Spokane voters seemed unsure Tuesday whether to turn a chief critic of city government into its top official or give their mayor a second term.
As the clock inched past midnight, civic activist John Talbott and Jack Geraghty were locked in a dead heat.
Talbott, a retired Air Force officer who campaigned on stronger leadership, clearly had shed his image as merely a naysayer. The question was, could he win his first election in four tries.
Throughout the night, his supporters - a mixture of liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans who are both skeptical of government - congratulated Talbott and cheered election results on the television screen at the Bayou Brewing Company.
They spoke confidently about opening city government and taking back power from the city’s elites.
But the candidate urged caution, saying he expected a long night and a close race.
At one point he talked about the failure of the countywide gasoline tax, saying it showed voters didn’t trust government yet to spend their money correctly.
“We’ve got to change that,” he said.
A mile away at the Ridpath Hotel, Geraghty was saying nearly the same thing about the early returns, which left the 60-plus revelers at his campaign party in a less-than-celebratory mood.
Shortly before 10 p.m., Geraghty supporters - a mix of city employees and downtown business people - sipped on cocktails in a room filled with blue and white balloons, waiting for Geraghty to show.
“He’s just taking his time,” said Geraghty’s daughter, Sheila Leek.
When he arrived a few minutes later, he went from table to table, thanking his supporters for their hard work.
“I don’t know what to say. It’s just too close,” he said as the clock inched toward midnight. He added he was surprised the vote count was taking so long.
If he ultimately lost, Geraghty said, it would be because people wanted the change Talbott championed. “Continuing with me .. amounts to the status quo,” he said.
Initiatives like 676 brought out some voters with strong anti-incumbent sentiments, he said.
At Talbott campaign headquarters, County Commissioner Phil Harris offered a similar analysis. I-676, which would have required trigger locks for handguns, brought out many voters “and I said months ago those were John’s voters.”
Geraghty’s campaign co-chairman, Chris Marr, agreed with the anti-incumbent assessment: “The mayor’s race is a referendum on how happy you are with city government.”
When election results showed Geraghty closing the gap, the mayor’s supporters went wild, filling the air with applause and cries of “Go Jack!” and “All right!”
Geraghty’s glum face broke into a grin.
Throughout the campaign, the two candidates were studies in contrast.
Geraghty, 63, was called a weak leader by his critics for avoiding confrontation. Talbott, 63, was bashed as a “naysayer” for his outspoken opposition to projects such as the River Park Square redevelopment - a position he later softened to saying the public should have had the chance to vote on the proposal.
Geraghty said he’d look for a steady source of outside dollars to fix the streets. Talbott said he’d find at least part of the money inside the city’s current budget.
Geraghty, a former county commissioner, touted his campaign as the way to “keep Spokane moving forward.” He said he wanted a second term because he had unfinished business, such as seeing the neighborhood councils he championed spread throughout the city and the downtown redevelopment he pushed for completed.
Talbott heralded his candidacy as a way to make government more accountable to the people. He pushed a proposal that called for the council to hire an independent auditor who can assess whether the city manager is doing his job and tax dollars are wisely spent.
For part of October, the candidates and their issues risked being overshadowed by independent campaigns, first against Geraghty and, in the final days, against Talbott.
The pro-Talbott group blasted Geraghty in radio ads and a pair of campaign fliers mailed to voters. The group accused him of spending too much attention and money on downtown redevelopment, not enough on the neighborhoods.
Over the weekend, a hastily formed group of Spokane business people counter-punched by mailing out campaign literature of its own. It suggested Talbott wasn’t a leader but “just an angry man.”
According to the most recent reports to the Public Disclosure Commission, more than $60,000 was spent on independent campaigns in the city races.
Geraghty denounced both efforts as shadow campaigns that obscured the candidates and the issues they were trying to discuss. Talbott was less critical, saying they might not have much effect if the candidate was a strong enough leader.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 photos (2 color)