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Spin Control

Posts tagged: Spokane mayor

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.

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.”

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.

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.

Condon gets second big contribution from state GOP

Mayoral candidate David Condon over the weekend got another big lift from the state Republican Party.

The GOP contributed $38,000 to Condon’s campaign on Saturday, according to reports filed to the state Public Disclosure Commission. Late last month, the party gave his campaign $25,000.

Condon, the former district director of Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, is challenging incumbent Mayor Mary Verner in Tuesday's election. Last week, the executive director of the party said the GOP opted to contribute to Condon to help “take out” Verner to prevent her from challenging McMorris Rodgers in the future.

The late contribution takes Condon’s total tally to $288,000. Verner has raised about $125,000. Independent groups have spent about $26,000 on her behalf.

Most contributors are limited to $800 per candidate per election. But rules enable political parties to give much more. The state Republican Party received several significant contributions from Condon supporters in August, September and October. A Verner supporter filed a complaint with the PDC last week arguing that the party donations violate contribution limits. The state party says it complied fully with the law.

Family not offended by Condon’s critique of city’s handling of Zehm cases

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When David Condon began to publicly criticize Mary Verner's handling of the Otto Zehm case, Verner said Condon's critique was further victimizing the Zehm family “by attempting to elevate himself.”

The Inland Northwest Leadership Political Action Committee, which has spent about $25,000 on the mayoral race in support of Verner, has made similar allegations.

“Unfortunately, David Condon is now desperately trying to exploit this tragedy for political gain,” says an article on the group's website.

But last week, Breean Beggs, who represents the Zehm family and has contributed money to the Verner campaign, said Zehm family members do not feel exploited or victimized by Condon or other city candidates who have discussed the case. Beggs said that's because they feel that police oversight, training, procedures and other issues surrounding the case are legitimate issues that should be considered by those seeking city office.

 

These were the official statements released by Verner and Condon last week after the verdict:

Verner:

“The jury in the trial was in the best position to render a verdict in this case.  And, we accept their decision. This verdict is only one step toward closure and healing for our community.  I remain committed to completing a thorough internal and external review of all aspects of the case.   Our citizens rightfully require their elected officials to acknowledge mistakes and problems and make changes to avoid them in the future.  That’s what we’re going to do.”

“I appreciate your ongoing support of our community, and I am pleased to serve you.”

Condon:

“This is a sad day for our city, a slow-motion train wreck … first the indictment, now the trial and verdict, and next the civil lawsuit which may cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.  It is an indictment of the mayor and her legal team and of the police department, as well as of an individual officer.  My heart goes out again to the family of Otto Zehm with the hope that this sad spectacle can soon be brought to a final conclusion.”


Has Condon closed the gap?

It was clear on the evening of Aug. 16 that the race for mayor was Mary Verner's to lose.

But a lot has happened since then, including the conviction of Officer Karl Thompson.  

So will she hold on?

As far as we at Spin Control know, there has been no scientific polling of the race, at least not the kind of unbiased polling newspapers like to have for campaign 'horse race' stories.

Last month, the Condon campaign wrote to potential donors that polling showed him within 3 points of Verner. Condon, however, has declined to release details of the poll. His campaign expense reports indicate that his campaign paid Pollis Political Service, which is a political strategy consultant firm, not a scientific polling company, for the poll.

That doesn't necessarily mean that the poll isn't relevant. Spin Control heard from someone who received the phone poll and it went something like this (this is extremely paraphrased):

1. Do you support Verner or Condon?

2. If you knew Mary Verner increased water rates would you be you more or less likely to vote for her?

3. If you knew Mary Verner messed up the handling of the Otto Zehm cases would you be more or less likely to vote for her?

4. If you knew Mary Verner eliminated the city's property crime detective division would you be more or less likely to vote for her?

5. Now who do you support for mayor, Verner or Condon?

One of 10 city candidates signs pledge not to approve Guild contract without stronger oversight

Only one of the 10 candidates on the ballot next week for Spokane city office agreed to sign a pledge promising to oppose any Spokane Police Guild contract unless the union agrees to stronger police oversight, the Center for Justice reported this week.

A coalition of groups including the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane asked the candidates as well as four City Council members not running in elections this fall if they would sign a pledge promising not to vote for a guild contract unless the union agrees to the provisions of the ombudsman ordinance that recently was repealed.

The city's 2010 police ombudsman law was thrown out by the City Council last month after an arbitrator ruled that the rules needed to be agreed to by the guild.

Only Donna McKereghan, who is running for the City Council seat in Northeast Spokane signed the pledge. Another candidate, Joy Jones, said she would not vote for a contract without stronger oversight but declined to sign the pledge. Jones is running for Spokane City Council in the Northwest district.

The center created a scoring system based on each candidate's response to its request. To see the rankings, continue reading the post.


Documents:

The politics of ‘It totally sucks’

Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe declined to comment this week about her “totally sucks” comment becoming a major highlight of the David Condon campaign for mayor.

DeRuwe made the comment last month soon after sending a news release announcing that the department eliminated its property crime detective division earlier this year.

Mayor Mary Verner has argued that the change was about reallocating existing resources and that property crimes still will be investigated by detectives who now also will investigate other crimes. Chief Anne Kirkpatrick says fewer property crimes are being investigated but that the department still works many cases.

The statement from DeRuwe is pretty powerful and was quite a gift to the Condon campaign. My only question as someone who grew up with a mom who detested the word “sucks” is: How will posting it on televisions over the dinner hour play with the 'Wheel of Fortune' crowd?

State GOP pours cash into Condon campaign

Spokane mayoral candidate David Condon advertises himself as “nonpartisan” on his signs, but that didn't stop the former aide to Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers from getting a $25,000 contribution from the state Republican Party.

The contribution, the largest so far in a Spokane city race this year, was received by Condon's campaign on Thursday, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission.

Condon already had a big lead in fundraising over Mayor Mary Verner. As of Friday, Condon was reporting about $245,000 raised compared to Verner's $121,000.

Verner, who has been endorsed by the Spokane County Democratic Party, got only $800 from the state Democratic Central Committee.

Verner, Condon debate handling of Zehm case

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Here's the latest of election video.

Condon: “To find out that the city started to know some of the facts in 2009 and here we are nearly two years later not dealing with those facts, that's what was troubling me.”

Verner: “We can not critique every aspect of this matter while the litigation is ongoing. I feel we would interfere with the execution of justice to do so and that is my heartfelt belief.”

Democratic chairman says Verner took ‘high road,’ as former Dem chairman takes to airwaves for Condon

 

Not surprisingly, the campaign of David Condon is taking full advantage of the endorsement he got from former Spokane County Democratic Chairman Tom Keefe. Keefe is featured in the Condon TV ad above and is the first endorsement listed on a Condon mailer that arrived at homes this week.

Condon, the former district director for Republican U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, has been working to distance himself from the Republican label, though McMorris Rodgers recently headlined a fundraiser for his campaign.

Meanwhile, Verner's campaign has a released a statement from the current chairman of the Spokane County Democratic Party, David Smith. He addresses the Otto Zehm matter, which is the issue that Keefe said pursuaded him to back Condon.

“Mary Verner was not mayor when Otto Zehm died. She was sworn into office a full eighteen months after his death. She could have chosen to augment her political capital by joining in the public condemnation of Officer Thompson,” Smith said. ” Instead, despite her professed grief for the family of Otto Zehm, she chose to accept the political risk inherent in standing up for Officer Thompson’s right to a fair trial. Doing so took courage.  Standing up for the constitution always does.”

Here is Smith's full statement responding to Keefe's endorsement:

Verner’s message on water rates sounding more like Condon’s

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The second video on the mayoral race features one of the hottest topics: water rates.

Since this was filmed, Verner announced that she would float a new water rate proposal to City Council before the end of the year.

City Council President Joe Shogan already has started debate by introducing legislation to go back to rates based on the old water rate structure that was in place until last year. The result would be that rates would increase on those who use less and fall for those who use more.

Shogan said at a meeting Monday that he expects to hold a hearing on the topic sometime next month. Shogan, like Verner, supported the structure change last year, but now believes it should be changed.

City spokeswoman Marlene Feist said Verner will introduce her water rate proposal in time to be considered by the council during debate on Shogan's plan. It will be developed in consultation with HDR Engineering, which advised her and the council when setting rates last year.

Shogan said he introduced his rate proposal to spark debate and is open to Verner's idea or others that may emerge.

Condon questions decision to send city utility drivers to ‘green driver’ training

David Condon, who is challenging Spokane Mayor Mary Verner in her bid for reelection, criticized Verner's speech to City Council on Monday for not mentioning new water rates or the “tragic loss of confidence in our police and legal authorities.”

“Overall, the Mayor told a nice bedtime fairy tale, with green elves and happy worker,” Condon said in a news release. “But it's time to wake up and see the real challenges facing our city government.”

Condon's response criticized the decision to send city utility drivers to “green driver” training.

A part of Verner's speech mentioned steps the city has taken to reduce energy consumption. She noted that the city spend about $8 million a year on its power bill.

“Taking these steps to reduce energy expenses are a sustainable and responsible approach to cost management,” Verner said in her speech, according to prepared remarks.

Asked about his criticism of “green driver” training, Condon said such training might reduce expenses a bit, but it's a sign that the mayor is focusing on small programs that won't solve the on-going, annual multi-million dollar deficits.

“We need to make some long-term policy changes,'” he said.

Condon revises water rate ad

Mayoral candidate David Condon has released a new version of a campaign ad attacking Mayor Mary Verner for water rates.

Condon said in an email that changes were made based on a truth-test article about the ad that ran in Saturday's Spokesman-Review.

A quick review indicates that his changes are probably enough to remove “false” labels that the article placed on some portions on the ad, though some would still would be in the “kinda true” range.

For instance, in attempt to better explain that “Water Departments workers are getting 10 percent pay hikes,” text goes on the screen to explain that “city worker salaries” will increase by 5 percent this year and an additional 5 percent next year. That's a good clarification from the first version, though it could create the impression that all city workers are getting that raise, when really that raise affects members of Local 270 who have at least four years of experience. That's a good portion of the city work force (largely in the street, sewer, water and trash departments), but doesn't affect, firefighters, police officers, administrators, library workers and others.

Mayor responds to Condon’s criticism of Verner’s handling of Zehm case

 

Below is Mayor Mary Verner's full response to the statement released earlier in the day by her opponent in the November election, David Condon, followed by Condon's statement. Condon offered harsh criticism of Verner's handling of the Otto Zehm matter. Verner's response was delivered by her campaign, not by the city.

MARY VERNER'S FULL NEWS RELEASE: 

Mayor Mary Verner says she is deeply disappointed in former Congressional aide Dave Condon’s reckless attempt to use the tragedy of the Otto Zehm death for his personal political ambition.

Condon wrote a campaign news release today, criticizing the mayor, city police, city attorneys, and city staffers.

The politics of water rates

What might be the most curious thing about the current City Council debate on water rates is the timing.

Here the council is debating what may be the biggest political hot potato of the year even though ballots are sitting on kitchen tables ready to be marked in time for Tuesday's primary election.

If anyone questions the political ramifications of the rate boost proposals, consider this: Two mayoral candidates were in the audience Monday night: Mike Noder and David Condon. (Condon, by the way, said he has concerns about the proposed increase and would have voted against it.)

Council observers are used to politicians proposing a rate freeze in election years and more quietly asking for increases out of the election cycle. The chart showing percentage increases over the last decade clearly points to election-year hesitation on rates among mayors and councils.

But Mayor Mary Verner has gone ahead with steep proposed increases in water and sewer this year despite this being an election year. Not only that, the debates on the water and sewer rates were scheduled for this summer — in time to be considered by voters. Until last year, the council voted on utility rates along with the city budget in December.

So why the change?

Verner was angered by the council's decision last year to increase sewer rates by more than she had proposed to balance its decision to reject her administration's proposed water rate increase. She accused the council of playing with the rates out of concern for the utility taxes they generate for services like parks, police, fire and libraries. As a result, she and some council members opted to set utility rates for 2012 well before the council approves the budget to avoid setting utility rates to generate utility taxes.

And don't forget that as a candidate for mayor in 2007, Verner accused Mayor Dennis Hession of playing politics when he proposed rate freezes for 2008. Verner has said if former leaders hadn't balked at increases, she wouldn't be in the predicament of asking for boosts like the proposed 8 percent request for water.

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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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