On one side, the campaign manager of Tacoma mayoral candidate Jim Merritt claims an Election Night spat turned physical and had her fearing for her safety until a Pierce County Council member stepped in to defend her.
On the other side, the chairman of the Tacoma Housing Authority Commission who supported Merritt’s opponent, Marilyn Strickland, dismissed the dispute as little more than verbal “sparring.”
Regardless, something went down between Merritt campaign manager Ronnie Bush and Strickland supporter Ken Miller at the Pierce County Election Center late Tuesday.
Both well-known area political figures were among a crowd gathered to find out the latest elections results for the mayor’s race, which remains too close to call.
Neither Bush nor Miller wanted to talk about the encounter Wednesday, but when pressed by a reporter, each gave conflicting versions of events.
Bush claimed she arrived at the center in her best silk suit, feeling confident about her candidate and receiving warm greetings and congratulations from several people.
That’s when Bush said Miller “very scoffing, said to me, `Oh yeah, you just ran the perfect race.’”
As she walked by him, Bush said she retorted: “Oh, it’s the TNT’s newest reporter, Ken Miller.”
The reference was to a different dust-up in the final days before the election, when Miller called Merritt’s campaign treasurer and questioned him about the campaign’s finances.
Merritt treasurer Jim Whitacre claims during the call, Miller misrepresented himself as affiliated with The News Tribune, then later Miller called back to retract his stated involvement with the newspaper.
Miller doesn’t dispute making the call, but said he only told Whitacre that he was going to contact the newspaper, not that he worked for it. A friend Miller wouldn’t name who listened to the call suggested Miller call Whitacre back so there was no misunderstanding, Miller said.
At the Election Center Tuesday, after Bush said she made the TNT comment, “all of a sudden, Ken Miller put his hands around the back of my neck,” she said.
“Ken kind of banged his head into the back of my head, then kind of nuzzled his face into my ear, and said, `I’m going to get you down,’” Bush said. Miller then called Bush a derogatory term for a female, she said.
Pierce County Councilman Tim Farrell, who was standing nearby, then intervened and yelled at Miller to stop, Bush said.
Farrell “stopped (Miller) somehow, because when I turned around, Ken was in Tim’s face saying, `Come on, Let’s take it outside and get this over with,’” Bush said.
“Timmy told Ken very affectionately to go away,” Bush added. “It was quite the moment.”
Asked about the incident Wednesday, Farrell declined comment.
But Miller gave a different account.
“I think we just jabbed verbally,” Miller said. “Just poked at each other.”
When asked more specifically if he grabbed or threatened Bush and then challenged Farrell, Miller said: “It was a long night. I can’t even remember the specifics.”
“I don’t think I had my hands on her, or threatened her, or invited Tim outside,” Miller added. “She made some comments in passing. And I responded. It was sort of like ball players just yakking at each other.”
After the encounter, Bush said she walked to a different part of the center to stay clear of Miller.
“Did I start it? Well, I probably shouldn’t have said (the retort to Miller), but you know, I’m from Brooklyn,” Bush said. “Still, I don’t expect anyone to touch me physically. I was really frightened.”
Miller said the issue has been blown out of proportion.
“If there were knives drawn, obviously that would be news,” he said. “But if you get anything less than that, it may or may not be, depending on how much space you need to fill.”