A Spokane Valley City Council race that wasn’t even contested a month ago now has voters talking, and former U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt is chiming in.
Nethercutt, Councilman Steve Taylor’s former boss, has voiced his support for the deputy mayor recently in a recorded phone message dialed in to likely Valley voters.
Meanwhile, dozens of supporters for write-in candidate Tom Towey have hand-delivered his campaign materials to homes in almost every precinct in the city.
“There’s people out there, their feet hurt, and their asthma’s acting up, but they’re going to get Towey in,” said seasoned Valley political organizer Deanna Hormann.
Taylor entered the general election with $5,166.47 left over from his last campaign and no opponent.
Then neighborhood leaders, angered by Taylor’s recent positions on development and his employment with the Spokane Home Builders Association, drafted Towey for a write-in bid just four weeks before ballots were sent to voters.
The only time in recent memory a write-in candidate has won an election in Spokane County was during the 2001 mayor’s race in Waverly, in which the winner garnered fewer than 100 votes, said county Elections Manager Mike McLaughlin.
Taylor said he’s confident voters will give him a third election victory, although in recent weeks he’s rallied letter-writing supporters, sent out a campaign mailer and purchased advertising to “present that positive image of myself, and my campaign and my record,” he said.
While election officials count votes for a write-in candidate even if the name is slightly misspelled or the oval beside it is not filled in, write-in campaigns are traditionally seen as exceptionally tough to wage because of the additional effort and name recognition required on the part of voters.
Valley residents wouldn’t know it, though, by the efforts of Towey’s campaign for Position 2.
“Write in Tom Towey” signs have appeared on lawns all over town like autumn leaves fallen in the night.
Supporters with the yard signs said they obtained them from old-fashioned, door-to-door campaigning and political rallies.
A donor previously unknown to Towey contacted him and Rose Dempsey, who faces Planning Commissioner David Crosby in the Position 3 race, and gave away some 130 hot dogs at a rally the other weekend.
“We’ve done, I think, more in three weeks than a lot of campaigns have done in three months,” Towey said.
The vocal and already-organized Ponderosa and Greenacres neighborhoods formed an alliance with a network of others led by Hormann, who helped with Ozzie Knezovich’s successful campaign for sheriff and once ran for City Council herself.
Even among sitting City Council members, support for the candidates is split. Departing Councilman Mike DeVleming is Taylor’s campaign manager, and Councilman Dick Denenny recently donated $200 to the re-election fund.
In addition to a $100 contribution to Towey, Councilman and Ponderosa resident Bill Gothmann recently endorsed Towey and Dempsey in a letter to the editor while sharply criticizing Taylor’s stance on residential lot sizes. Fellow Councilman Gary Schimmels donated two signs to Towey’s campaign.
If Towey and Dempsey both win, it would significantly change the balance of power on the City Council when it comes to votes on planning issues, a proposed city center, televised council meetings and other concerns.
But for that to happen, Towey’s support would have to surpass Taylor’s, who has spent five years meeting voters through his previous campaigns, service on boards promoting the area, his former position in Nethercutt’s field office and his work on the council.
Even with a write-in challenger, though, Taylor said there was a warning to be had in the fable of the tortoise and the hare.
“You don’t want to be sitting along the side of the road because you think you have this thing in the bag,” he said.