TACOMA, Wash. - Facing off for the highest elected office in Tacoma -- Victoria Woodards and Jim Merritt -- are passionate about creating good-paying jobs.
“Jobs are growing in Tacoma. Our base is growing in Tacoma. We just need to grow more,” Woodards said.
“When 50% of our workforce is leaving the city to go to work every day all you have to do is look at I-5, it’s a very serious situation,” Merritt said.
Merritt says he is bothered that several successful businesses that started in Tacoma left the city.
“When the Frank Russell company left the majority of their workers lived in Tacoma. So what happened there, was some things the city did not respond to that caused that exodus. It happens over and over,” Merritt said.
Merritt, a long time architect, says he wants to change the culture of how businesses are treated.
“The mayor needs to reach out and be a team player with our companies large and small,” Merritt said.
Woodards, a former city council member, likens the mayor to a salesperson whose role is to recruit companies and sustain the ones already here.
“We have to make sure they are doing well, that they are comfortable with the climate here, they are getting what they need from the city, and if they are not getting it we have to fix it,” Woodards said.
And she’s optimistic about the future.
“In the next 10 years we’ve got like a billion dollars worth of investment coming to Tacoma the cranes aren’t in the skies yet but it’s coming,” Woodards added.
With a vibrant economy comes a key responsibility of keeping Tacoma affordable.
Merritt wants to create a city bank to help low-income people with down payments to buy a home.
“A municipal bank can work with them that they are stable to get into a house and then set their mortgage that is affordable,” Merritt said.
He wants to drive up the number of homeowners to 60% for every neighborhood.
But Woodards says it’s also important to get to the root of why many cannot buy.
“Homeownership is a lot more than just saying let me show you how to buy a home that we need to focus on getting rid of the institutional stuff that happens when someone wants to buy a home,” Woodards said.
Liquefied natural gas
The two have differences on how to increase home ownership, but if there is one topic they clearly disagree on it’s the liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant under construction at the port of Tacoma.
Puget Sound Energy plans to build an 8 million gallon liquefied natural gas plant to provide a cleaner fuel alternative for vessels at the port. Woodards supports it.
“LNG is the transitional fuel to meet that demand so we are meeting that demand. It’s not a permanent solution but it’s the solution we have right now,” Woodards said.
But Merritt wants to table the entire project, at least for now, because of environmental and safety concerns.
“Right now the answer is no because we don’t have good answers when you put something that has the potential of having explosions that could affect a million people,” Merritt said.
For the most part, the mayor’s race has been tame until a couple of weeks ago when allegations surfaced against Woodards, claims that she lied about her academic credentials 13 years ago.
“I did not lie I provided the information as I understood it,” Woodards said.
In one instance, Woodards wrote on a Tacoma Metro Parks application in 2004 that she had an Associates Degree from Pierce College. Although Woodards has taken courses at Pierce College spanning two decades she does not have a college degree. But Woodards says at the time she was taking courses at Pierce College and City University and thought she had enough credits.
In the second instance, she said in a 2005 voters’ guide that she was close to getting a Bachelors degree from City University.
“Someone called me from City University and they said someone was trying to get access to my information, but they didn’t know who it was so they said we can send you a form so people can’t have access to that,” Woodards said.
Woodards blocked access to her City University records earlier this year. So we asked her to provide a transcript to determine how close she was to a degree in 2005. But so far we have not received one.
Since 2005, Woodards has not claimed to have a college degree.
Her campaign says the drama is politically motivated because a Merritt supporter brought the allegations forward. But Merritt’s campaign says they have nothing to do with it and that the allegations were brought forward independently.