Recently retired Benton commissioner in race for Kennewick port seat

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldMay 10, 2013 

Recently retired Benton County commissioner Leo Bowman isn't ready to quit a life of public service.

Bowman, a county commissioner for 16 years, plans to run for the Port of Kennewick commission.

Bowman, 74, of Richland, said he wants to be able to help drive economic development in the Tri-Cities.

He will run against former Kennewick Mayor Tom Moak, who also announced plans to seek the District 2 seat. Gene Wagner, the current District 2 commissioner and the board's longest-serving member, has not yet announced if he will seek re-election.

Bowman says his background sets him apart and prepares him for the job. He's worked with the state and federal governments as a county commissioner, and he knows what it's like to start and run a small business after owning Leo's Lineup and Tires for almost 30 years.

The Tri-Cities should capitalize on its strengths in the medical, wine, agricultural and technology industries, Bowman said.

"We shouldn't wait for something to happen, and we shouldn't hope that something happens," Bowman said. "We should make it happen."

The port has a lot of opportunities for economic development, Bowman said, adding that the commission needs to prioritize its properties and determine which offer the biggest bang for the buck, but yet remain flexible as opportunities arise.

Should Bowman be elected, Skip Novakovich, the current commission president, would be the longest-standing board member, with two years, Bowman said.

The former Tri-City Raceway property seems to have the most potential for economic development because of its proximity to the proposed Red Mountain interchange project, said Bowman, who has worked on the project in his role as county commissioner.

The port bought the 93-acre property for $1.8 million in 2008 -- about four years after the last cars raced around the track -- and hopes to turn it into a wine-inspired development.

But that might be one of the longer-range projects, since money still is needed to build the interchange, Bowman said. Once the interchange is complete, development should move more rapidly, he said.

He supported the port's recent decision to close Vista Field, the small general aviation airport near the Three Rivers Convention Center. Bowman, who attended Vista Field meetings and read the consultant's report, said he felt the commission could not have made any other decision than it did on redeveloping the land.

Bowman lists endorsements from West Richland Mayor Donna Noski, Benton County Commissioner Jerome Delvin, and former Benton County Commissioner Sandi Strawn and her husband and Kennewick businessman Dean Strawn.

Bowman and his wife, Joanne, who will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary in July, have four children, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Port commissioners serve six-year terms and earn $1,034 monthly, plus $104 for each meeting they attend. A 4 percent raise kicks in next year, raising commissioners' stipend to $1,075 a month.

The District 2 seat includes the "urban" portion of the port area, close to the Columbia River between Interstate 182 to the west and the cable bridge to the east.

The candidate filing period starts Monday, with the primary election Aug. 6.

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