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Spin Control

Posts tagged: Mary Verner

Which politics are more progressive: Seattle or Spokane

One footnote from last week's primary elections, prompted by an item by colleague Jim Brunner of The Seattle Times:

Seattle's mayoral primary results — State Sen. Ed Murray and incumbent Mike McGinn advance from the Top 2 to the general election — mean Seattle will extend its streak of 85 years without a woman at the helm of its City Hall. The one, and only, female mayor of Seattle was Bertha Landes, elected to a single two-year term in 1926. Since then, the mayor's post has been a guy's only club, and except for Norm Rice from 1989-1997, all white guys.

This reminds Spin Control of many conversations over the years about how Seattle politics are so much more progressive and forward-looking than Spokane politics. There are significant differences in policies and partisan leanings, as well as government structures between the two cities. In fact, for half of the 20th Century, Spokane voters didn't even elect their mayor, they elected a five-member commission which picked the mayor from among its ranks. That was later replaced by what some called the weak-mayor system in which citizens elected the mayor, whose main job other than sticking a shovel in the dirt at construction openings or cutting ribbons at their completions was to run the City Council; a full-time city manager ran government day-to-day.

But during the period in which Spokane elected a major, strong or otherwise, it had three women in the job: Vicki McNeill, Sheri Barnard and Mary Verner. (It also elected an African-American mayor, Jim Chase, eight years before Rice, but that's kind of rubbing it in.)

All three were very different politically. None campaigned primarily on being a woman or won because of, or in spite of, gender. In McNeill's case, she ran against another woman, Margaret Leonard. Seattle has never had a general election mayoral race between two women.

Spin Control would never use the gender diversity of a city's chief executive as proof of much of anything. But the next time a Seattle resident gets too over the top about how forward thinking his or her city is, remind them that Spokane has had three times as many female mayors, who held the office six times as long as Seattle. It might keep them quiet for a minute or two.

Condon and Stuckart no Simon and Garfunkel

WARNING: This video is painful to watch and hear. Its only saving grace is that this exercise helped raise money for the Second Harvest Food Bank. Let's hope this duo does not reunite. The political pro of Street Music Week remains — sorry, mayor and council president — Mary Verner.

Verner lands new job

Former Spokane Mayor Mary Verner has landed a new job at the Department of Natural Resources.

She will start next month as the deputy supervisor of resource protection and administration, said department spokesman Matthew Randazzo. That is the lead position over the resource protection division, he said.

Soon after leaving office at the end of 2011, Verner was named the CEO of Spokane Tribal Enterprises.

Roskelley edges McKenna among Bloomsday politicians

Among the elected leaders and politicians running for office, it should be no surprise that John Roskelley won the race.

Roskelley, a candidate for Spokane County Commission, had the best Bloomsday time among all elected Spokane and Spokane Valley city leaders; state House and state Senate candidates for districts within Spokane County; Spokane County commissioner candidates; and gubernatorial candidates.

Roskelley is, afterall, a world-renowned mountain climber.

Here is the list of local politicians (plus a governor hopeful) who completed Bloomsday:

  1. John Roskelley, D, candidate for Spokane County Commission, 0:59:00
  2. Rob McKenna, R, candidate for governor, 1:00:21
  3. Amber Waldref, Spokane city councilwoman, 1:07:52
  4. Marcus Riccelli, D, candidate for state House, 1:08:27
  5. Steve Salvatori, Spokane city councilman, 1:17:00
  6. Amy Biviano, D, candidate for state House, 1:17:16
  7. Dennis Dellwo, D, candidate for state House, 1:20:08
  8. Tom Towey, Spokane Valley mayor, 1:28:14
  9. Brenda Grassel, Spokane Valley city councilwoman, 2:13:47
  10. David Condon, Spokane mayor, 2:41:52
  11. Michael Baumgartner, R, state Senator and candidate for U.S. Senate, 2:47:31

Verner opts against run for Congress, but keeping ‘options open’

Former Spokane Mayor Mary Verner won't challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers this year.

Verner emailed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Jan. 30 revealing her decision not to run, said Dwight Pelz, chairman of the Washington State Democratic Party.

Verner had talked to Democratic officials late last year and early this year about a possible run.

McMorris Rodgers has used a possible a Verner challenge in fund-raising letters.

“Former Spokane Mayor Mary Verner is considering a run against me, too. My former aide, David Condon, defeated her last November, so we should expect she'll pull no punches in trying to defeat me also,” McMorris Rodgers' letter from March 14 says.

(That's a pretty interesting analysis of Verner's mayoral campaign, which some might argue barely lifted a finger in response to Condon's effective campaign ads.)

Verner's decision about Congress isn't surprising. A Democratic candidate for Congress in eastern Washington would have to win big in the city of Spokane in order to win. Given that she lost a city-wide election so recently, Democratic leaders weren't eager about her candidacy and have lined up mostly behind Rich Cowan, the founder of North by Northwest, a local film production company.

Asked in an email about McMorris Rodgers' fund-raising letter and if she might run for office this fall, Verner said that she is “keeping her options open.”

Of course, Verner could be referring to other offices, such as county commission. No Democrat has announced for Spokane County Commission District 2 (Mark Richard's district), and that's where Verner lives.

Spokane’s own Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde …

… At least according to Inlander readers.

Former Mayor Mary Verner took second place in the Inlander's annual reader survey in the category, “best local villain.” That's a tumble for a woman who usually polled well when the Inlander asked readers for their favorite politician.

But she was partially vindicated in the Inlander's survey in the next category, “best local hero.” She took second place. Mayor David Condon didn't make either list.

The reader survey is in this week's Inlander.

In the villain category, Verner finished behind former Spokane Police Officer Karl Thompson, who was convicted by a federal jury of violating Otto Zehm's civil rights about a week before Verner lost her reelection bid.

Here is Verner's response on Facebook. (Or, more accurately, here's the link to all 11 of Verner's responses. So many that Shannon Sullivan, who led the charge to recall Mayor Jim West, posted: “…Enough with the VILLAIN…ok?”)

How to calculate Verner’s (or most other city workers’) pension

Former Mayor Mary Verner's salary and pension request, which was denied by the city, has raised questions from several readers who wonder how an elected leader can be eligible to start receiving a pension at 55 after eight years of service.

Spokane's City Council and mayor are eligible for a pension under the Spokane Employees Retirement System, which includes most city workers who aren't police officers or firefighters.

But to be eligible they must work at the city for at least five years. That means an a elected official needs to win reelection to earn a pension. Verner served on City Council before becoming mayor, so she qualifies. Former City Councilman Richard Rush, who lost reelection, does not.

Employees who are part of the pension system currently contribute 7.75 percent of their pay toward the pension plan. The city contributes an equal amount. That amount was increased in 2008 from 6.72 percent of an employee's pay.

Here's how the basic pension works for workers hired or starting a term of office before 2009.

A retired city worker is eligible to start receiving a pension once they turn 50.

The basic pension formula is:

Verner agreed to new fire contract, but new council will have final say

Former Mayor Mary Verner and the leadership of the city's fire union tentatively agreed to a new contract in the final days of Verner's term.

But the deal still will need to be ratified by the union's membership and the new City Council.

Former City Administrator Ted Danek confirmed Friday that a deal was struck, but said under an agreement with the union, details can't be released until membership ratifies it and it's ready for City Council consideration.

Union President Mark Vietzke said the deal was reached on Dec. 29. Negotiations started on April 1. He said membership was presented the contract this week. Voting will close next week.

Last month, Mayor David Condon and some incoming City Council members protested Verner’s decision and the City Council's approval of a three-year contract extension for the city’s largest union, Local 270 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Even though members of that union will get no cost-of-living increases in 2013, 2014 and 2015, Condon noted that Local 270’s contract wasn’t set to expire until the end of 2012 and said the deal allowed the union to forgo working with him as the newly elected mayor.

The firefighters' contract, however, expired on Dec. 31 and Condon and newly elected City Council members will get a say on the deal reached by the Verner administration.

“This council and this mayor get to see it and decide it,” Vietzke said. “This is not a 9th-hour decision whatsoever.”

City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said Condon currently is reviewing the proposed contract. 

More from Verner’s exit interview

 

 

Here are the rest of Spokane Mayor Mary Verner's responses to topics we asked her to reflect on as she prepares to leave office. The rest is in an article running today online and in print.

Regionalism

Background: As mayor, Verner opted to end the city’s court partnership with Spokane County and created a separate municipal court. This year, it became clear that the city-led regional trash system is likely to disbanded in the next few years as a result of city disagreements with the county and other cities. Also this year, an attempt to regionalize animal control services failed.

Verner: “Go carefully into the realm of regionalism. (She noted a study from Eastern Washington University about regionalizing local government.) There are some benefits in certain subject areas or service delivery areas and then other communities … don’t get what get what (they think they’re) going to get. You don’t always get a cost savings, Nor do you always get an improvement in service, which is why you have to approach it carefully and do a thorough analysis.”

Bicycle lanes

Background: Verner was criticized by council members Richard Rush and Jon Snyder for not ensuring that Second Avenue was rebuilt with a bike lane, as called for in the city’s bicycle plan. But she’s also supported expanded bike lanes in other parts of downtown. Verner has generally agreed that roads paid for by the 2004 street bond should by completed only curb-to-curb and has argued that a new street bond be more encompassing.

Verner: “I think we’ve been working toward a good balance of installing bicycle infrastructure with the other transportation investments that we must make, including ongoing street maintenance. I’m glad that we have provided that opportunity for more people to get around on bikes safely and people of all ages and all skill levels, and I’m also glad and proud that we have not allowed one voice to dominate. We have a bicycle advisory board that has gone through its own evolution and (has a) better understanding of what an advisory board does. We’ve created the Citizens Design Review Committee that gives the bicyclists and pedestrians and schools an opportunity to help design our projects before we go out and do the projects. We’re talking about the phase two street bond – the next of the three series of street bonds that were anticipated in 2004 – and appropriately providing for bicycle infrastructure where it should be included. So I think we’ve struck a good balance on bicycle infrastructure.”

GU professor could challenge McMorris Rodgers

A former dean of Gonzaga University Law School is among Democrats considering a campaign against Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers next year.
Dan Morrissey, who served as dean from 2001-04 and now teaches corporate law at the school, said he is exploring his prospects for a race and expects to decide by next month.
“I’m testing the waters,” he said, which includes speaking to party gatherings in Eastern Washington’s 5th Congressional District and discussions with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a group that recruits and raises money for candidates.
 Morrissey, 63, is one of several Democrats that party sources have named as a potential challenger to McMorris Rodgers, a member of the House GOP leadership who would be seeking a fifth term in 2012.
Also among the potential candidates: outgoing Spokane Mayor Mary Verner, longtime Spokane television reporter Daryl Romeyn, who won the Democratic primary in the 5th Congressional District last year but lost to McMorris Rodgers in the general election, and Rich Cowan, chief executive officer of North by Northwest productions.
Whoever runs could face an uphill battle…

Council approves union deals, despite Condon’s objection

Mayor-elect David Condon likely will have to win a second term if he wants to tinker with the pay and benefits of nearly half of the City Hall work force.

The Spokane City Council on Monday approved three-year contract extensions for Local 270 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and for the city’s prosecutor’s union a full year before their existing labor contracts were set to expire.

The deal for Local 270, which was tentatively agreed to by Mayor Mary Verner, will freeze salary levels in 2013, 2014,and 2015. Retirement, medical and other benefits won’t change, nor will an already approved 5 percent raise for workers with at least 4 years of experience in 2012.

City union agrees to contract extension

(This post was updated at 4 p.m. Saturday.)

City Adminstrator Ted Danek said Friday that the membership of Local 270, the city's largest union, voted overwhelmingly this week to approve a three-year contract extension.

The contract currently expires at the end of 2012. The proposal will take the contract through 2015. The deal doesn't change employee benefits. It also doesn't change raises that already were in the contract for next year. But it does freeze wage levels in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Mayor-elect David Condon has criticized the proposal because it means he won't be part of shaping a contract. (A letter he signed along with four members of next year's City Council is printed in full at the end of the post.) Others argue that three years of no raises is a great deal that might be hard to achieve if Condon was at the table because unions might not be as willing to come to an agreement with a mayor who campaigned, in part, on how city workers were overcompensated.

City administrators also note that Condon will have plenty of other deals to work on. Outgoing Mayor Mary Verner hasn't come to agreements with other unions that have contracts that expire at the end of the year, including with the city's administrators union. So those agreements will be up to Condon to make.

The 270 contract, along with a nearly identical contract extension for the city's prosecutors union, will be considered by the City Council on Monday.

Monday's meeting is pretty full, but one big issue may fade without a decision. Council President Joe Shogan said it appears that the City Council doesn't have enough votes to make a change to the water rate structure. So that issue likely will wait until next year. Condon said this week that waiting until he and the new council is sworn in is what the council should do.

(Keep reading if you want to read the letter from Condon.)

Why Verner lost: Part 3: Otto Zehm

It’s hard to imagine how Mayor Mary Verner could have lost so much ground between the primary and the November election without concerns about the Otto Zehm case eating at her base.

With some members of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane expressing the possibility of sitting out the election or even casting a vote for a Republican who served a conservative member of Congress, it became clear that Verner had a problem, a problem that became more pronounced when Tom Keefe, a former Spokane County Democratic Party chair endorsed now Mayor-elect David Condon.

There were two key questions that Verner would not answer, at least completely, for most of the campaign:

- Why did the city file a response to the lawsuit from Otto Zehm’s family indicating that officers followed proper police policies when they confronted Otto Zehm, who died from injuries he suffered in that confrontation, even though the man who led the department at the time of the confrontation, Assistant Chief Jim Nicks, felt differently?

- Was she informed about the request by Department of Justice officials to meet regarding their concerns about the behavior of the city attorney’s office?

After the now infamous “FAQ” news conference that was overshadowed by Councilman Bob Apple, Verner had what may have been her worst few weeks as mayor, including a ‘60-Minutes’-style, chase-down-the-sidewalk-while-the-politician-refuses-to-answer-questions segment that ran on KREM-TV, fresh with a moment when she put a hand over the camera complaining of the bright camera light.

Why Verner lost: Part 2. A volunteer campaign short on cash

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Verner concedes

Just before conceding, Mayor Mary Verner published a scathing comment on Facebook about her opponent’s campaign which she said is a “turning point for the way campaigns are conducted in Spokane.”

“David Condon’s race for a non-partisan local office was woven into a … larger partisan domination strategy with out-of-town consultants, push polls and shrewd positioning of issues in collaboration with media mouthpieces. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on the campaigns, while more and more people have fallen into joblessness, homelessness, hunger and despair,” she wrote.

But was this campaign that much different than the other three to elect a strong mayor?

When it comes to the amount of money, no. Dennis Hession raised nearly as much as Condon in 2007. John Powers spent more than Condon in 2000.

When it comes to out-of-town consultants, no. Verner apparently is referring to Stan Shore, an Olympia-based consultant who was hired by Condon. But he also worked in each of the previous three mayoral campaigns on behalf of Hession, Jim West and John Talbott.

When it comes to partisan politics, yes. The state Republican Party’s decision to contribute more than $60,000 to Condon in the final days of the campaign is unprecedented. (And could still lead to an investigation into election rules. A complaint filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission will be considered for a possible investigation after Thanksgiving, PDC spokeswoman Lori Anderson said Thursday.)

But party involvement in city races isn’t new. Councilman Steve Corker, a Verner supporter, has noted that parties started getting involved in nonpartisan local elections about a decade ago when the Democratic Party assisted Powers, and Tom Keefe, the former Spokane County Democratic Party, chair argues that it was Democrats who worked to turn the Condon-Verner race into a partisan battle.

Why Verner lost: Part 1. Water rates

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Condon correctly predicted outrage was coming on water rates. Even before summer bills were mailed, he began attacking the water rate restructuring. When the bills were opened, he already had defined himself as the candidate who opposed them.

On its face, focusing on sewer rate increases seemed to be the bigger issue since they are going up by higher percentages and they affect everyone equally, and most people actually pay less under the new water rate structure. But most who pay less pay a little less while some who pay more pay a whole lot more. And those people are outraged. (Just ask the people who answer the phones at City Hall.) Also, since the sewer rate increases in large part goes to build systems to keep raw sewage out of the river, focusing on sewer rates may have led savvy opponents to respond: “Mary Verner is working to keep the Spokane River clean while Condon supports dumping raw sewage in the river” — or something like that. Focusing on the water rates came with the TV campaign ad B-roll of pull-on-your-heartstrings footage of children running through sprinklers that sent the message: “These rates are so high your children may not be able to play in the sprinkler anymore, thanks to Mary Verner!”

Then billboards, posted by an anonymous person, were posted with false messages on the rates and even people whose rates had fallen started to believe that they had doubled.

Verner’s response was to point back at the Spokane City Council, which indeed led the process to restructure rates. But she signed the ordinance, and once you sign it, the public usually blames the mayor.

She wasn’t helped by indecision on the City Council about 2012 rates, which kept forcing the issue into the news until it finally made a decision in mid-September.

Verner needs all 2,777 remaining ballots … to tie

Mayor-elect David Condon’s lead over Spokane Mayor Mary Verner grew slightly in counting on Monday. He now leads by 2,777 votes. Coincidentally, that’s the same number of votes left to count in the race.

Director of state GOP won’t follow Shogan’s call to resign

City Council President Joe Shogan reversed the order of this week’s council meeting to publicly call for the resignation of the executive director of the state Republican Party.

Four council members, Bob Apple, Steve Corker, Nancy McLaughlin and Richard Rush, walked off the dais in protest while Shogan spoke and the other two criticized him later for talking about campaign issues in the midst of a council meeting.

Shogan was responding to comments the executive director of the state GOP, Peter Graves, made last week to The Spokesman-Review when responding to questions about the party’s $25,000 donation late last month to the mayoral campaign of David Condon, who defeated incumbent Mary Verner this week.

Graves said the party decided to give to Condon to “take her (Mayor Mary Verner) out before she gets a chance at a free shot at a great congresswoman in the Fifth District.” Graves was referring to Condon’s former boss, Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and said that some had speculated that Verner might one day run for Congress.

Shogan called Graves a “coward” and his comments “reprehensible, repugnant and cowardly.”

“I and Mr. David Condon know the meaning of the last definition of taking somebody out ’cause I’ve been in combat and I know that meaning, and Mr. Condon has been in a combat support hospital, so he knows first hand what taking somebody out can mean,” said Shogan, a Vietnam veteran.

Mapping the vote: The difference 3 months makes

Because several people have asked, we went back to look at the vote totals of the August primary for Spokane mayor, to compare with the current count in the general election.

It's a bit tricky, because the primary featured five candidates — four challengers and incumbent Mary Verner, who finished first with nearly 60 percent of the vote. David Condon finished second with about 33 percent. But she won almost all the precincts.

This map shows the difference between Verner's vote totals in each precinct and the combined totals of all “non-Verner votes”, that is, all the challengers on the ballot, the write-ins and the Under Votes that have no one chosen in that race.

Again, Verner won most precincts, but she had some weaknesses where the total of all non-Verner votes was greater than her vote count.

Compare this map with the latest results (above)  where she leads in the city's core on the lower South Hill, but he's leading in most of the surrounding precincts.

Verner tells KXLY radio that Zehm, water rate campaign issues ‘don’t have a lot of substance’

Mayor Mary Verner's interview last night with Mike Fitzsimmons on KXLY 920 AM has been making the rounds on Twitter today. And it's worth a listen.

Here's some of what was said. The entire interview is in the link above.

Verner: …I do know that on your radio show you’ve helped perpetuate a lot of misinformation so I’ve been up against a series of unfolding events and a very negative misinformation campaign and I still have a lot of support in this community. So I’m really looking forward to the rest of the ballots coming in.

Fitzsimmons: You sound quite bitter.

Verner: Mike I’ve been on your show quite a few times, and I’ve also listened to some of the things that you have perpetuated on your show. I’m sorry if it comes across as bitter. I’m very disappointed in you.

Fitzsimmons: Well, we’re disappointed in you as well, which is maybe why you’re losing tonight.

Verner: Well, that’s certainly your opinion and you’ve certainly had lots of airtime to express it. ….

(The two argue about how often the mayor has accepted invitations to appear on the show.)

Fitzsimmons: I don’t want to get into it. You’re the one who brought the issue up to begin with. Perhaps you might want to look at water rates, you might want to look at the whole Otto Zehm thing if you’re really looking for the reason why you’re trailing right now.

Verner: Well, I have looked into that and those are exactly a couple of the issues that you’ve kind of put on the block that don’t have a lot of substance to them. But I’m still very pleased with the support that I have ….

Verner remains hopeful, but her chances are dim

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Mayor Mary Verner addresses supporters on election night
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Verner takes questions from reporters on election night

Here's are Verner's statements to her supporters and repoters last night.

The Spokane County Elections Office has reported that it received nearly 23,000 ballots in the mail today.

There are 22,200 ballots left to count in the City of Spokane. For Verner to make a comeback, she'll need to win 56.4 percent of those votes. That doesn't include ballots the county will get later this week, but Elections Manager Mike McLaughlin said he expects only about 1,000 ballots countywide be in the mail on Thursday.

Verner said her campaign had phone banks and several other late efforts that could turn around her fate. And there is some question as to how voters may have reacted to the late big donations from the state Republican Party. But voters should have already known Condon was a Republican, “nonpartisan” on his signs or not.

Condon had significant get-out-the-vote efforts, and the biggest news of last week, the conviction of a Spokane police officer in a trial in which the federal government accused the police department of a cover-up, does not favor the incumbent.

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About this blog

Jim Camden is a veteran political reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Jonathan Brunt is an enterprise reporter for The Spokesman-Review.


Kip Hill is a general assignments reporter for The Spokesman-Review.

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