Marine-Sullivan House race begins to get a little personal

By Jim Haley

Herald Writer

The kid gloves have been tossed aside in the hotly contested race for a state House of Representatives seat in the 21st Legislative District, a campaign that’s taking on a bitter tone.

Rep. Joe Marine, R-Mukilteo, on Wednesday said he is holding his own in the race despite a barrage of negative attacks by challenger Brian Sullivan and the Democratic Party.

Both the Republicans and Democrats have filled voters’ mailboxes with literature critical of their respective opponents in a campaign that is on track to set a state spending record.

But Marine said a poll taken last week by an independent research organization showed that he and Sullivan are neck-and-neck in the race, which could determine which political party controls the House leadership. The House, locked in a 49-49 tie, was criticized last session for not being able to get off dead center on such important issues as transportation.

The poll shows about 22 percent of the voters are still undecided, Marine said. The district includes Mukilteo, Edmonds, Lynnwood, Woodway and part of Mountlake Terrace.

Brian Sullivan

With the race being a dead heat, Marine said, it just shows he can hold his own despite the attacks, mainly by the state Democratic Central Committee. He said the attacks generalize the state Republican Party’s platform, not giving his true stance on a variety of issues.

"Every one of them basically makes up my position on things," Marine said. "I don’t mind them running against my record or the votes I’ve taken, as long as it’s true."

Sullivan said he is maintaining a steady campaign and doesn’t have control over what his party or other organizations send out in the mail.

"I’m going to keep my head down, keep knocking on doors," Sullivan said. "We’re going to win this the old-fashioned way with hard work and dedication."

Marine, who was appointed last year to fill a vacancy, holds only one of two legislative spots up for election this fall. He said he recently took the offensive against Sullivan to counter the Democratic Party mailings attacking him.

"I can’t take six or seven hit pieces in a row and not do anything," said Marine, who has criticized Sullivan’s claims that he built the infrastructure for the fast-growing city of Mukilteo when he was mayor of the city.

"I can’t let him take credit for building Mukilteo or saving the lighthouse," Marine said. "He’s taking credit for things he had very little to do with."

Sullivan stands by his record in 12 years on the council and as mayor.

"The fact is, I was kind of the architect that helped build up the city," Sullivan said. "You can’t take that away from me."

Marine attacked Sullivan’s attendance record at Mukilteo City Council meetings in his last year as mayor in 1997, and his proposal then to double the mayor’s salary. Sullivan fires back that he sought the mayor’s salary hike (from $700 to $1,400 a month) to benefit the incoming mayor, not himself.

As for missed meetings, the Sullivan campaign sent out a mailer from Sullivan’s wife explaining that her husband was caring for elderly parents at the time.

Marine responded: "I think it’s pathetic he hides behind his parents and plays on people’s sympathies."

Even the use of firefighters backing Sullivan drew criticism from the Marine camp. In a press release this week, Marine campaign manager Kathleen Baxter accused Sullivan of exploiting a tragedy and playing on gratitude many feel for firefighters in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Sullivan said he planned to use the firefighters all along, and got endorsements from those organizations last winter.

"Races are known to get this way," Sullivan said. "People tend to get nasty when they’re behind."

You can call Herald Writer Jim Haley at 425-339-3447

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