MUKILTEO — Around 7 a.m. on a Friday in mid-June, Peter Zieve settled in at an outside table at Starbucks and started reading the newspaper.
The franchise is down the road from Electroimpact Inc., the company he founded and developed into a successful aerospace firm with the Boeing Co. one of its best customers.
On that day, he’d come to discuss his run for a seat on the Mukilteo City Council. It’s his maiden venture into electoral politics and, like much surrounding Zieve this past couple of years, it is stirring things up in the community.
His campaign is built on a platform of conservative and populist ideas that he enunciates bluntly and brashly, an approach not too dissimilar to that of Republican President Donald Trump, to whose campaign Zieve, a Republican, gave $1 million.
Zieve, 63, said he opposes new taxes, wants less government intrusion on private property rights and more athletic facilities for young people.
He said he’s angry at the raft of regulations imposed on him when he constructed a lighted sports court at his home and wants to reel in the city. He wants to axe funding for the city job held by Marko Liias, a Democratic state senator, convinced it’s wrong for Mukilteo to pay someone already drawing a state salary. He supports helping homeless individuals with services to regain their footing but warns of an “impending invasion” of homeless camps that threaten the fabric of the city unless deterred by legal force.
Zieve is competing against incumbent Councilman Bob Champion and Tina Over for the Position 2 seat in the Aug. 1 primary. The two who finish with the most votes will advance to the general election in November.
While Zieve talked of what he wants to do if elected, those opposing his candidacy focus on what he did to incite division in the community around a proposed Islamic Center, an investigation of his company’s treatment of employees, and a public conversation about his turbulent family life.
Last year Zieve undertook a secret campaign — until he was found out — against the mosque because he feared it would become a haven for terrorists. He later dropped his opposition and apologized for riling up residents with postcards sent anonymously raising concerns about the center.
This year a probe of alleged employee discrimination at Electroimpact resulted in a $485,000 fine against the firm. That probe by the state attorney general concluded Zieve, who is Jewish, refused to hire Muslim applicants, harassed workers based on their religious faith and rewarded employees who married and had children.
And, of late, the intersection of Zieve’s marital conflicts and the court system has become fodder for the campaign, especially his behavior, which at times allegedly terrified his 45-year-old wife.
In 2011, Zieve spent a night in jail following a heated argument with Mariya Morozova-Zieve during which he sprayed Windex in her eyes, according to court documents. He was arrested on a domestic violence assault charge that was later dismissed.
A year earlier, she tried to leave him, traveling to Anaheim, California, with their three young sons. When Zieve found them and confronted her in a hotel room, a fight ensued. This time, she went to jail and the assault charge was dropped. In late 2015, she started to legally end their relationship, only to drop that in early 2016.
Zieve came prepared for questions. He brought a stack of paper, including a picture of him and the chief promoter of the mosque, a list of the company’s minority employees and a few notes demonstrating his family’s unity.
He sounded confident those matters won’t sway voters.
“They know me. People know where my beliefs are. I may be one of the best known in the community,” he said. “If they vote for me, it’s a pretty big statement.”
There are 14,173 registered voters in Mukilteo and as of Tuesday 10 percent of them had returned their ballots, according to the Snohomish County Auditor’s Office.
Mosque is ‘just not an issue’
Zieve founded Electroimpact in 1986 and is its chief executive officer. The company moved to Mukilteo in 1992 and Zieve said he moved into the city in 2007. Records show he bought his current home in 2008.
Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson has a broader perspective of him than many public officials because her husband works at Zieve’s company. She said she has seen the aerospace executive as an eccentric genius. He is often inappropriate, sometimes funny and, until his actions with the mosque, mostly harmless.
Gregerson said she knew of Zieve’s concerns about the mosque and sought to keep him fully informed on how he could make his views on the project known throughout the public review process. She denied his claim that she encouraged him to send out the postcards.
No matter now, Zieve said.
“I have had very little feedback about that,” he said. “It’s just not an issue.”
When he first heard of the mosque plans, he said, he wanted the leading supporter, Mohammed Riaz Khan to “tell me how you are going to make sure it doesn’t become a home for terrorism.”
Zieve said when he felt there was a plan for it to be “community-oriented and safe” he ended his opposition.
When asked how the experience might affect him as a public servant if elected, Zieve said, “Everything you do in life you learn (something.) I learned. I don’t know what I learned exactly.”
Regarding the state investigation, Zieve said his son Michael, an Electroimpact executive, kept him out of the process entirely.
“I am not happy about what happened to me. I would have fought them to the end of the Earth. It was a witch hunt,” he said. “(Michael) just wanted it to go away.”
He asserted the state investigation found only one employee in the United Kingdom who claimed to have been harmed. A portion of the fine is set aside for restitution to those who can prove they were subject to discrimination. As of Monday, 30 claims had been received and under review, according to an agency spokeswoman.
Regarding the turbulence with his current wife, he said, “We’re not perfect but we’re not so bad either.”
The night he went to jail he said simply “was a bad night. It really was a misunderstanding.”
Zieve is the father of six children — two with his first wife, one with his second and three with Mariya, who also has a daughter from a previous marriage. The Zieves have been together for roughly a dozen years.
He said the couple married in August 2007, which is what is reflected in some Snohomish County Superior Court records, but contradicted in others.
He faces a scientist and a real estate broker
Zieve launched his campaign with a $50,000 loan and had received no contributions, according to information posted on the Public Disclosure Commission website. He had spent $1,970 on yard signs as of Monday. He’s also paid $6,999 to reserve a billboard on Mukilteo Speedway starting at the end of August.
That assumes he’ll make it through the primary.
Bob Champion and Tina Over are making their own cases with voters.
Champion, 61, is a staff scientist specializing in in-flight safety equipment at Honeywell Inc. in Redmond. He’s currently the council president and lives a couple of blocks from Zieve.
He said he is seeking a second term to complete work on an update of the city’s comprehensive plan.
Champion described himself as a fiscal conservative and wants to continue to provide a “steady hand” on the city’s monetary policy.
He voted against the Sound Transit 3 expansion measure last year because it was “too big and too broad,” he said. He opposes the city’s proposed transportation sales tax increase on this fall’s ballot saying it is premature. He wants to see how the city spends its current budget allotment of nearly $1 million for road improvements, then consider using general fund dollars or property tax receipts to carry out needed maintenance.
As to Zieve, “He and I disagree on social issues,” Champion said. “I try to focus on my campaign. I don’t want to go in a negative direction.”
At a forum Monday, candidates were asked to say something nice about their opponents. Champion said Zieve is an entrepreneur whose company pays a lot of taxes to the city.
“Thank you Peter,” he said, earning a few laughs.
Champion had loaned $5,000 to his campaign as of Monday while Over had not reported any contributions.
Over, 33, is a real estate broker making her first run for public office. She said she’s lived in the city for five years.
“I did it because I felt I’d be good at the position,” she said.
Over vowed to be a more assertive voice on the council than the incumbent. If elected, she would bring much needed diversity of age, gender and religion to the panel, she said. Her husband is Muslim, and they’re raising their young son in his faith.
On the issues, Over said she opposes the transportation sales tax hike and wants to see the city tighten its budget belt.
“I think there are other places to find the money to fund those road improvements,” she said.
She wants to invest money into increasing public safety, assist neighborhoods in dealing with the effects of commercial air service at Paine Field and to ensure the terminal operators and airlines adhere to all agreements for operations.
As for Zieve, she said, she filed to run before he did. His entry added motivation.
“I do not want someone like him representing me. The stuff that he stands for I feel is appalling,” she said. “I don’t think he’s in it for the community. I just have to knock him out.”