BELLINGHAM - Whatcom County voters have given Mike McAuley a second four-year term on the Port of Bellingham commission, and he and newly elected Dan Robbins pledged to seek common ground when they serve together beginning in 2014.
The final vote count shows McAuley winning with 50.4 percent of the vote, a 441-vote margin over challenger Ken Bell out of 61,387 votes cast.
Bell was gracious in conceding defeat.
"This was a great campaign and Mike McAuley is a great guy," Bell said. "It's clear he has served his base very well, because they came out to support him."
Robbins - the only conservative-backed candidate elected to countywide office in last week's balloting - had hoped to be serving with Bell. But he said he contacted McAuley after the results became clear and the two expect to get together over coffee this week.
"I really will listen to anyone," Robbins said. "I'm open to any ideas that come along, even from people that I know personally campaigned against me. ... It (port commissioner) doesn't need to be a political position. ... The transportation needs and the job creation in the community is paramount, and there's nothing of politics about that. ... I realize it can be very political, but it doesn't need to be."
McAuley expressed similar sentiments.
"I certainly hope we can find a common ground," he said. "Mr. Robbins doesn't know me at all. I hope he'll be open-minded."
The relationship between Robbins and McAuley on the three-member port commission may not be 100 percent smooth. Robbins got an endorsement from departing Commissioner Scott Walker, who accompanied that endorsement with a scathing review of McAuley's performance during his first term. McAuley had hoped to be serving alongside Robbins' opponent, Renata Kowalczyk, who got 49 percent of the vote in the other closely contested port race.
The port commission now meets at 3 p.m. the first and third Tuesday of every month. During his campaign, McAuley promised to push for evening port commission meetings to make it easier for the public to attend, and he renewed that promise in a Monday, Nov. 11, phone interview. He said he hopes Robbins will agree.
Robbins said he's willing to discuss the schedule change and has no personal preference on meeting times, but he wants to hear what impact the change could have on port staffers who would have to attend the meetings, and whether any of them would be entitled to be paid overtime for that.
Robbins and McAuley do not appear to be far apart on the biggest issue now facing the port. They both are ready to move ahead quickly to approve Bellingham waterfront redevelopment plans now getting final review at City Hall.
Although some of McAuley's backers are still upset with waterfront plans that they see as providing too few environmental benefits and too many concessions to developers, McAuley expects the plans to win quick approval from port commissioners, once the City Council signs off.
"I don't see much changing overall," he said. "If there are any tweaks, they will be minor tweaks."
Robbins said he'll be pleased if the current port commission gets the plans approved before he takes office.
"I don't necessarily want them to wait for Robbins to vote on it," he said. "I would rather see it get going."
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