Council candidate Erica Norton removes Teamsters endorsement from campaign info

Federal Way City Council candidate Erica Norton has removed a false endorsement from her campaign literature after the Teamsters 117 union, which endorsed her opponent, threatened to take legal action.

On Oct. 15, Teamsters 117 General Counsel sent a cease and desist letter to Norton for “misrepresenting” that she received an endorsement from the union “despite being informed repeatedly that Teamsters 117 has not endorsed you,” the letter reads. “In fact, we have endorsed your opponent.”

Teamsters 117 represents over 17,000 members throughout the state in public service and private sector jobs, including the City of Federal Way Police Commanders and Lieutenants, according to the union.

The union endorsed Federal Way City Council Pos. 2 incumbent Greg Baruso, who is Norton’s opponent, after he completed the endorsement process in full.

Endorsements by the union are earned through a standard process including a request for endorsement, questionnaire and in-person meeting, said Dustin Lambro, political director for Teamsters 117. The final decision of who earns an endorsement is made by the union’s elected leadership after a recommendation from the political committee.

“She never once contacted us to ask for an endorsement,” Lambro said of Norton in an Oct. 19 phone call with the Mirror.

The Mirror has emailed Norton seeking further comment.

On Sept. 15, Federal Way Police Lt. Mark Bensen emailed Norton and three other city council candidates notifying them of the police lieutenants’ endorsement. In previous years and prior to the lieutenants joining the Teamsters union in Feb. 2020, Bensen said they often endorsed candidates based on consensus of the 13 Federal Way members.

“It was a lesson learned on our part,” Bensen said in a phone call with the Mirror. “Next time there’s a race, we will definitely be involved with the Teamsters through the process.”

Bensen said while they realize they can’t offer their official endorsement, they do still support the candidates listed in his email as “we think these people will do the best job putting public safety first.”

Earlier this month, Lambro said he was made aware of the false endorsement listed on Norton’s campaign website and literature. He phoned Norton and asked her to remove the endorsement listing, to which Norton said she would, Lambro said.

On Oct. 15, the endorsement remained on her website, so the union attorney sent a cease and desist letter to Norton to remove the listing, Lambro said.

“How do you force a candidate to remove something on their own website?” Lambro said. “If someone’s going to be that dishonest as a candidate, how are they going to act as an elected official?”

Lambro said he is disappointed in how events unfolded, but said “it’s not fair to a voter who’s making a decision … I shouldn’t have had to go that far.”

The Mirror received a copy of the cease and desist letter on Oct. 15 and asked Norton for comment on the false endorsement listing.

Norton said she received a phone call on Oct. 10 from a Teamsters 117 representative who said the police lieutenant that emailed an endorsement on behalf of the Federal Way Police lieutenants did not have the authority to grant an endorsement.

“I promptly removed the endorsement from my website that day, but didn’t see the widget at the bottom of the page, otherwise I would have removed it on October 10th,” Norton wrote in an Oct. 15 email to the Mirror. Adding that as the letter was dated that same day, “I fully accommodated the demand on the date of the letter, which hasn’t been filed in any court or seen by any Judge. Thank you for notifying me of the remaining content, I removed it.”

In addition to her website, the “Federal Way Police Lieutenants Union” endorsement was printed on a flyer mailed to residents prior to Oct. 15, she said.

“Nothing else has been distributed or published by my campaign with that endorsement on it since the October 10th conversation with the union representative,” she wrote in the Oct. 15 email.

The Teamsters 117 union has also endorsed Federal Way City Council Pos. 5 candidate and incumbent Leandra Craft.

Teamsters letter to Norton campaign by Andy Hobbs on Scribd

Lt Bensen Letter of Endorsement by Andy Hobbs on Scribd