Nation/World

Electorate Has No Time To Worry Pre-Election Snapshot Reveals Concerned But Busy Citizens

The airwaves may be buzzing with attack ads, but Spokane voters seem almost mellow this election season.

Spokesman-Review reporters fanned out last week to see what was on people’s minds as Tuesday’s election approaches.

We didn’t find the foul mood of 1992, when local voters joined the push to oust an incumbent president. Or the bitterness of 1994, when the anti-government sentiment was so strong that voters routed their own congressman even though he was speaker of the House.

Instead, people frustrated by potholes seem pleased the streets are better than in past months. They are split on the Lincoln Street bridge and downtown redevelopment. They don’t like a proposed gun control law.

And, for many people, running their own lives keeps them so busy they don’t spend much time worrying about who’s running City Hall.

Trigger unhappy

Twenty-year-old window washer Mike Parks will go to the polls next week to take a stand on Initiative 676.

As he runs a squeegee across a pane of the Shadle Park Wells Fargo Bank, Parks makes clear his feelings about the law that requires trigger locks and licenses for handgun owners: He’s against it.

So are a lot of people.

Spokane County elections officials estimate as many as 2,000 voters have asked for absentee ballots using a preprinted form mailed by the National Rifle Association, a virulent opponent of the initiative.

Chris Parsons wears his opposition on his shirt. It’s also proclaimed in a sign hanging from the wall, near the row of rifles and pool cues at the Pawn 1 shop in Hillyard.

The 33-year-old clerk thinks 676 is bad law - along with most of the other initiatives on the ballot.

But he can’t talk long. The cash register is rat-a-tat-tatting like an old typewriter. Customers are rifling through black leather jackets. A woman at the counter wants the stuff she hocked.

Parsons has no time to worry about city issues, except the one thing that slows him down.

“Streets,” he says.

Sorry state of streets

Chris French sinks into a chair at the Hillyard Library, pulls his face out of a Dilbert book and lets loose a string of worries and wants.

The 20-year-old plans to start community college soon, and he’s unsure of what awaits him when he graduates.

“For most people in Spokane, you’ll have to move to the other side of the state to get a decent-paying job,” French says.

Repaving the roads would be a step toward improving Spokane’s self-esteem - and, as a result, its economy, French says. The streets are “the laughingstock of the state,” he says.

Jim Whitaker also thinks the roads need a make-over.

Streets - like a north-south freeway - need to be built, and streets need to be fixed, he says.

“They’re much better than they were,” says Whitaker, 73, as he rakes pine needles into a small pile on the sidewalk in front of his North Elgin home. But he wonders why the City Council borrowed money for the recent road repairs, instead of trying again to persuade voters to pass a bond issue.

“If it’s streets or schools, I like to be able to vote on it,” says the retired federal employee. “Usually, I say OK. I’m not an anti-establishment kind of person.”

Pet groomer Ben Pope wants his streets fixed, too, but he’s not about to vote for a tax increase.

“We have a few too many taxes already,” says Pope, 58, gliding a set of clippers through the thick, matted fur on the back of a Lhasa Apso named Bear.

“I’m a small-business person. I have to pay my bills and take care of things with what comes in,” Pope says.

The owner of Classic Clips, a pet salon in East Central, finds it telling that the city fixed several of the most pothole-ridden roads right before the election.

“I think they did it this fall just to make themselves look good,” Pope says.

Florist Sharon Koegler doesn’t care why the streets are getting fixed, just that they are.

City officials “are trying to do the best they can,” says Koegler, who owns Daisy’s Flowers on West Garland. “They’re just a little late.”

A bridge too far?

Pope sees the proposed $36 million Lincoln Street bridge as a roadblock to the thing he most wants.

“I don’t think we need it,” says Pope, who cites the bridge as one reason he favors John Talbott over incumbent Jack Geraghty in the mayor’s race. “I’d really a lot rather see our streets taken care of.”

Most of the money for the bridge comes from state and federal taxpayer dollars. But more than $7 million will come from the city’s share of state gas taxes, which could be used for street repair.

Espresso shop manager Pat Soderquist thinks the bridge issue highlights the city’s arrogance.

The City Council is ignoring how residents feel about the bridge, says Soderquist, 31, who runs Southeast Java on Southeast Boulevard.

The bridge “can’t be all that necessary. Right now we could put it on the shelf,” he says. “It’s not fair to shove the taxpayer around like that.”

Soderquist says his concerns about the bridge won’t keep him from voting for Geraghty. While he’s not thrilled with the mayor, Soderquist thinks he’s doing a relatively good job.

Peggy Patrick has mixed feelings about the bridge. She loves downtown and the city’s spectacular waterfalls, but she sees advantages to building the bridge.

“If it improves traffic flow, it’s a plus,” says Patrick, 49, who works part time at The Children’s Corner Bookshop. “If it deters from the view, it’s a minus. It probably will do both.

“I guess you have to give a little to get a little.”

Crossing guard Bonnie Schroeder has no doubts the bridge should be built. The twisting Post Street bridge makes no sense, she says.

“It’s kind of ridiculous, winding your way downtown like you do now,” says Schroeder, 55. She blows her whistle to stop traffic as two students from Sheridan Elementary School wait to cross Thor Street.

Liven up downtown

Bingo just let out at the Northeast Community Center. Charlotte Killian, 75, sits knitting as she waits for the bus.

She takes the bus everywhere, especially downtown.

She thinks the city’s core is drying up. Her favorite fabric store is gone. Shops are empty.

“It looks so barren,” she says. “It isn’t very conducive to a lively place.”

Pumping some life into downtown is important to espresso shop manager Soderquist. He’d like to live there, he says, in the “heart of what’s going on.”

The City Council should push to get housing downtown, he says. He lived in Seattle for a while and liked the vibrancy of its core.

“We’re the second-biggest city in the state of Washington, but at times it seems like we’re just a big suburb,” Soderquist says. “On Sunday, it’s like the city’s asleep. I don’t understand that.”

He’s a fan of the River Park Square redevelopment project.

“Nordstrom is a flagship business for downtown,” he says. “The end justifies the means. We can’t afford to lose them.”

Koegler, the florist, isn’t sold on the public-private partnership between the shopping center’s developers and the city.

“I have to make sure my business stays afloat. I shouldn’t have to make sure Nordstrom stays in business,” Koegler says. “They (city officials) should do things for small business, not just downtown.”

The $100 million redevelopment of River Park Square includes a Nordstrom store, a multiplex cinema, expanded parking and numerous shops and restaurants.

The city is helping developers secure a $22.65 million federal Housing and Urban Development loan. Council members also agreed to pledge city parking meter money to help pay expenses of a $26 million parking garage if it doesn’t pay for itself.

Retired federal employee Whitaker says he’s usually leery of government getting involved in partnerships with private business. This time, he says, it may be unavoidable.

“I’d hate to see the downtown deteriorate to the point where nobody wants to use it,” he says.

Patrick sees revitalizing the core as the key to fixing her biggest complaint about downtown: parking.

Her part-time job at a downtown bookstore often means the full-time worry of getting a ticket while parked at a meter or paying a dollar an hour at the parking garage.

“Sometimes, you can’t even find a meter,” she says. “Redevelopment is great, as long as they enhance the parking.”

Downtown gift shop employee Marie Mabee doesn’t consider parking an issue.

Look at Seattle’s thriving downtown, where parking costs are much higher, says 54-year-old Mabee, who has worked at Mel’s in the Bennett Block for a decade.

She thinks the city’s most pressing problem is its resistance to change.

“Too many people are stifling the growth of Spokane,” she says.

Family values

Divorce might help Kim Contos sell more wedding bands, but it’s a plague the downtown jeweler believes is destroying Spokane’s families.

“Morally, our society revolves around family structure,” says Contos as he flips through mail at Evan Michaels & Sons Jewelers.

He sees too many kids roaming the skywalk near his store, running with gangs and getting into trouble.

Many of Spokane’s problems could be solved if parents devoted more time to their marriages and families, says Contos, who still lives across the street from his parents.

Joanne and Chris Nelson sit at Sparky’s Firehouse Subs downtown, drinking pop from paper cups with their two kids, Ronnie, 4, and Rhonda, 3.

It’s not often the North Spokane family gets a morning together, and the Nelsons blame it on overpriced child care.

They work different shifts at nursing homes so they can take turns staying home with their children. They can’t afford to do it any other way, says Joanne Nelson, 23.

“It’s expensive for child care, and people trying to work their hardest and get off welfare have trouble affording it,” she says.

Juggling work and child-rearing while feeding her family on food stamps makes life in Spokane tough, says Nelson, who moved here six years ago from St. Louis.

Affordable child care would help her reach two goals, she says: “less stress and more family time.”

Comfortably conservative

Spokane sometimes is too conservative, says Elizabeth Kercher, a 20-year-old waitress at The Elk in Browne’s Addition.

She was harassed once for wearing a nose ring, she says. She got on a bus and an elderly woman started yelling at her, warning her she would never get a boyfriend or a husband.

Police officers also have bothered her, Kercher says. As she walked home one day, they stopped her on the sidewalk and asked her why she wasn’t in school.

“Some of the people here are narrow-minded,” she says.

Despite the negatives, Kercher likes living in Spokane. She moved here from Colville five years ago and found a growing art scene and a close-knit group of young people who appreciate culture.

“Spokane sucks you in,” says Kercher. “It’s not necessarily exciting, but I feel comfortable and safe.”

James St. George wouldn’t live anywhere else.

“Spokane’s a nice place to raise children,” St. George says as he plays with his 2-year-old daughter, Hazel, at the Peaceful Valley Community Center. “It beats the hell out of Seattle.”

St. George’s only major complaint is City Hall. It’s too conservative, says the 22-year-old who moved to Spokane 12 years ago from Metaline Falls. City officials don’t spend enough money on the arts, he says, nor do they pay enough attention to the needs of young people.

“They forgot about the homeless kids,” says St. George, a youth program director who lives on the lower South Hill.

Helping the homeless

Brooke Shinn is on a break, lounging near a bubbling sea of lava lamps.

The 21-year-old works at Zanie’s on North Division. On the counter is a petition praising Initiative 685, which would legalize the medical use of marijuana.

Her big issue is the handgun measure - she plans to vote no. She also worries about the homeless she says the city couldn’t care less about.

“There are a lot of homeless in this town and mentally ill,” she says. “They just put them in (the state hospital at) Medical Lake for a couple weeks. Then, they’re out on the streets.”

Shinn wants the city to take better care of people like Orlo Spotted Calf, who won’t be taking part in this year’s election.

The 33-year-old Spotted Calf has lived in Spokane for 12 years. He’s homeless and politics is the last thing on his mind.

“We need more jobs for unskilled people,” says Spotted Calf, raking leaves for food one morning behind the Emmanuel Lutheran Church. “There are a lot of us without skills.”

Spotted Calf hasn’t a clue about this year’s candidates. And he doesn’t care. He sleeps in the gazebo at Coeur d’Alene Park and gathers food from trash bins. Occasionally, he finds odd jobs such as this one to help him get by.

“Times are tough,” he says. “Politics never has helped me out.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 7 Photos (1 color)

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: TRACKING RESULTS Election night results will be available starting Tuesday night by telephone and by computer. To call Cityline, dial 458-8800, then press 9494. Computer users can direct their browsers to www.VirtuallyNW.com and click on Election Central.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Kristina Johnson Staff writer Staff writers Jim Camden, Ward Sanderson, Virginia de Leon, Tracy Ellig, Robin Rivers and Jeanette White contributed to this report.

This sidebar appeared with the story: TRACKING RESULTS Election night results will be available starting Tuesday night by telephone and by computer. To call Cityline, dial 458-8800, then press 9494. Computer users can direct their browsers to www.VirtuallyNW.com and click on Election Central.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Kristina Johnson Staff writer Staff writers Jim Camden, Ward Sanderson, Virginia de Leon, Tracy Ellig, Robin Rivers and Jeanette White contributed to this report.



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