Writings and observations

Hutchison

Susan Hutchison

If the voters of King County elect as their next executive the former TV news anchor Susan Hutchison – and she is likely to get through the primary election – they won’t be able to say they weren’t warned about what is likely to happen next.

Hutchison is well positioned at the moment, running against five veteran Democratic elected officials (in the legislature and the county council), all men, who probably have a hard time drawing distinctions between themselves – none has decisively broken out of the pack. Hutchison, the one woman and the one philosophically to the right of the other four, has never run for office before, has fewer policy stands to demand, and is at once the fresh face and (owing to her TV work) probably the best-known countywide. Little wonder she leads in polling and is likely to end the month headed for the general election with one of the other four. How she fares in that revised structure is less clear.

But King County is beginning to learn more about Hutchison than they have known before. In those broadcast years she seemed to have a good television appearance and her smile was warm, but off-camera there seems to have been more to the story.

That grows out of the end of her two-decade run at KIRO-TV, in the time when she was replaced as anchor and later, in December 2002, terminated. Her removal as anchor seems to have had to do with ratings (KIRO was third in the market) and popularity scores, and there’s no big lesson to be drawn about Hutchison in any of that. Happens all the time in TV news.

Hutchison filed a lawsuit against KIRO alleging discrimination. Those case records have been sealed. She said in a statement that “There is no doubt that the hard road I chose in fighting against discrimination so many years ago also prepared me for the rigors of this campaign, and the demands of serving in public life.” But if so that’s a puzzlement, since she fought their release. She didn’t want them out.

News organizations including the Seattle Times which this week won their release extracted a different picture. The Times, which noted “no bombshell revelations,” also noted that “after being demoted from the anchor’s chair, her supervisors said Hutchison’s behavior caused her to lose credibility with them.” (The Stranger Slog headline on the story: “Deceptive, Delusional, Unpopular: A Portrait of Susan Hutchison.“)

There were specifics. One, perhaps minor, involved a period when she claimed sick leave but was seen happily river rafting near Bend. More significantly, she said she was retaliated against for standing up for another employee (an independent review found no evidence of retaliation; and around the time of her loss of the anchor’s spot, she began to describe KIRO (to people outside the station) as a “bad environment” owing to “drug abuse and sexual misconduct.” The latter, she said, involved affairs and sexual harassment by top managers at the station; evidence has been lacking.

Those documents are a little over half of the total record. More should be coming in a few days.

Other than a brief statement after the release of the records, in which she said she couldn’t talk about the situation, there’s been no further explanation. The statement that she couldn’t talk, though, is odd since the station’s attorney explicitly said that there’s nothing in the legal agreement that keeps her from doing so.

So put her in charge of a politically-sensitive, massive organization like King County government, and watch what happens . . .

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