Dustup in Mukilteo could leave imprint on allies’ elections

Marko Liias had been looking for a decent job to supplement his earnings as a state senator when he learned of a new policy analyst post with the city of Mukilteo.

Where better to work, he figured, than in a community where he once lived and at a place, City Hall, he knew well from his days as a council member.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Gregerson, the city’s new mayor in the formative months of her administration, sought talent she could trust.

Who better to bring on board than one with roots in the city and experience in public service, traits possessed by one of the finalists for the position.

So the mayor hired Marko – a loyal friend and political ally — and the proverbial poop hit the fan to the surprise of apparently no one but them.

How could they not see it coming? Were they blinded by their plights to realize their bond forged through time, tribulations, campaign donations and election victories probably should not be extended into a City Hall job, or, at least, not right away?

Now, what seemed a perfect municipal match has become a bad idea from which a public retreat may not be possible and political damage may be unavoidable for these two rising stars in Snohomish County’s Democratic Party.

Gregerson and Liias insist there’s nothing Machiavellian in their actions. The hiring process had multiple steps and involved human resource professionals not employed by the city. Names of applicants were blacked out in an early round of review, so while Gregerson knew Liias had applied, she didn’t know he’d survived until the end.

But no amount of explaining is ameliorating the dogged duo of their detractors, Councilman Steve Schmalz, who lost to Gregerson in last year’s mayoral contest, and his wife, Christine.

They’ve called it cronyism and alleged collusion. Though the City Council isn’t able to boot Liias out, the Schmalzes aren’t done trying to drive him out, digging into campaign records to reveal how closely knitted are the endeavors of the mayor and senator.

What they found is this: In October 2012, Liias donated $11,000 in surplus campaign funds to the 21st Legislative District Democrats which turned around and gave $10,000 to the One Washington Political Action Committee, of which Liias is a director.

Then in the 2013 mayoral race, that PAC spent nearly $6,000 on mailers supporting Gregerson and opposing her opponent, former Mayor Joe Marine.

Liias served on her transition team and a few weeks back gets hired onto city staff.

It doesn’t look good but we could get a sense in Tuesday’s election whether this kerfuffle will leave a lasting imprint on their political aspirations.

Both Liias and Gregerson are on the ballot: He in a primary contest for the Senate seat representing the 21st District and she in a showdown with another Democrat for precinct committee officer.

Gregerson said she underestimated the passion of her detractors and intends to keep answering questions as best as she can while conducting the city’s business.

Liias is philosophical.

“I’ve been in politics 10 years. At some point you’re going to face critics,” he said. “I just hope people measure me by the results of what I get done and don’t measure me by what is said by a few disgruntled folks in the community.”

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com and on Twitter at @dospueblos

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