In many ways, this year’s race for Spokane Valley City Council is as much a referendum on what the council has done in the last few months as it is about the candidates’ plans for the next four years.
As Position 3 Councilman Mike DeVleming makes his exit and two other council members face re-election, the council race could have offered hopefuls a chance to join a City Council where six of the seven members have held office since the city incorporated.
Though 49 people ran in the city’s first council primary, this year’s races for three council seats feature only four official candidates – and one hopeful pursuing a last-minute write-in campaign.
Planning Commissioner David Crosby was alone in the primary field until the last day to file for office when he was joined by Joseph Edwards and Rose Dempsey, who stated that a large part of the reason she ran for DeVleming’s seat was that she felt Crosby should not run unopposed.
As summer progressed, though, political interest among neighborhood groups grew in parallel with the council’s overhaul of the city’s development code. Spectator seating in the council chambers went from wide open to standing room only as new rules that allow denser building in most of the city provoked the scorn of many homeowners in established neighborhoods.
While few publicly questioned Steve Taylor’s employment as the government affairs director for the Spokane Home Builders Association and the Spokane Association of Realtors when he took the job, the unopposed councilman suddenly faced resentful demands in council testimony and letters to the editor that he recuse himself from zoning discussions.
With less than a month before ballots would be mailed, neighborhood leaders convinced retired Rosauers manager Tom Towey to wage a write-in campaign against Taylor for Position 2.
That left council member Bill Gothmann, who holds the Position 6 seat, as the only unopposed Spokane Valley council candidate.
Political newcomers Dempsey and Edwards also appealed to frustrated neighbors, placing themselves in contrast to Crosby, who owns a real estate business and consistently supported smaller lot sizes on the Planning Commission.
Despite Crosby’s name recognition and superior finances, Dempsey took more than 40 percent of the vote in the primary without even campaigning during the month of July, eliminating Edwards from the race.
Crosby’s bid to jump from the Planning Commission to the council has focused on revitalizing Sprague Avenue, developing a city center and ensuring the city has a diverse and affordable housing stock.
“Sprague-Appleway and city center are two of the issues I hear the most when I’m out campaigning,” he said, with lot size coming in third.
While Dempsey shares Crosby’s vision of a business-friendly, two-way Sprague, her vision for the city center project is on a smaller scale and she says she will help protect the character of Valley neighborhoods from development that doesn’t match them.
“The zoning has so many people concerned, it’s the zoning first,” she said.
At a debate Thursday, she turned down an opportunity to include Crosby’s personal history in her arguments for why people should vote for her.
At one point, Crosby’s household owed almost $17,000 in back taxes to the IRS, and he also failed to pay state taxes on his business during six of the last nine years. Court records also detail allegations of domestic violence from the early 1990s.
In response, Crosby has said that his tax debts are paid and that he is a different person than he was 15 years ago.
In the money race, Taylor became the clear winner before he even had an opponent.
His campaign account held more than $5,000 before filing for the primary ended, mostly held over from fundraising during the previous election. He listed $7,881 in donations at the end of August, according to documents filed with the Public Disclosure Commission.
Taylor’s biggest donations in 2007 include: $500 from developer Ray Hanson, $500 from builder Corey Condron, $300 from Appleway Chevrolet and Sprague Avenue land owner John Pring, $250 from Avista Corp., $250 from Mick Doyle of Tomlinson Black, $250 from Alton’s Tires owner Duane Alton and $200 from the Lamar billboard company.
Crosby has the second largest campaign account, with about $3,000. His biggest contributors were the Spokane Home Builders Association and the Spokane Association of Realtors, with $1,000 donations each. Denny York and John Bole of Yokes supermarkets each gave $250, as did Matt and Vicki Crosby.
Dempsey said she had raised about $1,800 as of Thursday, although she is expecting another $600 from the deputy sheriff and transit unions.
Write-in candidate Towey had raised just over $700 as of Oct. 5, all in donations of $100 or less.
“This race is all about the people of Spokane Valley having a choice. And without my candidacy they don’t really have a choice on position number 2,” he said.
While Towey acknowledged that it will be difficult to contend as a write in, he indicated his proposal to bring neighborhoods to the table in the development process as well as Taylor’s voting record have led many people to support him.
Much of the interest in the council race has come from recent decisions on growth and development, Taylor said, but he points out that things like roads, public safety, jobs and taxes are also high on voters’ minds.
Since its formation, Spokane Valley hasn’t had any major scandals. It’s working to improve its infrastructure, the budget it balanced, and Taylor said he thinks people are generally satisfied with the city.
“I followed through on the promises that I’ve made from the beginning, and that’s look at issues very carefully, support the economic growth of Spokane Valley and put together a city that is going to be sustainable.”