November 26, 2007 in City

Hession ready for next challenge

By The Spokesman-Review
Dan Pelle photo

Spokane Mayor Dennis Hession applauds remarks by Gov. Chris Gregoire at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox ribbon-cutting.
(Full-size photo)

Remarks change off campaign trail

It became clear during a live television debate on Oct. 15 that Dennis Hession and Mary Verner weren’t getting along. For the last question, posed by then-KXLY anchor Richard Brown, the candidates were asked if there was anything they liked about their opponents.

Hession went first and said “I like her son very much.”

Verner told Hession that he presented himself “with the characteristics that you think are those that are appropriate for the mayor of Spokane.”

Given another chance to answer that question last week, they were more gracious.

Hession: “I don’t really have any insight as to how Mary Verner might be as the mayor. I would say that she did a good job as a council member and represented her constituents well.”

Verner: First an explanation – “His answer was kind of a punch to the gut and I was recovering from it trying to think of something to say.”

Now something nice:

“He’s very professional. I respect him and I think he has the community’s best interest at heart,” she said. “His campaign statement that he provided stability after the West administration’s turmoil is an accurate reflection of how he will be remembered. I think he did, in fact, provide stability.”

Despite more flattering talk, as of early Friday afternoon, Hession and Verner had yet to meet – even though Verner will be sworn in as mayor on Tuesday. Verner said that she has tried to schedule a meeting, but added “I don’t read a whole lot into” the lack of meeting time.

Verner and Hession have been using the same staff as schedulers.

Dennis Hession has spent the past two years leading the state’s second largest city, starting work at 6 a.m. or earlier and ending at 8 p.m. or after. On top of that, he just went through a grueling campaign schedule that ended in his defeat.

So now that he’s out of a job starting on Tuesday, where’s he going on vacation?

Nowhere, at least if it’s up to him.

“I’m not a good vacation person,” Hession said. “I will gauge (the need for a trip) based upon what my wife needs as opposed to me. I get a lot of value and satisfaction and energy from working and so when other people live to vacation I don’t. I enjoy what I do.

“I’ll be looking to get back to work.”

Hession, who worked as an attorney for 25 years before becoming mayor, said he has an opportunity to return to law.

“But I’m looking at other opportunities as well in business and elsewhere that continue to provide the challenges that I have enjoyed with this job,” he said.

During an interview last week about his future and reflecting on his time as mayor and the election, Hession wouldn’t rule out another run for office, but another election isn’t in his immediate plans, he said. He added that he is not interested in the City Council seat that will be vacated by Mayor-elect Mary Verner and wouldn’t expect City Council to appoint him even if he were.

“If opportunities present themselves I would consider it,” Hession said. “But for now I’m going to go back to work.”

Hession, 57, has a list of 57 “major accomplishments” as mayor. They include the launch of a customer service initiative called “Ask Spokane” (call (509) 755-CITY for questions on city business), the approval of tax subsidies to the Kendall Yards development, allocation of state money for planning a downtown streetcar, a new permitting process, expanded library hours, creation of a neighborhood policing model, an improved bond rating, a $10 million surplus from 2006 and a deal with the Spokane School District that restored high school football to Joe Albi Stadium.

“We have a very progressive and forward-thinking atmosphere around here,” Hession said. “I feel that we have changed the way the city of Spokane does business.”

There was no giant scandal or River Park Square fiasco that hung over Hession’s administration. Each of the two years Hession oversaw the city yielded multimillion-dollar surpluses. City property taxes will go down next year.

But his critics, such as Councilman Al French, say the budget turnaround the city experienced in the past two years has more to do with Hession deferring public safety, street maintenance and other important needs than with a great financial strategy. Others say the unexpected sales tax revenue boosts was mostly about luck.

The past two years haven’t all been ice skating championships and extra revenue. There was the death of Otto Zehm after a police confrontation, a firehouse sex scandal, an ambulance over-billing controversy, protests over street trees, accusations of poor communication and over-reliance on consultants and the firing of Community Development Director Mike Adolfae. And then – perhaps the surprise big issue of the year– the suspension of alley garbage pickup along some alleys in north Spokane.

“You need to exhibit strong decisive leadership,” Hession said. “That means sometimes making difficult decisions but always keeping in mind that your ultimate responsibility, your prime directive, is to make decisions which you feel are in the best interest of all of the citizens of Spokane. That is your one and primary responsibility.”

Asked if he was referring to the alley trash controversy, Hession said: “That’s an easy example.”

Some Hession supporters have speculated that his campaign faltered by working too hard to define his opponent, mayor-elect Mary Verner, than to spread the word about himself. In October, his campaign released a TV ad that attacked Verner for, among other things, supporting a deal Hession’s staff had urged the council to support.

But asked if he would do anything differently in his campaign, he said, “I don’t know.”

The city’s progress in the past two years “is, I believe, a very credible and impressive record of success,” Hession said. “We didn’t convince enough of the people. Only 48 percent of them got that message.”

He’s more certain about his decisions and actions at City Hall. He said he wishes he would have had the time to meet more often with employees who work outside of City Hall. Otherwise, he couldn’t think of any decisions he’d reverse.

“I feel good about the way I’ve led this organization. My only regret is that I have put in place a number of programs that I won’t be able to see through to completion,” he said. “I feel good about the communications that we had with the citizens and with employees, the exception that I couldn’t get out as much as I’d like to.”

Hession wouldn’t rule out moving from the city like two of the last three former mayors, but he noted that he and his wife, Jane, have strong ties to Spokane. Jane works at Gonzaga University, and two of their adult children live in the city.

“We believe we’ve done some things of significance, and we think that there are opportunities to continue to do things of significance.”

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