BELLINGHAM - Based on their responses on questionnaires and their comments at forums, it's hard to find a lot of difference between Dan Robbins and Renata Kowalczyk, the two candidates for the District 1 Port of Bellingham commission seat being vacated by Scott Walker.
But they are getting their campaign cash from different sources.
Kowalczyk is getting donations from Democratic Party groups, prominent party activists like Lisa McShane, and many others who customarily provide financial support to more liberal or progressive candidates in local races. Robbins gets money from Republican organizations and from prominent local conservatives like Nick Kaiser and Lynn Carpenter.
As of mid-October, Kowalczyk had raised about $35,000 to Robbins' $25,000, partly because she has also attracted some contributions from the business community. Kowalczyk holds an MBA from Columbia and had a career in banking in New York before she moved to Whatcom County in 2009 to start a business consulting firm.
Kowalczyk was born in Poland. She says she moved to this country at age 23 and worked her way to success after arriving near penniless in New York.
The 48-year-old Kowalczyk's relatively recent arrival on the local scene has helped motivate Robbins, 69, to remind audiences he is a lifelong county resident who graduated from Bellingham High School and Western Washington University. He has been involved in running a number of local businesses, including the Children's Co., Cost Cutter, and Interlube. Robbins also ran for Bellingham mayor in 1995 and was the runnerup to Mark Asmundson.
Kowalcyzk and Robbins both stress the port's role in creating new jobs, at Bellingham International Airport and on the old Georgia-Pacific Corp. pulp and paper mill site on Bellingham Bay. Port and city officials are in the final stages of drafting redevelopment plans for new industries, as well as other commercial and residential development, on the waterfront.
Labor groups and local environmentalists have joined forces in what they call a "Blue-Green Coalition" to advance a shared agenda for what happens on the waterfront. Among other things, the coalition wants a waterfront "living wage zone" that would require new waterfront businesses to provide family-wage jobs and benefits.
Both Kowalczyk and Robbins pour cold water on that idea.
Kowalczyk calls creation of such a zone "problematic."
Responding to The Bellingham Herald's question about the zone, Kowalczyk writes:
"Why would any business locate at the waterfront if they could have more autonomy by locating across the street? Many businesses in an economic downturn look for ways to keep their employees employed, even on a part-time or reduced-wage basis, instead of laying them off completely. In a controlled-wage scenario, this option would not be available to businesses and their employees."
Robbins frames the issue in similar terms. As he sees it, the port helps raise all local wages when it helps to create more jobs that increase the demand for workers.
"Help-wanted signs create increased wages," Robbins said. "I feel the free market should dictate wages, not a government entity."
Both candidates say the port's mission is creation of an attractive setting that spurs new businesses to move here, and existing industries to expand.
They express similar sentiments on the question of whether a proposed waterfront trail should be located to accommodate industry at the port's Bellingham Shipping Terminal and points north.
Kowalczyk joins the three current port commissioners in favoring a trail route that shifts away from the water and follows Cornwall Avenue, to make as much real estate as possible available for new industry that might want access to the deep-water terminal.
"Our priority for waterfront redevelopment must be on jobs and economic growth," Kowalczyk wrote. "It is vital for our community to be able to take advantage of the waterfront for business. It is an asset most places don't have."
Robbins' viewpoint is similar.
"Trails and walkways for people should be added on when possible, but should not take precedence over good living wage jobs created on a working waterfront. Anywhere we can add public access we should, but not to the detriment of jobs."
Robbins also responded to the suggestion that the area known as the Log Pond on Whatcom Waterway should be protected from public access, because the place where G-P once stockpiled logs for the pulp mill has become a popular hangout for seals and Canada geese.
"I support the relocation of a couple of seals and a flock of geese for 200 living wage jobs," Robbins said.
MORE CANDIDATE INFORMATION
To see responses to various issues from these and other candidates on the Nov. 5 ballot, go to our online voter guide.
This is one in a series of articles on races in the November general election. Other articles are at BellinghamHerald.com/elections.