John Talbott turned strong support from north Spokane and a likely boost from people voting “no” on statewide initiatives into an all-but-certain victory in the mayor’s race.
Talbott holds an election-night lead of 480 votes out of some 51,000 ballots cast.
If that stands after absentee votes are counted - and even incumbent Jack Geraghty agrees that’s likely - Talbott will become only the second North Side resident elected mayor since the current form of city government was established in 1960.
And unlike Jim Chase, a North Side resident who was elected to the city’s top post in 1981, Talbott did it without support from the downtown Establishment.
The election showcased a north-south split even more pronounced than in the primary, but the differences between Talbott and Geraghty are more than simple geography.
Talbott is a populist outsider who calls for public votes on many of the city’s contentious issues. He won the precincts in Hillyard and the blue-collar neighborhoods east and west of North Division, in East Central and much of West Central.
“The voters connected with the possibility of having a level playing field in the city of Spokane,” he told supporters early Wednesday when the final election-night count showed him ahead.
They also may have connected in an unforeseen way with the label of “naysayer” that Geraghty tried to hang on him.
Tuesday night, saying “no” was in vogue, as five statewide initiatives and a countywide gas tax failed by large margins.
Opposition to the handgun initiative brought voters out in force. Most city voters stayed with the ballot long enough to punch a space in the mayor’s race. Then nearly 4,000 quit without voting in the City Council races on the same ballot page.
An analysis of the abbreviated voting suggests about 3,500 of those votes went to Talbott.
Geraghty, a progressive insider, tried during the campaign to assure voters that the city was handling things in their best interests. He won by large margins in nearly all South Hill neighborhoods, as well as downtown.
“For whatever reason, the people were dissatisfied with my leadership,” Geraghty said as he conceded defeat Wednesday. “I don’t think we articulated the message that things were going well in Spokane.”
Geraghty said there was a sweet side to his loss: He’ll get to put more time and energy into his public relations consulting firm. “I’m actually looking forward to that,” he said. “It’s been difficult being a part-time mayor.”
Jim Kneeland, a political consultant who served as a spokesman for Seattle developer David Sabey during the campaign, said Geraghty didn’t understand how to frame the key issues, such as downtown redevelopment.
“The community is divided on River Park Square, but it’s not divided on the issue of voting on it,” Kneeland said. “People don’t like to be left out of the process. It’s a populist revival.”
Now the local leader of that revival finds himself moving from outsider to insider.
Some 8,000 absentee ballots sent to city voters have not yet returned. Elections Supervisor Tom Wilbur said a portion of those ballots - it varies with each election - will be mailed back and counted next week.
Talbott won nearly 54 percent of the 5,000 absentee ballots counted Tuesday.
While waiting out the vote count Wednesday morning, Talbott thanked his supporters and told them he was confident of victory.
“Now the task, starting tomorrow, is putting the team together,” Talbott said. “The team can’t just be people in this room. The team’s got to include all of the people in Spokane.”
Wednesday afternoon, Talbott explained his unpaid advisory team would consist of people who specialize in various areas, from public safety to public works.
His talk of team-building already has raised questions from members of the City Council.
“The team is already here,” said Councilman Jeff Colliton. “What he has to do is not put a team together but figure out how to work with the team that’s already here.”
Colliton, a former Army colonel, wondered whether Talbott, a retired Air Force colonel, will have trouble applying his military experience to government.
“It doesn’t take long to understand this is not a military organization,” Colliton said. “You have to succeed by consensus building.”
He’ll have to build that consensus among people he previously angered during numerous critiques of City Hall, Colliton said.
“You have to work within the council to get things done and voted on,” said Councilwoman Roberta Greene, noting that a mayor can’t even make a motion. “It’s going to be an interesting time.”
Cherie Rodgers, who won her seat easily on Tuesday, said Talbott will be an unknown factor when he takes office in January.
“I think there’ll be a lot of uncertainty of ‘What’s he going to be like? What’s he going to do?”’ she said. “There might be resistance to what he comes up with. But you have to put that aside for what’s best for the community.”
Some city employees - who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals - expressed concerns about the mayoral switch.
One city department head was offended because Talbott has questioned employees’ integrity and honesty.
“We’re all a little leery,” said a secretary. “But we’re hopeful.”
An assistant city attorney said he thought it would be interesting to watch Talbott go from outsider to insider. “I would think with one so-called naysayer inside the glass house, those outside would be less likely to throw stones,” he said.
Talbott said city employees have nothing to fear. “By myself, I can do nothing. It’s not my job to run the city of Spokane. Bill Pupo has to do that.”
Talbott has his own fears, he said. “I know what the people’s expectations are, and it’s an awesome responsibility. I can only begin to dream of satisfying those expectations.”
Those expectations include a “level playing field,” open government and a reduction in animosity between the people and city officials, he said.
Staff writer Alison Boggs contributed to this report.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 6 Photos (2 Color); 2 Graphics: Talbott holds an edge; A mixed bag