture.  She is an extremely well-qualified candidate.  And yes, she was employed by SAIC under the Clinton Administration.  Here's another fact about Tarleton that gets no play in this post, she is a co-founder of UW's Citizen's Roundtable on Politics and Democracy.

Oh, one other thing, when she last visited us at our 36th District Democrats meeting - she stayed until the very end of the meeting (I think she was the only candidate to do so) and participated in the meeting generally - she wasn't there just asking us to vote for her.  

She's participating in politics for the same reason most of the readers of this blog are - to make a progressive change in our politics.

by microveldt on Sat Aug 04, 2007 at 02:44:07 PM PST

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Noemie...I usually respect your writings but I believe you have gone too far.  This is an incredibly and unfairly biased piece.  So Tarleton used to work for SAIC...Get over it!!! Now she works for the UW...are you already planning a hit piece on that?  I believe this is a last minute attempt by you and Block Jr. to save an awful campaign.  And when I say awful, I really mean awful...he can't even retain staff. The guy is incredibly lazy.  In my LD the 37th, he never even showed up to talk to us until our endorsement meeting. Tarleton, on the other hand, came three times total--once to speak, once to shake hands, and once to receive her endorsment.  Those who work the hardest deserve to raise the most money and WIN.  

by FedUp on Sat Aug 04, 2007 at 03:44:08 PM PST

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The facts in my article are highly relevant to this race where reform is the main issue.  A scolding of me does not change them.  

Ms. Tarleton presents herself as a reform candidate.  

I am not criticizing the fact that she worked for this company.  In fact, in earlier comments on jeffuppy diary on Washblog, I note that her experience there is relevant to this position. And in this piece I note that she is qualified.

I am criticizing her acceptance of donations from employees, former employees, and the founder of this company -- and his wife.

If you read the Vanity Fair article, linked to above, you will see how central the founder of this company is to the direction it has taken, including helping to pressure Congress into war and making huge profits off of the war.  The founder gave her campaign the maximum amount, $2,800 - and so did his wife.  Ms. Tarleton accepted that money.  That is a choice she made during her campaign -- not years ago.  It's a choice she made as a person presenting herself as a reform candidate.  How does that reflect on the choices she will make (or fail to make) if she is elected to this position?  My criticism is fair and relevant.  

In addition, as I note, we do not have a public record of votes to look at for this candidate. This is a high-stakes, high-level position -- environmentally, economically, and in terms of security.  When there is reason for profound doubt, I feel much better seeing a public record.  Has a person ever gone against the grain to take a stand and take heat?

If she were running for a lower level office or for an office in which this company did not have economic interest.. or for an office where there has not been an exceptionally high level of mismanagement and scandal associated with the untoward influence of economically interested parties....  or if she had not accepted these substantial donations there would be a completely different calculus for me here.  Sure, Gael Tarleton is smart.  She is experienced.  She has worked hard.  She has a very good background in environmental volunteer work.  I believe she made a big mistake in accepting these substantial donations from people associated with a company that she left because she did not approve of its direction -- and that has business with the port.

I think my piece shows very clearly that her acceptance of these donations while running as a reform candidate -- and the public not having the ability to look at a record of votes --- makes her a poor choice for a reform candidate.  

I am disturbed by the high level of progressive support for Ms. Tarleton, frankly.  I am sad that Ms. Tarleton, a progressive (I believe her) accepted this money and is defending this acceptance.  We are a nation in perpetual state of war and SAIC is a central part of the war machine.    We need to look at how war is structurally perpetuated in our society.  Remember Eisenhower's warning about the military industrial complex?  

So, thanks guys for your scolding and diminishment -- I knew this was coming.  It still feels crappy.  But what the hey.

by noemie maxwell on Sat Aug 04, 2007 at 05:49:08 PM PST

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Jack operates a crane on the waterfront, and he works the swing shift. Jack has worked at the port for 20 years. He knows shipping terminal