Zieve caught with forum questions
Other candidates say they never had access and were never offered
Last updated 10/24/2019 at 3:35pm
When a question about diversifying the City of Mukilteo's budget was asked to Mukilteo City Council Position 6 candidates at the Wednesday, Oct. 23, Candidate Forum, Peter Zieve snapped off some quick, specific percentages. In his possession on stage at Rosehill Community Center was a printed copy of the City's 2020 budget in a binder.
When it was time for his opponent Elisabeth Crawford's turn, she was a little flustered, and threw a bold claim at Zieve: That he had the questions pre-prepared in his binder.
She asked if any of the other candidates on stage had been given the questions beforehand, and everyone shook their heads or said no. Zieve denied it, and moderator Matt Martin said the book would be examined after the forum concluded.
When the forum ended, Zieve grabbed his belongings and hurried to get off the stage.
Martin and others, including Council President Christine Cook, huddled around Zieve asking to see his notes. He refused, and, per Cook, told them his official stance was he was not going to allow anyone to look at the book. He then hurried out the door into the hallway.
Beacon Editor Brandon Gustafson chased after Zieve, and asked him a simple question: Do you have a copy of the questions?
Zieve said yes, and that Mario Lotmore, publisher of the Lynnwood Times and one of the event's planners, was the one who gave him those questions beforehand.
The Beacon asked Zieve if they could see Zieve's book, and Zieve obliged. As shown in the photos included in this story, Zieve had the questions, shown in black text, while his notes for those specific questions were typed in red.
Zieve again said he got those questions from Lotmore and, when handed his binder, turned and left.
The Beacon returned to the Christensen Room and found Lotmore and Martin, and told them what Zieve had said: That Lotmore had given him the questions. Lotmore denied the allegation.
First, here's how those questions were created.
The Mukilteo Chamber of Commerce reached out to The Beacon in September about running a candidate forum along with the Lynnwood Times newspaper.
Chamber CEO Deanna Sigel initially asked if either Publisher Paul Archipley or Gustafson would moderate the event. Because The Beacon wanted to remain neutral, both declined, and Gustafson offered to help write questions for City Council, County Council, and School Board candidates to answer during the forum.
Gustafson met with Lotmore and Sigel during September to go over logistics and start preparing the questions.
On Friday, Oct. 18, Gustafson met again with Lotmore and Sigel, as well as Martin and Lighthouse Festival President Candace Felt, who assisted with the forum by filtering questions written by the audience. After that meeting, Gustafson and Lotmore finished preparing the questions.
Gustafson sent a Word document to Lotmore after 3 p.m. that day with the questions.
Lotmore responded later, while including Felt and Sigel on the email saying the following:
"I am highly concerned that these questions are shared with other persons when it is not required nor needed. None of us (including myself) should have the questions to maintain the integrity of the forum process and fulfilling our obligation to voters of a fair and impartial process.
"The questions should remain in a secured location, printed the day of the event with an observer, placed into a bag and then sealed. The seal should be broken by the moderator the day of the event.
"If the questions are leaked, or candidate responses obviously reflect predetermined answers, I will voice my concern to the public because it is the right thing to do. Justice before people and people before politics."
Felt then responded, saying, "I would just like to let you know that if I don't have time to contemplate the planned questions, I may not be able to fully filter the questions that come in during the forum.
"I understand your concerns, and I agree. However, I still would like to say that I would like the questions beforehand. Even if it's just a day before.
"I affirm to you that I have no desire to inform any candidate of anything as I also want to hear actual spontaneous answers to the questions."
She said she would abide by whatever Lotmore and Gustafson decided.
Lotmore later responded by saying, "You have my commitment of not sharing the questions with anyone either."
Sigel said, "Ditto!" and Gustafson responded with, "Sounds good. Let me know if you need anything else from me before the forum."
Lotmore earlier this week sent the finalized questions, along with the schedule of the event, to Gustafson, Martin, Sigel, and Felt.
After the forum
Outside of Rosehill after the forum, Gustafson, Lotmore, Sigel, Martin, and Chamber Board President Paul Ellis discussed the situation. All denied sending the questions to anyone, and Lotmore showed his email inbox and sent messages for multiple email accounts.
Multiple messages were to Zieve, many regarding letters to the editor to The Beacon. In one email, Lotmore sent a message to Zieve saying he felt "the fix was on," and that Zieve's opponent, Crawford, was going to receive a copy of the questions before the event, and that he wanted to warn him. Sigel asked Lotmore why he felt this way, and he said he was worried because "I don't really know all of you."
On Thursday, The Beacon reached out to all City Council and County Council candidates regarding what happened with the questions.
In a brief conversation Zieve changed course and said he'd received the questions from another candidate – not Lotmore. He would not say which candidate that was. He said the questions were not emailed to him, and the reason he name-dropped Lotmore initially is because they are friends, and because he didn't want to say who actually sent him those questions.
Zieve said he thought other candidates had the questions, including Crawford, and that "if you watch the video, you can tell some people had the questions."
Shortly after, Zieve quickly got off the line.
Crawford said she saw Zieve's notes because the two were seated very close to each other.
"When some questions were asked, he was flipping through his notes, even when the questions weren't to us," she said.
Crawford said she glanced and saw his notes were in question and answer format, and that the questions and answers were in different colored fonts. She grew more suspicious when Position 4 candidates Richard Emery and Scott Whelpley were asked a question about the Tulalip Tribes-owned waterfront land, and saw Zieve's notes matched the asked question word-for-word.
"Then when we were asked about diversifying the City's revenue, he flipped through his notes for that question," Crawford said.
Crawford first asked if any other candidates had the questions because she wasn't sure if she'd missed an email from event organizers that included the questions that may be asked. No one else said they had access.
"It's just not fair," she said.
Crawford said she didn't have the questions, and was never offered them. Additionally, she said she's not 100% certain that Zieve was the only candidate who had access, but she didn't feel anyone else did.
"There have been a lot of conversations about being transparent, and then something like this happens," she said.
Emery, Position 5 candidate Riaz Khan, and Position 7 candidate Kristina Melnichenko said they never had access or were offered the questions and didn't feel anyone else on stage had access.
"I can't speak to that 100%," Emery said, "but judging by some reactions and answers, I think some people weren't prepared for specific questions. It's unlikely others had access."
Whelpley said he was confused as to what was happening when Crawford spoke up, and said he was never offered a copy of the questions, but that others may have been, but he's not sure.
"Again, it all goes back to transparency," he said.
County Council Position 2 candidate Megan Dunn said it needs to be confirmed who was involved in giving the questions to Zieve and potentially others.
"Everyone should have had their notes checked before," Dunn said. "I think it's important to note who Zieve has donated money to."
According to the state Public Disclosure Commission's website, Zieve has donated to both Position 7 candidate Joe Marine's campaign, as well as County Council Position 2 candidate Anna Rohrbough's campaign. Both denied ever receiving or being offered the questions.
"I think it's fine if (the organizers) wanted to give the questions to everyone ahead of time, but you should know your answers to issues beforehand," Marine said. He also noted he wouldn't have accepted the questions if offered.
Rohrbough said she felt neither she nor Dunn had access to the questions.
"I can't really speak for the City Council debates, but I would say no," Rohrbough said when asked if she thought others besides Zieve had the questions.
Christopher Maddux also said he didn't have access to the questions and that no one offered them to him.
Maddux sat next to Zieve at the forum, and noted that his opponent, Khan, also had notes, but they were handwritten, compared to Zieve's typed notes.
"I saw he had several pages of notes," he said.
When asked if he felt others had the questions ahead of time, Maddux said no.
"There were some questions that caught me and others off guard," he said. "I think people had an idea of the topics because we all know most of the issues."
Maddux said most of all, he was surprised by the situation.
"I was surprised because I really don't think Peter needed to have the questions beforehand," Maddux said. "Elisabeth and myself as newcomers (to elections) could have used them, but I think we both handled ourselves well."
The Beacon reached out to Lotmore, who again denied any wrongdoing.
"I did not give anyone the questions. I didn't give Peter the questions," he said. "I would not cheat for a friend. I did everything I could to keep this fair."
Lotmore said he called Zieve Wednesday night to ask why he used Lotmore's name, and that Zieve told him he actually received the questions from another candidate. Lotmore said Zieve wouldn't say who gave him the questions.
"I asked, and he wouldn't tell me," Lotmore said. "I asked him several times. I'm just taken aback. Why not just tell the truth?"
Lotmore said he was most confused by Zieve blaming Lotmore initially before saying it was actually another candidate.
"He gives this initial response and then thinks about it before changing it. It's not fair to me," Lotmore said. "I'm just dumbfounded. And, of course, people won't believe me, and it's my word against others."
Lotmore said he was concerned Crawford and other candidates would get access to the questions before the forum, and warned Zieve of it in an email, but didn't give him the questions. Lotmore said he did tell a select few candidates to read past issues of The Beacon, including the candidate questionnaire stories before the primary, for ideas of questions that could be asked.
Lotmore said that through owning and operating the Lynnwood Times newspaper, he's worked to build trust with other people and that this hurts his image.
"He owes me an apology for this," Lotmore said of Zieve. "I'm glad he at least admitted the truth that I didn't give him the questions, and I hope people believe me. I didn't give the questions to anyone."
Cook, as mentioned, was one of the first to ask Zieve for his notes, which he refused. Cook has endorsed Crawford, and has assisted with her campaign over recent months.
"I heard what Elisabeth said, and she seemed certain, and I know her to have high integrity," Cook said. "As council president, I felt an obligation to do something. I could tell (moderator Matt Martin) wanted to do something, and I just didn't want Peter to leave the stage."
Cook said she and Martin asked Zieve for his notes and, after he refused, they asked if that was his official stance.
"I had to do something to address the integrity (of the situation)," she said. "I feel bad. Not just for Elisabeth, but for the other candidates. This hurt everybody.
"(The City Council) has been dealing with issues about integrity and honesty, and those themes have showed up again."
Martin is a longtime Mukilteo Chamber of Commerce board member, and in addition to telling The Beacon he didn't send the questions to anyone, he gave a statement based on conversations he'd had with the Chamber.
"I've spoken to the Chamber representatives, and what's happening is the Chamber is conducting its own investigation and will make an official statement next week," he said.
This story is still developing and will be updated with any new information. The Beacon is meeting with Sigel, Lotmore, Martin, and Felt on Monday.