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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 26, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 26
LGBT activist launches bid for Port Commission
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LGBT activist launches bid for Port Commission

by Geov Parrish - Special to the SGN

Herb Krohn, a co-founder and 12-year board member of Equal Rights Washington and a steering committee member of the Seattle Metropolitan Elections Committee (SEAMEC) since 1986, has emerged as a leading contender for the open Port of Seattle Commission Seat #5, replacing outgoing commissioner (and 2016 GOP gubernatorial hopeful) Bill Bryant. Krohn is the only openly Gay local candidate running for a non-judicial countywide seat in 2015.

The Port of Seattle, a public agency overseen by its five-member nonpartisan elected commission, runs both Seattle's port facilities and SeaTac International Airport. As such, it has a huge role in the region's economy, as well as touching on many local hot-button issues - from middle-class jobs and a $15/hour minimum wage to environmental controversies to a new basketball arena and Seattle's disappearing industrial lands.

Krohn, 53, comes by his interest in the Port naturally. He's the elected state legislative director for the region's railroad workers in Olympia, working with legislators on issues like train safety and freight mobility.

The link between the Port of Seattle, Krohn's work as a labor leader, and his longtime civil rights activism, he says, is fairness. 'Labor hasn't had a representative on the Port Commission since 2001,' Krohn notes, referring to the end of longtime labor leader Jack Block Sr.'s commission tenure. 'Somebody's got to be at the table advocating for good-paying, middle-class, industrial jobs as an important part of our region's economy.'

Indeed, as a public agency that controls much of the valuable waterfront property in central Seattle, the Port has been under enormous pressure in recent years to either use that land for commercial development, or sell it to others who will. 'The Port is a public agency,' Krohn says. 'That means, first of all, preserving the working waterfront and preserving the industrial lands as public resources for future generations to use.'

Krohn reels off a number of issues in which fairness has been a problem at the port - from preferential treatment for certain businesses to issues with minority contractors and conflicts between taxi and rideshare operators, to the Port's much-publicized reluctance to enact a voter-approved $15/hour minimum wage for airport workers and tensions between economic imperatives and the need for the Port to proactively combat climate change. ('Do you know how many flights a day there are to Portland and Vancouver?' he asks, shaking his head at the enormous carbon footprints involved. He'd rather see more passenger trains.)

For Krohn, it's been a long journey from the first time he ran for office nearly 30 years ago. In that race, for a state legislative seat in 1986, he won his primary, becoming the first openly Gay candidate in Washington state to win an election of any kind, before going on to lose in the general election. At that point he didn't think he'd ever be a candidate again and instead dove into work with groups like SEAMEC, helping move our state from one in which LGBT rights were considered a political impossibility to one, in 2015, where same-sex marriage is legal, discrimination isn't, and from the mayor on down openly Gay politicians are part of our city's political and financial establishment.

For all those advances, there aren't a lot of visibly LGBTQ personalities in Seattle's industrial jobs debates. Krohn is an exception. Among the nine candidates vying for Bryant's seat, most are easily summarized: 'An environmental candidate.' 'A pro-business candidate.' 'That guy? He runs for something different every year.'

Krohn is the hardest to pigeonhole - except that whatever topic or job he's taken on, he always seems to wind up in leadership positions. Given the Port of Seattle's reputation for insular leadership, someone with Krohn's integrity and background of working with and listening to a wide range of types of people - and then taking enormous, pathbreaking risks when needed - stands out.

For more information on Krohn's campaign, visit www.herb4port.com.

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