Closing in on the home stretch of his three demanding terms as Auburn mayor, Pete Lewis had been looking forward to retirement.
More time with his grandchildren, more fishing, and at last, time to take that long-postponed trip to Europe with his wife, Kathy.
Then an opportunity arose to serve as a Port of Seattle commissioner.
Lewis couldn’t ignore the call to become a “voice” for regional cities, to represent the many people who live and work near the ports of Seattle and Tacoma.
Lewis says he’s more than qualified to handle a tough job like that. As mayor, Lewis says, he understands how state and local government work and just how freight mobility and transportation are vital to the economy.
“I’m used to working with tough situations. I’m used to going into full rooms of Type A personalities who all know that, if everybody listened to them, everything would be OK,” said the 67-year-old Lewis, who opposes incumbent John Creighton for Port of Seattle commissioner, Position No. 1, in the Nov. 5 general election. “I know how to get things done.”
It is a critical time, Lewis noted, to make an impact, to set a course for the region’s ports and boost maritime trade, manufacturing and tourism.
“It’s time for somebody to stand up and say, ‘This needs to be done, and here’s why,'” he said.
The Lewis-Creighton battle is one of four races for seats on the five-member Port board.
Lewis, who announced his candidacy in May, has picked up major endorsements, including the support of mayors of several regional cities – Kent, Renton, Federal Way and Tacoma. The Seattle Times recently endorsed Lewis, praising his “decorum and ethical leadership … and calm (demeanor).”
As Lewis sees it, with so much at stake, the Port needs to step up now.
The Puget Sound Region is under the threat of losing shipping business to competitors in British Columbia, Mexico and Southeast U.S. coastal cities because of the widening of the Panama Canal in 2015.
Furthermore, the Port of Seattle must negotiate and settle the possibility of a newly constructed sports arena in Sodo, and determine how a likely venue would affect area traffic, trucking routes and shipping costs.
The Port also must resolve how financially to complete and improve connecting infrastructure, namely finish State Routes 509 and 167 – critical freight links between the ports of Seattle and Tacoma and key distribution centers, warehouses and industrial areas in King and Pierce counties
And the Port also must contend with a push to move coal by rail to export terminals proposed in Longview and Bellingham.
Regarding global trade, the deep-water regional ports of Seattle and Tacoma stand to lose big if they don’t improve their own conditions, Lewis said. To lure shipping contracts, Lewis said, other locations, including Canada, are pouring billions of dollars into their ports.
“And we’ve done nothing,” Lewis said. “If we don’t fix it … and we’re running out of time … then we’re out of business.
“Either we show that we are going to fix the infrastructure or they start going to Prince Rupert or the Gulf (of Mexico) ports,” Lewis said. “We’ll end up with a bunch of 18-wheelers coming down I-5 and I-90 bringing goods here that cost 10 to 15 percent more than what we are paying today.”
Urgency calls for federal, state and local leaders to come up with a plan to step in to extend vital corridors, Lewis said.
Regarding a new sports arena, Lewis says a compromise must be reached, one that requires an enhanced corridor for the Port that swiftly and effectively secures freight traffic during business hours outside of commute and game traffic.
Lewis says coal trains offer no economic benefit to the area or the ports. He suggests solving the infrastructure problem “so that the railroads don’t need to use coal as a replacement for containers.” The ports, with this approach, would profit, he said.
As commissioner, Lewis said, he would bridge gaps between the competitive ports, promote the commissioners board’s transparency, improve its reputation, and encourage public engagement while saving and adding jobs to the industry.
“This competition between two ports 20 miles apart hurts us all so much,” Lewis said. “You have to be able to work with people.
“I look for points of agreement,” he added. “Is there one thing we can agree on? Is there two, is there three? Let’s do that. After we have done that, let’s go back and see if there’s more we can do. I’ve done that most of my adult life.”