Either Dana Ralph, left, or Jim Berrios will be the next Kent mayor.

Follow the money in Kent mayoral campaigns

Kent mayoral candidates Dana Ralph and Jim Berrios differ in where their major campaign contributions come from and what those donations might mean.

As voters receive their King County Election ballots this week for the Nov. 7 general election, a look at the contribution reports for Berrios and Ralph on the Washington Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) website (pdc.wa.gov) reveals some additional insight into each candidate.

Voters authorized the creation of the PDC in 1972 with the passage of Initiative 276 for the public’s right to know about the financing of political campaigns. Candidates are required to file reports about their contributions and expenses. Even the PDC website teases readers with the words, “Follow the Money.”

Ralph has raised $66,350 and Berrios $49,657 so far, according to reports filed through Monday.

“I think it’s an advantage and an indication of my broad-based support,” Ralph said in a phone interview about her larger campaign fund than her fellow City Council member.

Berrios didn’t seem too concerned about owning a smaller campaign chest.

“I think we’re doing OK,” Berrios said in a phone interview. “She started off with more money. She rolled it over from her last (City Council) race. She was about a year and a half ahead of us. But we’re spending money wisely. I put a budget together and we are staying within that forecast.”

The amount raised by the two candidates are similar to mayoral campaigns in neighboring cities. Auburn incumbent Nancy Backus has raised $59,803 and challenger Largo Wales $40,044. Federal Way incumbent James Ferrell has raised $89,895 and challenger Susan Honda $31,976.

Berrios and Ralph each have a couple dozen $1,000 donations. Individuals and corporations are limited to a maximum of $1,000 to a local candidate’s campaign.

The Carpinito Brothers, owners of the popular produce market along Central Avenue in Kent and a wholesale supplier, donated $1,000 each to Ralph and Berrios. But most others kicked in money to just one candidate.

Ralph received about half of her $1,000 donations from people or groups connected to unions. Those unions include Kent police, Kent firefighters, the MLK Jr. King County Labor Council, the Amalgamated Transit Union, UA Local 32 Seattle plumbers and pipe fitters, Teamsters Local 117, the Washington Education Association political action commission and UFCW Local 21 grocery store, retail, health care and meat processing workers.

“I am committed to bringing good paying jobs to Kent,” Ralph said about her union backing. “The labor groups focus is in South King County because of the opportunity for good paying jobs and I support that.”

Berrios has about half of his $1,000 contributions from individuals or companies connected to real estate, housing and property management. Those include Ashton Capital Corp., of Renton and Ashton president Douglas Mergenthaler, DDN Interior Supply of Auburn, Eagle Creek Land & Development of Kent, Harbour Homes of Seattle, Soundbuilt Homes of Puyallup, the Washington Association of Realtors Political Affairs Council and the Affordable Housing Council.

The Affordable Housing Council is the political action committee of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. The group endorsed Berrios to be Kent’s next mayor.

“My support is coming from private citizens, businesses, realtors and the Master Builders,” Berrios said. “I’ve got some teachers and all types of professionals. It’s all over the board.”

Ralph, who owns a medical billing service, said she sees donations to Berrios with more of a business and corporate focus than the people doing the jobs.

“It speaks to our endorsements as well,” she said. “He has the Master Builders and I have the working people. …I think it proves I’m willing to work with a variety of groups as opposed to a more singular focus of development.”

Berrios, owner of the Golden Steer Steak n’ Rib House on the East Hill, said he hadn’t really studied contributions to Ralph’s campaign and that he preferred to stay away from comparing what the donations might mean.

Ralph also received a $1,000 contribution from the 47th District Democrats, even though Kent’s mayor is a nonpartisan position, where candidates don’t declare a party affiliation.

“I was pleased but surprised,” Ralph said about the donations from the Democrats. “I’ve made it clear I’m an independent. I said that when I went to the Democrats and Republicans that I don’t identify with either party. …I’ve never voted along party lines or participated in party politics.”

Ralph said her support from unions doesn’t mean she’s a Democrat.

“Some people believe because of my union support that I am an extreme liberal Democrat,” she said. “I’m not. I’m down the middle.”

Berrios said political parties shouldn’t matter in the mayor’s race.

“This is a nonpartisan race,” said Berrios, who is a Republican. “But I’ve been known to vote for Democrats. I vote for the person. …But this shouldn’t have anything to do with partisan politics. This is about who has the best experience for the job to be done.”

Berrios said he preferred to look at all of the donations as well, not only those who gave the maximum limit.

“I’ve seen those who are retired and might be having a tough time making it, put in $30 or $45,” he said. “That means as much to me as the $1,000 donations.”

Whether or not where the contributions come from makes a difference in the race’s outcome remains to be seen. The candidate debates and forums for mayor are done.

“Now it’s wait and see,” Ralph said.

She offered a prediction.

“It’s going to be a close race, but I’m cautiously optimistic,” Ralph said.

Berrios declined to forecast the race.

“I’ll tell you Nov. 7 at about 8:15 (at night),” he said about when results are first released by King County Elections.

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