If David Condon proved anything at his campaign kickoff breakfast for Spokane mayor it's that he can raise money. Probably, lots of it.
Condon spoke for about 20 minutes praising the city and criticizing the bureaucracy of city government. At the end of his speech, he gave his pitch to donors.
More than 350 people attended the $40-a-plate breakfast at the downtown Doubletree Hotel.
"An individual can give $1,600. A couple $3,200, and companies can also give another $1,600," Condon said. "But I'll tell you, you know what, if everybody in this room gave $100 or pledged $100 we'd have over $35,000 to start this race. That would put me leaps and bounds above my opponent and make sure that we can continue to grow the vision for Spokane. But of course there are some of you -- this recession hasn't hurt you so much. You can give $1,600, your spouse can give $1,600 and, of course, your business can give $1,600. So will you consider that?"
Several in the crowd answered him, "Yes." After he spoke and people began to leave, some stayed at their table filling out pledge forms and writing checks.
Condon has been outspoken about his fund-raising goals. He says he wants to raise more than $400,000. At the breakfast, he said he plans to spend $150,000 on TV ads and $120,000 on campaign mailers and $20,000 on signs.
In 2007, all five candidates for mayor raised a total of around $450,000. During the only two other elections for strong mayor in Spokane, in 2000 and 2003, the candidates raised around $560,000. The individual who raised the most in any of those races was John Powers who raised $290,000 in 2000 for his successful bid to be the first strong mayor.
It may not take Condon long to lead the race for money for the non-partisan office. So far, Condon's opponent, incumbent Mayor Mary Verner, has reported raising $43,000 -- less than half the money the incumbent had at the same point four years ago, and she's officially been in the race for more than a year. Condon's been a candidate for less than a month.
Verner has mocked Condon's fund-raising goals, and says he's trying to buy an election. She says raising lots of money does not equate to being a good mayor and notes that she won her first bid for mayor with less than half the money of her opponent.
There were plenty of big names sprinkled in the audience at the breakfast, including County Commissioners Todd Mielke and Al French, City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, former City Council members Rob Crow and Brad Stark, Park Board members Larry Stanley and Jim Quigley, and former Mayor Dennis Hession, who lost his reelection bid to Verner.
That those people may support Condon isn't much of a surprise. Condon is the district director for Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers. Most of those folks, with the exception of Hession, lean Republican. That these people are motivated enough to attend a 7:30 a.m. breakfast for a political unknown (at least to those who aren't political junkies or insiders) where they may be publicly identified as Condon supporters might have meaning.
It took a long while for a candidate to decide to challenge Verner. She just hasn't made the kind of high-profile enemies that previous mayors have. Hession had unions and Al French and certain neighborhood leaders. Verner won the office with support of neighborhood leaders and unions. After four years in office she has mixed relationships with unions and neighborhoods and even business leaders. Her high-profile outspoken opponents are? Al French?
Tony Bonanzino, former CEO of Hollister-Stier Laboratories who had been rumored to be mulling a challenge to Verner, said last year that he would be open to considering Verner.
"She has been an excellent listener," Bonanzino said late last year. "She is doing her very best to address the difficult challenges that she's been faced with."
At Condon's breakfast, however, Bonanzino was featured in a video and came down squarely on Condon's side. If Verner wants the business vote, Bonanzino's decision is a sign that while business leaders may like her personally, her pitch to them may be a losing battle. Then again, she didn't need the established business community's support in 2007 -- or their money.
Condon's campaign manager warned that members of the press were not allowed to mingle with the campaign contributors in the crowd, but I was able to sneak in a brief interview with Hession.
"We lack strategic vision, an understanding about how difficult it is for people to get by in these lean times," Hession said, explaining why he has chosen to publicly back Condon.
Condon said too many people at City Hall make over $100,000 and questioned why city workers will get raises next year. He pointed to Bloomsday and other popular events held in Spokane.
"This list of favorite things that Spokane has -- they're great not because of the city government, but in a lot of cases, in spite of city government," he said. "The city responsibility list is actually those things that citizens like least about Spokane."
He then listed: "potholes, paving our streets, plowing our streets. Let's not forget about those water bills coming up. Red light cameras, and don't forget about taxes."
One business argument that could favor Verner is the lack of continuity in city leaders. Spokane hasn't reelected a mayor since David Rodgers in 1973.
But Condon, packed in a room that resembled the monthly chamber of commerce breakfast, didn't dodge the continuity question. He referenced 1988 Democratic vice presidential nominee Lloyd Bentsen, who famously mocked Dan Quayle in a debate.
"I know Dave Rodgers. I've had dinner with Dave Rodgers, and our current mayor is no Dave Rodgers."