This past Monday, campaign consultant Cindi Laws sat down in the Stranger news office with city attorney candidate Pete Holmes to brief me on Holmes's campaign against City Attorney Tom Carr, a longtime friend of Laws's who served with her on the Seattle Monorail Project board. (In the Hall, March 26).
At the time, Laws excoriated Carr for arguing against broad public-disclosure laws, attempting to coerce testimony from reporters about confidential sources, targeting bars and clubs in a fruitless series of stings, and pursuing low-level drug offenses despite overcrowding in county jails. She also referred to Holmes—who had previously considered a run against city council member Richard Conlin—as "Eliot Ness" and "the Boy Scout of this campaign." On Tuesday, Laws prepared a scathing press release announcing Holmes's campaign and flaying Carr for being one of the city's "biggest obstacles to a truly transparent and accountable government."
What a difference... um... a couple of hours makes. On Tuesday afternoon, Laws went over to Carr's house, where, according to accounts by both Laws and Carr, Laws burst into tears and said she couldn't work against a longtime friend. "I wasn't two seconds into telling him [that I was working for Holmes] that I just started to bawl," Laws says. Within minutes, Carr offered Laws a job, and she accepted.
"I may not agree with Tom's positions on stuff all the time, but in the end, Tom is my friend... and I couldn't be the person running the campaign against my friend of 18 years... A lot of people may pick dollars over friendship, but I won't."
Holmes says that had Laws simply decided not to work against Carr, Holmes would have been okay with that. "She told me very early on that her only problem with [running my campaign] was her personal relationship with Tom," Holmes says. "So I immediately said, 'Cindi, can you do this with me, or do you need to bow out now?' And she says, 'No, I want to do this.'" Holmes says Laws even told him "this was the race to do in terms of just crass winnability" and encouraged him to switch positions from city council to city attorney.
"It wasn't a surprise" that Laws decided to leave his campaign, Holmes says—it's the fact that she turned around and took a job with his opponent literally minutes later. "I said, "Cindi, you can't do this. He's not being a friend to ask you to sacrifice your integrity, your reputation, this way.' I tried to get her to see the damage that this could do to her professionally."
Laws and Carr, however, portray their decision to work together as both a personal and a financial one. "She told me, 'I can't work against you, but I can't afford not to work.' So I thought the natural solution was maybe [she] should just work for me," Carr says. He adds: "The thing I question is a guy like Pete Holmes who signs on someone who he knows is my friend to [run against Richard Conlin] and changes his mind to [run against me]. He puts her in this difficult position and doesn't seem to care at all."
Although consultants do leave clients all the time, it's rare—maybe even unheard of—for a consultant to quit and go to work for a client's opponent in the very same day. Christian Sinderman, a prominent local consultant, said the whole thing sounds "pretty unethical." He adds, "It's often difficult to avoid conflicts of interest, but you don't go out of your way to find them."
Carr says he's confident he'll defeat his first challenger since 2001. "I'm going to raise a lot of money," Carr says. Plus, "There are an awful lot of people in town who respect me and an awful lot of people who question him."