OLYMPIA - Democrats stepped up their preemptive campaign against potential Republican Senate candidate Dino Rossi on Thursday, alleging that $20,000 in delinquent property taxes owed by his business partners shows poor ethical standards on his part.
Rossi, a two-time gubernatorial runner-up, is mulling a possible run against Democratic Sen. Patty Murray. Rossi dismissed Thursday’s Democratic attacks as inaccurate and said he has no direct ties to the property in question.
At issue are unpaid property taxes on a building in Everett owned by a real estate firm with ties to Rossi. But Rossi’s partnership with the firm is arranged through a separate company that doesn’t have an ownership stake in the property in question.
The dustup previews a bruising fall campaign if Rossi enters the race, and reveals how nervous Democrats are about the prospect of a challenge from the former state senator. Some recent polling has predicted a close contest between Rossi and Murray, a third-term incumbent and member of the Senate Democratic leadership team.
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Rossi deemed the whole affair an overreaction by a “frightened” Murray, and said it shows she’s out of touch with the economic hardships faced by regular Washington residents.
“That’s why she sends her people here to personally attack someone who isn’t even running against her,” Rossi said. “Am I considering it? Absolutely. Does this make me consider it more? Yes it does.”
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said the unpaid bill taints Rossi’s ethical standing, and dismissed the explanations as inadequate attempts to shield Rossi from criticism.
“Dino Rossi’s firm has a $20,000 tax problem,” committee spokeswoman Deirdre Murphy said. “We look forward to hearing his explanation on why he does not think the rules apply to him.”
Rossi rose to prominence in 2004 when he lost to now-Gov. Chris Gregoire by just 129 votes after two recounts and a Republican court challenge. Rossi also lost a rematch with Gregoire in 2008.
Republicans have been trying to recruit Rossi into the Senate race for weeks, and Democrats have been just as active trying to tarnish him. They recently launched a “Dirty Deals Dino” website that paints Rossi’s real estate career as a tangle of unsavory associations.
The latest attack was aimed at Rossi’s recent business venture with the Everett real estate firm Coast Equity Partners.
Tom Hoban, chief executive of Coast Equity Partners, said he hadn’t been aware of the tax bill on one property among the hundreds overseen by the firm’s management company.
Hoban said a lease agreement had obligated tenants to pay the property taxes, but the tenants were now out of business, leaving investors to foot the bill.
Murray spokeswoman Alex Glass declined to enter the fray, saying it was between Rossi and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
“What Sen. Murray is focused on right now is Wall Street reform,” Glass said.