Sammamish Chamber of Commerce presses on with a controversial candidate forum, ignores candidates’ concerns over impartiality

By Miki Mullor

  • Three candidates voice concern over apparent bias
  • Chamber’s President is a candidate opposing Mayor Malchow
  • The proposed moderator contributed funds to a candidate’s campaign, heard saying that city council needs to change

The Sammamish Chamber of Commerce announced on June 17 a candidate forum for City Council Candidates, to be held in October, even though three of the six candidates protested impartiality ahead of the announcement.

Candidate forum with half the candidates
Deb Sogge

In an email to its members sent on Monday, Deb Sogge, CEO of the Sammamish Chamber of Commerce (SCC), announced the upcoming forum as “a fair and open discussion…. SCC Member Alan Finkelstein (Sammamish McDonald’s) will [be] the moderator.” Finkelstein is a board member of the SCC.

Candidate Ken Gamblin wrote to Sogge, saying that “since the president of the SCC [Karen McKnight] is running for a city council seat, against an incumbent council member, I have questions on public perception of the SCC’s ability to be perceived as being impartial.” Gamblin suggested a different moderator.

When reached for comments, incumbent Christie Malchow confirmed she also reached out to Sogge in a series of emails expressing concern over their choice of a moderator.

“I respect Mr. Finkelstein as a community member and business owner, but questioned his impartiality based on a campaign donation he made to my opponent and a statement he’d made to a former Council member at a recent event,” Malchow told the Comment, and confirmed she also requested a different, impartial, moderator.

Sign of potential impartiality

The moderator’s role is to select questions for candidates, ensure equal time for each to respond and to keep candidates on point. 

A Facebook post on Candidate McKnight’s Facebook page show the moderator, Finkelstein, and McKnight, Malchow’s opponent, together at a recent event. Former Mayor Tom Odell confirmed to The Comment that in that event Finkelstein told him he thinks the Council should be changed.

PDC filing also shows Finkelstein contributed to McKnight’s campaign.

McKnight’s Facebook post from June 12

Council Member Jason Ritchie, a strong Malchow critic, is also a board member of the SCC and has contributed financially to McKnight’s campaign.

Sogge, McKnight and Finkelstein, all representing the SCC, gave public comments at City Council meetings several times in favor of the Town Center and opposing the moratorium. Malchow was in favor of the moratorium.  

Past controversy

In response to Malchow and Gamblin’s emails, Sogge sent an email to all candidates:

“I can assure you that the questions put to us by Ken and Christie about the Chamber of Commerce being impartial are nothing to be too concerned with.  We have held many professional business candidate forums in the past, including the last time Christie ran for office.”

But as we reported in 2015, Sogge was at the center of controversy surrounding a decision to not videotape the previous candidate forum held by the SCC. Malchow favored videotaping along with then-candidate Tom Hornish and incumbent candidate Ramiro Valderrama.

Reached for comments, Sogge said:

“Questions are from any business and public attending.  Chamber has done this before. All questions are the same for all candidates.  Same amount of time for all.  I would think that all candidates would appreciate the opportunity.  So far, most are appreciative and are looking forward to getting the opportunity to be heard. ” 

Deb Sogge, Sammamish Chamber of Commerce

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4 thoughts on “Sammamish Chamber of Commerce presses on with a controversial candidate forum, ignores candidates’ concerns over impartiality

  1. The businesses in Sammamish should be here to support the community, not to work against us. They all started businesses here knowing full well what the business climate is like. Those who support the Town Center are clearly looking out for their own self interest at the expense of the community they purport to serve. This blatant impartiality of a moderator makes the whole forum a sham. If Finkelstein is unfair in any way, we will boycott the Sammamish McDonald’s.

  2. Pingback: Sammamish Chamber VP calls for denser development, taller buildings | Sammamish Comment

  3. Pingback: Three candidates to skip a Chamber of Commerce’s candidate forum; two cite bias | Sammamish Comment

  4. Pingback: Chamber defies city, vows to proceed with Farmer’s Market | Sammamish Comment

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