Challenger Mary Verner took a commanding lead in the Spokane mayor’s race Tuesday night, pulling ahead of incumbent Dennis Hession by about 2,900 votes in the first night of ballot counting.
If ballot trends hold, Verner, a member of the City Council, will take over the mayor’s office later this month from Hession, who was appointed some 22 months ago.
A jubilant Verner, who ended the campaign near the Spokane River just as she had started it eight months earlier, hugged supporters and said voters wanted change.
The incumbent was trailing, but not conceding.
“We expect to be strong toward the end of the count,” said a somber Hession soon after early numbers were released. “We expect that advantage will shift to us and we anticipate that we’ll have returns that are more favorable to us.”
He said his campaign ran numerous TV and radio ads in the last few days, and mounted a vigorous get-out-the-vote effort that included phone calls to supporters.
In other races, voters seemed to vacillate between keeping the established order and a desire for new faces. Council President Joe Shogan easily won the seat to which he was appointed when Hession was named mayor by the council, topping Barbara Lampert.
Councilman Bob Apple, in northeast Spokane’s 1st District, swamped Logan Neighborhood leader Donna McKereghan and won a second term.
But fellow Councilman Brad Stark from South Spokane’s 2nd District appeared headed for defeat to Cliff/Cannon Neighborhood activist Richard Rush, a proponent of stricter compliance with the city’s Comprehensive Plan.
Former Councilman Steve Corker, who was elected to the last council under the old city manager form of government but has lost two city races since then, took a strong lead in Northwest Spokane’s 3rd District over Lewis Griffin, a former city administrator from Liberty Lake.
In the city of Spokane Valley, political novice Rose Dempsey, a church music director, was well ahead of David Crosby, a member of city’s Planning Commission, in the race for an open seat. But Councilman Steve Taylor easily overcame a write-in campaign challenge from retired supermarket manager Tom Towey.
Local ballot measures had mixed results.
A $42.9 million bond issue for parks and pools in the city of Spokane was comfortably ahead. Bond issues need a 60 percent supermajority to pass, but it had 65 percent approval in early counting.
An advisory vote on the county’s Conservation Futures Tax had a substantial lead, but a proposal to add one-tenth of a cent to the sales tax to restore Crime Check and purchase new equipment for law enforcement was trailing by less than 2,000 votes out of about 70,000 counted countywide.
Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said she expected a total of about 114,000 votes will be counted when tabulating is finished, probably next week. The exact number isn’t known yet, because tens of thousands are still in the mail. More than 234,000 ballots were sent to Spokane County voters, who had to either postmark their ballot by Tuesday or place it in collection boxes.
Volunteers who delivered those drop-off boxes in Tuesday’s final pickup were impressed with the numbers of ballots stuffed into some of them. Those ballots will be processed starting today.
City of Spokane
Although thousands of ballots remain to be returned in the mail and counted, Hession appeared to be falling victim to a long-running trend of Spokane voters pushing sitting mayors out of office. Four of the last five mayors – Shari Barnard, Jack Geraghty, John Talbott, and John Powers – lost re-election bids, and the fifth, Jim West, was recalled by voters.
Hession, an attorney who was serving as council president when West was recalled, was elected mayor by a unanimous council, and pointed to his efforts to restore integrity to the office and a strengthening economy in the city. He seemed the early favorite against Verner and Councilman Al French, who finished third in the primary.
But he drew the ire of some city employees unions, particularly after a consultant’s report suggested some cost savings through staff reductions. The firefighters union and the City Hall employees union both backed Verner, becoming her biggest donors and providing volunteers for her campaign.
Verner, who is executive director for an organization that represents five Inland Northwest tribes, said she’d bring a more collaborative style of leadership to the office. On Tuesday night, as she waited for the first ballot results, she thanked tribal elders who had encouraged her and offered advice: “When the people call upon us to serve, we really don’t have much choice.”
Two members of the City Council were re-elected.
In a race that got little attention throughout the election season, Shogan had almost 70 percent of the vote in his rematch with Lampert. They competed for a council seat in 2003, when Shogan, an attorney, also soundly defeated the former nurse’s aide.
“We’ll take it,” Shogan said. “I’m pleased with the numbers and campaigned till the end.”
Apple had 59 percent of the vote against former college instructor McKereghan. He attributed his victory to a positive campaign and to what he said was a strong record on the council helping reverse the financial problems that plagued City Hall when he first was elected.
In south Spokane, however, Stark faces math similar to Hession, trailing Rush by 7 percentage points. Just like in the mayor’s race, the candidate with the larger campaign coffers was behind.
“I think Spokane has caught on to elections being purchased and they’re choosing someone who will represent people rather than special interests,” Rush said at his party at The Shop coffee house in the South Perry neighborhood.
Rush, who criticized larger contributions Stark received from developers and the real estate community, said he’s confident that numbers will continue going his way.
Stark, speaking from his campaign party at the Rocket Market on the South Hill, said he believes there will be more than 4,600 ballots left to count in the race and said that a get-out-the-vote effort done by Republicans for ballot issues could help him in later counts.
But he added: “If I lose, we’re leaving the city in a hell of a lot better shape than when we got here four years ago.”
Corker said he was “cautiously optimistic” about his lead in the northwest district race, which was about 5 percent of those cast and counted thus far. He said experience seemed to count for voters for Shogan and Apple, but not so much in the mayor’s race or in the south district race.
Voters were apparently comfortable enough with City Hall to approve the bond issue for parks and pools.
Councilman Rob Crow, who gave up his seat and bowed out of the council president race earlier this year, was celebrating Tuesday night the strong support of a $42.9 million ballot measure. Crow has worked for a couple of years to finalize a plan – nearly a decade in the making – to build a sports complex near Joe Albi Stadium, and money to finish that effort is part of the bond. It also has money to rebuild the city’s five outdoor swimming pools and construct a new one in northwest Spokane.
City of Spokane Valley
Valley voters also sent a mixed message to their council, re-electing Taylor, who has served on the council since incorporation, but rejecting a likely ally, Crosby, in favor of Dempsey.
Taylor, whose victory seemed all but assured until a month ago when Towey filed as a write-in candidate, has about three times as many votes as the write-ins that were cast. He said he was honored to be re-elected, calling his council service “one of the best experiences of my life.”
Dempsey attributed her apparent victory to citizens’ unhappiness with zoning decisions. She and Towey had similar platforms, but there was one big difference – her name was on the ballot and his wasn’t. He didn’t decide to run until about a month ago.
That was three strikes against him, Towey said Tuesday night: not much time, not much campaign money and no name on the ballot. But he wasn’t sorry for the effort.
“I learned that the people right now are starting to realize they have the power to change things …if they just get out there and do something.”